It’s two weeks since the Republic of Ireland launched the world’s 41st DRS system – the 15th in Europe. But already back on this side of the Irish Sea, those events seem like a distant dream.

Today, The Grocer revealed plans for a DRS launch across the UK faces a further shocking delay of three years from the official 2025 start date, until the second quarter of 2028, at the earliest.

At this rate the year 2030, so totemic for a raft of targets for both governments and individual companies on plastic and carbon reduction, could be upon us before the first plastic bottles begin dropping into reverse vending machines. If indeed it happens at all.

Since the collapse of Scotland’s planned DRS pioneer in the summer of last year, there has been much scepticism surrounding the October 2025 date for the DRS systems supposed to be launching across the UK.

This seems to have become the go-to date for the government when it wants to chuck difficult-to-manage policies into the long grass.

To be fair to Defra, when it comes to the DRS situation, it is facing a huge task to overcome retailer fears over the cost of the infrastructure needed for the rollout, as well as the unenviable logistics of forming a new body from scratch to run the system.

CSL collapse in Scotland

Unlike in Ireland, where the government cannily used its existing recycling body Re-Pack as the launchpad for its “DMO”, Re-turn, candidates are not exactly queueing up to take on the job in the UK.

Following the high-profile collapse of CSL in Scotland, after it found itself effectively a punchbag for politicians and the industry alike, Defra has been holding meetings with industry to explore how long it would take to form an administrator to run operations across the UK.

Those hoping the Irish launch could be the catalyst for good news on DRS in the UK won’t like the resultant forecasts, which suggest 2028 could even be optimistic.

Defra has been warned that, as well as the task of forming an administrator and setting up the myriad requirements for suppliers and retailers under the new system, the rollout will also stretch to the limit the resources of reverse vending machine operators and the soft drinks industry supplying the infrastructure.

“It definitely won’t happen before 2028,” a leading industry source tells The Grocer. “2027 is the optimistic view but I think that is highly unlikely.”

Delays to EPR not wanted, but happening

Meanwhile, it could take even longer before the government’s other flagship environmental strategy is running effectively, claim industry leaders.

A manifesto published by the FDF this week calls on ministers to work with suppliers on establishing a “world-leading, producer-led” EPR system by the end of the next parliamentary term. For anyone unsure, that in theory takes us to 2029.

The federation insists it is working with Defra, which, technically plans to launch the much maligned EPR system in October next year, to allow such circumstances to exist and for producers to gradually take over more elements on the running of the system, rather than it just being viewed as a tax.

A spokeswoman for the FDF says: “We do not want a delay to EPR, and support government’s proposed timeframe to roll it out in October 2025. Alongside other industry stakeholders, councils and waste managers, we are in constant discussions with Defra on how to make the scheme as producer-led as possible, to reflect international best practice.”

Yet behind the scenes the negotiations going on are stormy. Getting harmony on EPR will fully test the new industry group, led by former Unilever boss and Wrap chair Sebastian Munden and including a number of key industry figures from the supplier and supermarket base.

Getting both EPR and DRS off the ground, before we start hearing the bells to ring in in the next decade, will require all the combined talents the government and the industry have to give. And with the UK economy having tipped into recession, the economic backdrop shows no immediate signs of making that any easier.