drs deposit return scheme bottle recycling plastic machine GettyImages-1502415929

Supermarket bosses have welcomed the government’s confirmation that the UK’s deposit return scheme rollout has been delayed by a further two years at least.

The BRC said the announcement by environment secretary Steve Barclay that the October 2025 start date was “unrealistic” was long overdue.

However, it warned that Barclay’s estimate of a 2027 start date was optimistic, unless ministers stepped up efforts to come up with an interoperable scheme across the UK.

Meanwhile, environment campaigners accused ministers of a “betrayal” of their election promises by shelving DRSSoft drinks bosses repeated their warning that the UK risked becoming the “dirty man of Europe” as their calls for the government to lay the legislation needed to underpin the rollout of DRS before the election look set to fail.

The Grocer revealed in February that the DRS rollout was set for another major setback, with industry negotiations with Defra revealing it would not be possible to launch a scheme until the middle of 2028.

Last week Barclay told the Efra Select Committee that he hoped a 2027 rollout could be achieved, but said the previous stated government aim of October 2025 was “not realistic”.

The Grocer has previously revealed that negotiations have stalled, partly over the Welsh government’s refusal to drop glass from its plans, though ministers in Scotland are understood to be prepared to drop glass if it means the scheme can go ahead.

Barclay last week told the committee that the Westminster government was prepared to use its internal market power to block the Welsh government’s plans, as he confirmed that failure to agree on a UK-wide scheme was a major cause of the delay.

He said he was unable to give a date for when the statutory instruments to underpin DRS would be presented to parliament.

“As a unionist one of the things that’s important to me is the interoperability of the scheme across the UK and that’s something that is also very important to business,” he said.

“It would be hugely frustrating for businesses if we had different schemes across different parts of the UK.”

He added: “I don’t think that having a scheme in place by 2025 is realistic and I don’t think businesses would view that as a realistic deadline.

“I think a, sort of, 2027 deadline is more realistic.”

Documents drawn up by the industry for Defra says it would take up to two years to establish a scheme administrator to run DRS. Combined with areas such as introducing handling fees and installing collection points, that would mean the “earliest” go live date would be 2028.

This week, Nadiya Catel-Arutyunova, sustainability policy advisor at the BRC, said: “The retail industry has been long calling for a realistic timeline for a deposit return scheme in the UK, where the scheme is only introduced after the packaging extended producer responsibility reforms.

“We welcome the acknowledgement that implementation by October 2025 is not viable. Retailers will need at least 24 months to implement the second-biggest DRS scheme in Europe, but a 2027 start date will only be feasible if government engages with the industry, makes sure all details are fully ironed out, and ensures that the scheme is aligned across the devolved nations.”

A spokesman for the BSDA said: “We strongly support the introduction of a well-designed deposit return scheme and continue to urge the UK government and devolved governments to press ahead with the introduction of an interoperable DRS to help kick-start the UK’s circular economy, reduce littering and increase recycling.”

Steve Hynd, policy manager at environmental campaign group City to Sea, said “This latest delay and watering down of the proposed DRS represents a promise broken and misses the urgency that the environmental situation demands.

“This just reinforces the lack of competence and vision in this dead duck government.

“In 2019 they promised an “all-in” deposit return scheme that would include glass. It is essential they live up to this promise as this will not only drive up recycling rates and drive down littering, but it can also lay the foundations for a reuse economy as well. A DRS, when done well, can drive reuse. In Denmark, for example, about one in four items returned through their DRS is reused. By removing glass, ministers are seeking to limit the environmental benefit of a DRS from the start.”

Last month, Labour shadow environment minister Daniel Zeichner promised the party would sort out the “omnishambles” of DRS, if it won the looming general election.

The confirmation of the delay comes as it was revealed Ireland’s new deposit return scheme has seen more than 21 million bottles and cans returned since the scheme started on 1 February.

Iain Walker, director of industry engagement at GS1 UK, said: “Our European neighbours have been running highly effective deposit return schemes for years.

”This government has so far been unable to take the much-needed, bold action required to tackle the serious issue of packaging waste; yet another delay to its flagship scheme sends precisely the opposite signal to what is needed.

“If we’re to push ahead with a national DRS and eliminate avoidable waste by 2050, it is essential that we work closely with industry to ensure any reforms succeed. All UK schemes must be underpinned by a common identification system and data model. Interoperability across the four nations will be essential for maintaining cross-border trade, consumer choice and keeping costs down.”