Lorna Slater, Circular economy minister

The launch of the UK’s first deposit return scheme (DRS) is in the “last chance saloon” according to supermarket bosses, who yesterday held face-to-face crisis talks with the Scottish government.

The Grocer understands leading figures from the UK’s biggest retailers were among those who met circularity minister Lorna Slater to express fears the scheme is destined for chaos.

Afterwards, retail bosses said that without a “complete operational blueprint” by the end of this month, the scheme was destined for a disastrous start on 16 August when it is set to go live. They said disruption for stores and higher prices for consumers were likely.

The Grocer has learnt Slater was given a list of more than a dozen key questions that the consortium said risked making the launch a disaster if left unanswered.

They covered what shelf prices should be, and whether it includes the 20p deposit; clarity over labelling requirements; and certainty that only products that can be returned to reverse vending machines will be put on the market.

Despite scheme administrator Circularity Scotland (CSL) this week announcing retailer handling fees will be boosted by almost 20%, the SRC also said it still did not have transparency over how the fee was calculated.

It claimed retailers were investing more than £250m this year on establishing the scheme, including purchasing and installing reverse vending machines costing up to £100,000 each, reorganising and refitting stores, changing prices, product ranges, and installing new IT systems.

Meanwhile, south of the border the BRC has called on the UK government to shelve its plans for DRS because of the impact it could have on businesses and consumers.

“Retailers want DRS to be a success for the environment and customers and have already invested tens of millions of pounds in the scheme, alongside providing funding,” said SCR deputy head Ewan MacDonald-Russell.

“However, despite this enormous investment we are alarmed at the failure of government and the bodies it has approved to provide the key information needed for retailers to build a workable return system.

“We are already beyond reasonable deadlines for this scheme to land well in August. This is the critical moment, and we hope after a constructive meeting with the circular economy minister, that the scheme can be put back on track. Unless the Scottish government and its partners can deliver a complete operational blueprint by the end of February, covering the key information retailers need to deliver the necessary infrastructure for DRS to succeed, we do not believe the scheme can launch successfully in mid-August.

“If these issues cannot be resolved, then Scottish consumers will pay the price. Shoppers will 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. Customers will also face the consequence of retailers having to simplify their offering to attempt to be compliant, which is likely to mean reduced choice and potentially higher prices.”