Lifestyle DRS

Plans for the UK’s first deposit return scheme risk “falling apart” within days, amid claims thousands of companies have failed to register.

The deadline for producers to sign up to the scheme expires on 28 February and under the current plans, companies will lose their right to sell drinks unless they register.

However, there is speculation that scheme administrator Circularity Scotland (CSL) has fallen well short of its target to sign up 4,500 producers across Scotland. Pressure is again rising on the Scottish government to delay the 16 August start date.

This week CSL revealed thousands of producers would be spared from paying upfront charges for the introduction of the scheme, in the latest of a series of major concessions to drive support for the scheme.

It said the £22m package of cashflow support would help Scotland’s brewers, distillers, importers and drinks manufacturers prepare for the introduction of DRS.

But leading industry sources told The Grocer that next Tuesday was “D-Day” for the scheme and that major companies were prepared to walk away unless CSL and the Scottish government answered concerns over the scheme.

Ealrlier this month, retail bosses warned the launch was “in the last chance saloon”.

This week, responding to CSL’s latest move, UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said it was “symptomatic of the entire DRS process where decision-making has not been timely or understanding of business need”.

He added: “Frankly, with one week to go before registration for producers is set to close, this is a desperate attempt to boost the number of businesses signing up to be involved in the deposit return scheme.

“UKHospitality Scotland members have been reporting that suppliers are highlighting a number of drinks brands and products that will not be available in Scotland after 16 August. This is bad news for those producers and our businesses who will not be able to offer the same range of drinks to customers.

“Four-and-a-half thousand producers have been identified by Circularity Scotland. However, there is speculation that the number of those registering are sitting well below this figure.

“It is hard to see how the scheme can operate without a critical mass of producers involved.”

A raft of drinks bodies and retail leaders have called for the scheme to be shelved and a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “There are still too many unanswered questions for producers and importers to sign up to the DRS in a week’s time.

“The 28 February deadline must be shelved in writing by the Scottish government so businesses across the supply chain still have the confidence to keep trading in Scotland.”

However, The Federation of Independent Retailers (Fed) urged the Scottish government to “think carefully” before potentially delaying the troubled scheme again.

Mo Razzaq, the Fed’s national deputy vice president, said: “For sure there are many issues which are unclear and causing huge problems for shops – and we are now just six months from launch day. Many of our members are angry and frustrated.

“At the same time, many retailers have already invested in changes to the layout and fittings in their shops to accommodate the returned bottles and cans. Some shops are also investing money they can’t afford in leased machines to handle the empties. We urge the Scottish government to think carefully about yet another delay to this scheme as this could be of concern to some retailers.”