By the time plans for the launch of a pioneering deposit return scheme in Scotland collapsed, it had suffered so many body blows it was impossible to tell which one had proved fatal.
But there is no doubt it was a pivotal moment when bosses of the UK’s major supermarkets wrote to newly elected first minister Humza Yousaf in early April calling on him to abandon the scheme, amid warnings it would cause retailers “financial carnage”.
Considering it was the supermarkets that would have to bear the brunt of the massive investment in reverse vending machines needed to operate the schemes, their withdrawal of support was a hammer blow.
This weekend it appears plans for DRS in the rest of the UK may have reached the same terminal point.
The BRC, speaking on behalf of the UK’s major supermarket chains, called on the Westminster government to scrap plans for DRS, warning it would inevitably see extra costs being passed on to consumers, just as inflation appeared to be on the way down.
Ministers called to ‘think again’ on DRS
The consortium produced new figures claiming the installation cost of the capital machinery needed would soar to more than £200m in England alone, with the total cost across the UK edging towards £2bn.
Apart from supermarkets’ obvious huge influence as the main potential providers of a DRS network, two other massive factors have left many questioning whether DRS will reach a scale of any sort.
One of the factors is the National Audit Office report in July, which as well as slamming Defra’s bungled handling of its waste and resources strategy, called on ministers to think again about DRS and consider a much more limited pilot of the scheme, at a fraction of the cost.
Second was the disastrous collapse of Circularity Scotland Limited (CSL), the industry run scheme administrator in Scotland, whose “pioneering” venture hoped to provide a model for the rest of the UK. Instead, amid political and industry in-fighting, it collapsed owing nearly £90m to its creditors.
Money lost would dwarf that lost by CSL demise
As the BRC points out, its £1.8bn costing doesn’t include the cost of setting up an administrator in the rest of the UK. Why would anyone be chomping at the bit to do that job, considering the inevitable firestorm that would come its way amid the entrenched opposition to DRS and the continued divisions between Westminster and Holyrood?
If anything like the same sort of collapse happened as in Scotland, the money going down the drain would dwarf that lost by the demise of CSL.
The BRC is also right that the government needs to think again about its waste strategy and find a far more coherent plan with a realistic timeframe.
But it would be a terrible shame if a scheme like DRS, which not only managed to find support from a large proportion of the public, but also from the bulk of major soft drinks producers, is sacrificed in the process.
Yet today that is looking more likely than ever.