Zero Waste Scotland to investigate prospect of deposit return scheme in Scotland

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 30 June 2017 in News

Deposit return schemes (DRS), in which consumers pay a small sum which is paid back when they return a bottle or can, operate in several European countries

Plastic bottles - Fotolia

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has commissioned Zero Waste Scotland to investigate the prospect of introducing a deposit return scheme in Scotland.

Deposit return schemes (DRS), in which consumers pay a small sum which is paid back when they return a bottle or can, operate in several European countries.

Environmental groups have urged the Scottish Government to introduce a DRS, forming an alliance through the ‘Have You Got the Bottle’ campaign and arguing the scheme would increase recycling, combat climate change, cut costs for local authorities and boost employment.


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Cunningham today confirmed Zero Waste Scotland will investigate design options and the associated costs and benefits of a DRS.

Options will then be put to the public for consultation before ministers come to a final decision on the future of deposit return.

Calum Duncan, head of conservation Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society, said the organisation was “thrilled” by the move, saying there is “no more obvious next step to take if we want to reduce the problem of plastics in our oceans”.

But the Scottish Retail Consortium described proposals for a DRS as "unnecessary, anachronistic, and expensive".

Cunningham said: “I am grateful to Zero Waste Scotland for its work so far on deposit return and to everyone who provided evidence to help us better understand the benefits of deposit return for recycling and reducing litter, and potential impacts on retailers and local authorities.

“Clearly there are a number of issues for the Scottish Government to consider when it comes to deposit return schemes that can only be addressed by carrying out work to understand the design of a potential system. I have asked Zero Waste Scotland to start this work.

“Progress will be overseen by a steering group involving representatives from the packaging industry, retailers and environmental groups, and followed by a full public consultation to ensure we are as well-informed as possible before any decisions are made.”

Opponents of the scheme have expressed concern over the impact it would have on small stores with limited space, costs to retailers and the impact on local authority kerbside collections.

Duncan said: “The Marine Conservation Society has long argued for a system of this sort, based on the evidence our dedicated volunteers collect every year of increasing plastic pollution on our beaches and in our seas.

“If a final decision is taken to adopt this approach in Scotland, we are confident that other parts of the UK will follow where Scotland leads. Deposits for drinks containers won't solve all our litter problems, of course, but there is no more obvious next step to take if we want to reduce the problem of plastics in our oceans."

He added: “We have also had over 6000 #wildbottlesighting reports all the way from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway highlighting how many people care about this issue and want to see a change in how many bottles and cans are blighting our beaches and seas - we believe a  Deposit Return System is the change Scotland needs and we congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on her bold decision to take this crucial next step to looking at Deposit Return in Scotland. We believe that if the system is well designed then the next step would be to implement it across Scotland and in a couple of years we would all be wondering what the fuss was about - just like the 5p carrier bag charge.”

But Ewan MacDonald-Russell, SRC Head of Policy and External Affairs, said: “Scottish retailers face an incredibly uncertain economic situation right now. That has been exacerbated by the Scottish Government’s unwelcome and unhelpful decision to continue investigating this unnecessary, anachronistic, and expensive deposit proposal

“Further investigation won’t change the facts. We know consumers will be hit up front with a higher initial cost for every drinks container – a cost which is never recovered due to the necessity to buy further drinks. That cost is increased every time a customer is unable to return a drinks container to a store, which will add up to tens of millions each year.

“We know this scheme will be hugely expensive for retailers, costing tens of millions to install reverse vending machines, cannibalising profitable floor space for unprofitable waste machines, disrupting operations and hugely inconveniencing customers.

“In fact, the costs are clear. What is still uncertain is whether such a scheme will significantly improve overall recycling rates. The Scottish Government should be focusing on delivering the Household Recycling Charter and making a success of our existing kerbside recycling system. It’s a pity they’ve fumbled the chance to toss this unfair, outdated concept into the rubbish bin.”

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