morrisons drs reverse vending machine

The UK’s first deposit return scheme is heading for a calamitous start, supermarket bosses have warned.

A letter to ministers from the Scottish Retail Consortium predicts chaos in stores if the government pushes ahead with its plans for a 16 August rollout north of the border.

The SRC said a list of key concerns over the proposals were still unanswered and claimed more confusion had been heaped on the scheme by the rival candidates to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as first minister, who have all said they would either delay DRS or scrap it altogether.

Meanwhile the consortium said a “bad smell” was hanging over the plans to allow thousands of smaller producers to opt out of the scheme for at least the first year.

It said the risk of DRS causing consumer confusion was now “stratospheric”.

“Whilst some progress has been made, for example the clarity over how VAT will apply to deposits, the reality is the biggest issues remain unresolved,” said SRC deputy head Ewan MacDonald-Russell.

Retailers don’t know what price to put on shelves, which producers they can buy from, which shops will or won’t be exempted, and when containers will be collected.

“They still have no transparency over the retail handling fee and are still legally compelled to an online takeback requirement which is impossible to deliver.

“All of this means there is no clear or comprehensive blueprint or plan for DRS with barely five months until go.

“Customers will likely face a bewildering patchwork of approaches which will be difficult to understand with the process of returning drinks and retrieving deposits likely to be cumbersome. Consumers will almost certainly face higher prices, lower choice, and less availability as retailers try to guess what they are required to do.” 

Meanwhile the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) also claimed the scheme was not “fit for purpose” .

“We have met extensively, for over 18 months, with both Circularity Scotland, the scheme administrator, and the Scottish government, with a view to securing the guidance, clarity and support needed, to allow us to help our members successfully play their part in the scheme,” said  SGF CEO Pete Cheema.

“To date, however, there is still uncertainty around key aspects of the scheme and there is the real risk of thousands of stores closing due to cashflow issues or significant loss of footfall.”

Last week Scotland’s minister for circularity Lorna Slater told MSPs the  scheme was still on track, after Circularity Scotland (CSL) revealed more than 650 large companies and SMEs had signed up to the scheme, responsible for 95% of the annual volume of sales in Scotland – the equivalent of more than two billion containers.

However, it is estimated more than 3,000 producers have failed to sign up.

CSL has now begun the task of trying to sign up retailers to the scheme, despite an ongoing legal challenge, backed by the SGF, over the handling fees to be paid to stores.