glass bottles

The UK government has said it will take legal action to block Wales including glass in its deposit return scheme, after ministers finally confirmed today that plans for the UK-wide rollout were being delayed.

In a statement this morning, environment minister Robbie Moore set a new target date for the launch for an “interoperable” DRS of October 2027, but admitted the Welsh government was determined to keep glass in its scheme, to the dismay of industry leaders.

The government also said today that allowing such cross-border differences would result in “costly burdens to businesses and supply chains”. It said it planned to block Wales, in a repeat of the moves under internal market powers, which thwarted Scotland’s planned DRS rollout last year.

“Based on the available evidence, the UK government do not consider that there is sufficient justification for granting a UK Internal Market Act exclusion for glass in any UK DRS,” the statement said.

“However, any application for an exclusion from the Welsh government would be considered on the evidence presented.

“When DRS launches, businesses and consumers will continue to be protected by the market access principles of UKIMA in respect of the sale of drinks in glass bottles across the UK. In plain terms, this means that drinks in glass containers made or imported into England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be subject to a Welsh DRS which includes glass.”

The Grocer exclusively revealed in February that the DRS rollout was to be delayed, after a report from the industry to Defra warned it would be impossible to get a scheme up and running before the middle of 2028.

Today, Moore said that after “extensive” negotiations with the industry it had been agreed that the original launch date was impossible, and an interoperable scheme across all four countries would be launched in October 2027.

The Grocer also revealed in February that the Welsh government was determined to keep glass in its scheme, with sources saying ministers had an “over my dead body” attitude towards keeping the material in scope, despite fears it will add to the cost and complexity of a UK-wide rollout.

The decision was announced on the day the SNP government in Scotland announced it was axing its power-sharing agreement with the Green Party, which had been a key player behind its plans to include glass in the Scottish DRS scheme.

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Confirmation of delays to the UK rollout were welcomed by supermarket bosses, but they warned that the Welsh position posed a threat of further chaos.

“We welcome the government’s clarity around the timeline of a future deposit return scheme,” said Andrew Opie, BRC director of food and sustainability.

“Retailers will need at least 24 months to implement a multibillion-pound DRS, and the government must now engage closely with the industry to ensure all details are fully ironed out ahead of the proposed 2027 start date.

“We are disappointed by the decision by Welsh government to keep glass in the scheme, adding significant costs and putting it at odds with the systems in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“It is vital that the DRS scheme is aligned as far as possible across the UK to keep business costs down and maximise the benefit for consumers, while allowing clear messaging across the whole of the UK about how the scheme will function.”

A joint statement from the BSDA and Natural Source Water Association said: “We welcome the clarity that today’s statement provides in terms of forthcoming regulation on DRS and are particularly encouraged by progress made across the four nations on most aspects of an aligned DRS.

“However, a unified and consistent scheme is critical and it’s disappointing that the Welsh government continues to be an outlier in calling for the inclusion of glass within scope. A lack of alignment in this area would create different market conditions within Great Britain, which, in turn, would confuse consumers and impede efforts to achieve the high collection rates of PET and aluminium beverage containers necessary to fuel the circular economy for beverage packaging.

“We will continue to offer our full support to ensure the delivery of an aligned DRS and to this end, we urge the Welsh government to reconsider its approach to help unlock the way to an interoperable DRS that benefits the environment, consumers and industry alike.”

FDF CEO Karen Betts said: ”It’s critical that the UK’s governments now work closely together to ensure the scheme is easy to use and understand, operating under the same rules and with the same labels across the four nations.

“A consistent, UK-wide approach is the best way to ensure value for money and to drive up the UK’s disappointing recycling rates.”

ACS CEO James Lowman said: “Given the new timescales for the introduction of the scheme, we now have more capacity to get the details right.

“We urge the Welsh government to align its scheme with the rest of the UK and exclude glass.”

Federation of Wholesale Distributors CEO James Bielby said: “FWD supports the government’s ambitions to create a circular economy with news today that a DRS will be launched in October 2027.

“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to creating a DRS scheme that works for businesses and supports wider commitments to protect our environment. Our primary concern is to ensure the scheme fulfills its purpose and works for our members, communities and consumers. Therefore, we look forward to working with the government and colleagues across the industry to ensure the scheme’s interoperability across all nations.”