In a big defeat for retailers Scotland has decided to push ahead with a deposit return scheme (DRS) that will include all types of plastic and glass materials - as well as all sizes of container.
However, the announcement on Wednesday is a major victory for campaigners and suppliers, led by the British Soft Drinks Association, who have been calling for an all-inclusive system not just in Scotland but across Great Britain. A consultation in Westminster on its own proposals is due to wrap up next week.
The Scottish government said its DRS system, which would have a 20p deposit, would include aluminium and steel cans as well as drinks containers made of glass and PET. Campaigners are now calling on environment secretary Michael Gove to go down the same path.
Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the plans were “ambitious in scale and scope”, and followed “widespread consensus demonstrating that a well-run, appropriately-targeted scheme could improve the environment”.
However, the move comes amid a major split between retailers and suppliers in the UK over the way forward.
In February The Grocer revealed Gove was considering watering down its proposals for DRS.
Whilst one option being considered would follow Scotland’s so-called “all-in” model, a second “on the go” option would limit the scheme to containers of less than 750ml that are sold in single format.
The second option is backed by supermarket bosses, who claim the all-in model would take the cost of DRS in Scotland from £70m to £120m a year and from £800m per annum to £1.4bn in the UK, compared to the slimmed down model.
Reacting to today’s move north of the border, Andrew Opie, director of food at the BRC, said the UK government should wait until its wider reforms for the funding of plastic recycling came into play, before deciding on the shape of a DRS.
“It’s key that we develop a comprehensive UK-wide system that complements our successful household recycling schemes, ensuring consistent collection and effective recycling of waste,” he said.
“We believe the government should first implement changes to extended producer responsibility, whereby businesses will pay the full cost of recycling household packaging, supported by a consistent household collection across the whole of the UK.
“Following these changes, the government should assess how a DRS can be used to plug any remaining gaps.
Opie added there were “huge concerns” about who would be expected to pay start up costs for DRS reverse vending machines, which could be up to £60,000 each. “The Scottish government has indicated there could be some money available but we are not sure they understand quite the impact this will have. The cost is truly enormous and could be beyond even fairly large retailers.”
However, Gavin Partington, director general of the BSDA, said it supported an “all-in” DRS system for all PET plastic and can drink containers from 100ml to three litres, including multipacks, and urged the government south of the border to speed up its plans.
He warned of cross-border chaos unless the UK government brought forward its proposal implementation in 2023, with Scotland aiming to deliver the legislation in this parliamentary term, which ends in May 2021.
“Any scheme will only be successful if it is implemented in a consistent way across Great Britain, within a similar time frame,” said Partington. “England must follow Scotland’s timing (and scope) as closely as possible.”
♻ Our new Deposit Return Scheme means you’ll get 20p back for every single-use drinks container you recycle.— Scottish Government (@scotgov) May 8, 2019
The scheme is our latest step in combatting climate change, and will cover glass and PET bottles (the most common form of plastic), and aluminium and steel cans. pic.twitter.com/2qDQRKGsl8
Scottish Retail Consortium head of policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell said today’s decision would heap massive costs on retailers.
“The inclusion of glass will add an additional £50m per annum to the cost of running a DRS; a cost that will end up being paid by consumers.
“Glass is a difficult, bulky, and heavy material to manage and will be an enormous burden, especially for those operating from smaller stores.
“Similarly, charging ahead with a Scotland-only scheme rather than working collaboratively on a pan-UK approach may affect the range and price of those products in scope. For example, to prevent fraud, Scottish drink containers will need to be labelled differently from those in the rest of the UK. That will impose enormous costs on retailers and producers, and could even place a question mark over the economic viability of selling some products north and south of the border.
“These decisions mean this scheme risks hampering retailers without effectively delivering the environmental improvements we all want to see. The upfront cost of this scheme is likely to be in excess of £100m to purchase reverse vending machines alone. Consequently, we will await any further news on what any financial support package will look like with significant interest.”
But Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, called it a “landmark decision”.
“On this side of the border, we will be urging environment secretary Michael Gove to build on Scotland’s ambition and go one better, by making sure every drinks carton is also included within England’s deposit system.
“Introducing a truly “all-in” deposit system will not only boost recycle rates to close to 100%, but also make the producers of drinks packaging rightly liable for the cost of every piece of packaging they create,” she said.
Scottish Beer & Pub Association CEO Brigid Simmonds said the inclusion of glass was “deeply disappointing”, saying it would “substantially increase costs and complexity” of the system.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, added: “The WSTA has long argued that there is no evidence to support the inclusion of glass in the DRS.
“Glass is different. It is infinitely recyclable, largely inert and easily available. And it does not cause micro-plastic pollution. Wine and spirit producers have made significant environmental strides in recent years, reducing glass per bottle by up to 60% over the last decade - and exceeding EU glass recycling targets.
“The Scottish government’s DRS proposal also fails to recognise the effect a DRS will have on those on lower incomes who, according to the evidence, struggle to engage in recycling. Because the deposit scheme will be applied to all customers and be funded by unreturned deposits, we have concerns that the scheme will be disproportionately funded by customers on lower incomes, and raise, rather than lower, CO2 emissions with more car journeys by those customers who can comply.”