The big question this week was not whether Scotland’s pioneering deposit return system would be delayed. That has been inevitable since supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s withdrew their support from it. Any lingering doubt was quashed completely when soft drinks giants finally ditched their backing for a March 2024 launch last week.

No, the question on everyone’s lips now is whether the new deadline of October 2025 can possibly be hit given the poisonous cocktail of politics and conflicting interests that has conspired to kill off the Scottish plans.

Just because the Scottish government has finally caved in to the inevitable doesn’t mean that somehow all the barriers to DRS will disappear overnight and there will be a sudden outbreak of common sense and understanding.

In fact, given the bitter fallout between Holyrood and Westminster, all the ingredients are there for the recipe to become even more potent.

With that in mind, the timing of Wednesday’s (7 June) meeting in SW1 to discuss the formation of a scheme administrator south of the border was truly tragic.

£300m up in smoke

It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to guess how much enthusiasm industry representatives had for injecting their thought leadership and money into the scheme, given the £300m they were just watching go up in smoke up the A1.

Questions of what happened to the £300m investment in Circulatory Scotland plans are still raw. Decisions on whether producers and retailers will sue the Scottish, or English governments, or both, are also still up in the air. Therefore it’s hard to see how a way forward can be found which won’t see Westminster encounter the same opposition, except on an even grander scale. Granted, the exclusion of glass will be warmly welcomed by many in the industry, if not environmental campaigners, or the Scottish government, but it’s far from the only barrier.

As one source puts it: “You are still going to have loads of businesses that think DRS will lump a load of costs on them at as time they can ill afford it.

“Plenty of people would like to see DRS go ahead but with the divisions, particularly in retail, which is pushing very hard for DRS and EPR to be delayed, it’s going to be very hard.

“We always knew it was going to be hard for CSL. It also felt like it was dragging the industry along reluctantly. But it’s become like pushing treacle uphill.

“There are some participants in this discission who would like to see DRS put into touch permanently and they hope what’s happened this week is a precursor for that happening.”

UK government backlash

The backlash the UK government would face if it ditched DRS would of course be huge, but Westminster has already demonstrated that it is prepared to put sorting the cost of living crisis in the short term above longer term environmental concerns.

“I’m starting to think we might be one of the only countries that don’t adopt DRS now,” adds another industry source at the meeting.

“We’re out of the EU and there is so much aggro with borders, VAT, Island of Ireland, devolved politics, a well established kerbside collection and other conflicting/complementary policies in the mix that it might be too hard. DRS may just never happen.”

Views like that make a mockery of claims from CSL that the “industry was prepared for DRS to go live in March 2024”. It was clearly anything but and unless industry and the warring governments can find some way to put politics to one side and find solutions to the big divides in DRS, it never will be.