Plans for a deposit return scheme move closer, but some remain concerned
Mo Razzaq, a shop owner and councillor from Blantyre, says he was surprised at how quickly customers got to grips with the introduction of a reverse vending machine in his store. “They took to it really well,” he told Holyrood. “In fact, they took to it too well, in a way. It was too successful.”
A member of the Federation of Independent Retailers, as well as the Scottish Government’s Implementation Advisory Group on a deposit return scheme (DRS), Razzaq installed the machine in his shop as a trial, to see how it would work in practice.
In his trial, customers paid a 10p deposit on cans and bottles bought in the shop, which they got back when they returned the empty container. The money could then either be spent in-store or donated to one of six local charities.
Beginning in December last year, the trial has been a runaway success, apart from a couple of people trying to bring in old jam jars. In fact, Razzaq says he had to cap the amount going to charity, to curb costs.
He told Holyrood: “Customers really liked the idea of deposit return, and they were really proactive. We’ve got some local community groups involved and primary schools came in too. It’s been really well received. I think when it first kicks in it will be a bit of a burden to bear, because you’ve got to remember it’s going to cost the retailers money, all the stock that’s lying on the shelf is going to have 20p per item on it, and that will cost householders money at the start, because they will pay 20p deposit per item. That might add £3 or £4 to the cost of their messages. But they’ve just borrowed that item [the product in a can or bottle], you’re going to get the money back. It’s important to put that message forward, but people have been very supportive of it.”
Razzaq was an early adopter of the technology – a reverse vending machine collects the materials for a DRS – but proposals have been on the horizon for some time, with calls for a DRS growing in volume from 2016 onwards.
More information on the actual workings of the scheme were released in July, with ministers confirming the DRS will be based on a 20p deposit and cover PET plastic (used for most fizzy drinks and water bottles), steel, aluminium and glass.
The glass sector will unfairly pay the price for the fight against plastic litter when we believe there is not a glass litter problem
The scheme will cover all types of drinks containers between 50ml and 3l in size and will operate in all shops selling drinks across Scotland.
However, it will not cover businesses which sell drinks to be opened and consumed on site, such as pubs and restaurants.
Campaigners have been calling for glass to be included for some time, and the confirmation it would be forced Razzaq to extend his trial to the end of the year – he previously only included plastic and cans – though he says he supports the decision provided the glass is not crushed.
He said: “I went to Finland who have glass recycling within the DRS, and they don’t have glass crushing for good reasons. One is the noise, but also, if you’ve got crushed glass, with fragments, it can be dangerous, especially if you’re selling food. I’m really wary of that. Then the third reason is that the machinery will be more expensive, and we’re already going to have to fork out for the machine, and paying for a glass-cutting unit would be another cost, for no reason. That glass, if it isn’t crushed, can be separated into coloured glass and non-coloured glass. You can then get better recycling rates, particularly because glass isn’t worth as much as the rest of the materials.”
According to Scottish Government analysis, a DRS will bring wide-ranging social and economic benefits, increasing trade, creating jobs and securing new sources of high quality materials.
The analysis suggests a DRS would cut down on the £46m of public money spent each year on removing litter and flytipping, while the carbon savings are anticipated to be the equivalent to taking 85,500 cars off the road.
Meanwhile, according to research from Zero Waste Scotland, the increased incentive to return containers will stop nearly 31,000 plastic bottles from being dropped on Scotland’s streets, beaches and green spaces every single day.
That adds up to 11 million fewer items of litter dropped each year, with the study suggesting there would be 1,000 fewer bottles littered each week in local government council area Eilean Siar alone.
The study was published alongside new online content for stakeholders aiming to clarify the benefits of including glass in the scheme, which is expected to increase recycling rates for glass bottles from the current level, of around 65 per cent, up to 90 per cent.
Glass recycled through the scheme could also provide a boost for Scotland’s circular economy, with analysis suggesting the scheme will generate 1.5 million tonnes of recycled glass for use by Scottish industry over 25 years.
The whole point of DRS is about shifting the costs away from taxpayers and towards a producer responsibility system. That’s a much fairer system.
Jill Farrell, chief operating officer at Zero Waste Scotland, said: “The environmental evidence shows why Scotland is right to include glass in its deposit return scheme from day one.
“People in Scotland want glass to be included in Scotland’s deposit return scheme as part of ambitious action to protect our environment. The carbon emissions savings make it clear that they are right.
“Every bottle recycled rather than sent to landfill means carbon savings. At a time of a climate emergency, this is an unmissable opportunity to cut tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon.”
And evidence suggests widespread public support for the plans, with a YouGov survey commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland and carried out in July finding that 85 per cent of people in Scotland believe glass bottles should be included in a DRS, with just eight per cent opposed.
Yet, while manufacturers such as Coca-Cola have thrown their support behind the plans, among parts of industry, concerns remain that a DRS will hurt independent businesses, after ministers ruled out an exemption for Scotland’s smallest shops. As Colin Borland, the FSB’s director of devolved nations put it back in May: “We’re unhappy that the Scottish Government hasn’t taken on board our concerns, despite a commitment to address the problems such a scheme poses for small retailers.
“Ministers need to explain to those that run the smallest shops how this scheme will work for them.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Wholesale Association has raised concern over potential logistical difficulties between a Scotland-only scheme and another one running south of the border, while also expressing doubt over the timescale involved in implementation.
The SWA also backed a letter from British Glass, sent to Roseanna Cunningham, saying it was “disappointed that the Scottish Government, regardless of concerns from industry, continues to push forward with a recycling DRS including glass”.
British Glass CEO Dave Dalton said: “We believe that the Scottish Government is bringing in the recycling DRS to tackle a plastic litter issue rather than taking a measured and joined-up approach to improving the wider recycling infrastructure. The glass sector will unfairly pay the price for the fight against plastic litter when we believe there is not a glass litter problem.
“Recycling is such an important issue for our sector, both in terms of the circular economy and decarbonisation, so it is vital that we get it right. We do not believe that including glass in the DRS will achieve the environmental goals set out by the Scottish Government. In fact, waste management experts argue that including glass in a recycling DRS would actually reduce the current UK glass recycling rate of 67 per cent.”
Glass is included in schemes in Germany, Finland, Denmark and Estonia, while there is also cross-party support for the move, but given it weighs more and is worth less than other materials, some in industry have voiced reluctance.
Yet environmental campaigners have expressed strong support for the newly published regulations, which operate under the super affirmative process and are available for public comment until 10 December.
Then, once these are passed by MSPs – probably early next year – there is expected to be an implementation period of at least 12 months before the scheme starts.
After consultation, ministers will then bring forward a final set of regulations, which will go before parliament. Ministers are not tendering for a single system operator. Instead, they will invite individual producers, or groups of producers, to come forward with plans of how they would operate a DRS. That means every producer in Scotland will need to hit return targets using a deposit system – 70 per cent in year one, 80 per cent in year two and 90 per cent in year three – but they will have greater flexibility in how they go about doing so.
That model, too, has been questioned, with some instead calling for a single national system operator, run on a not-for-profit basis, while some retailers have also expressed opposition to the idea of non-licensed shops having to handle alcohol, given some shop owners choose not to sell it because of personal beliefs.
And while there are clearly still issues to resolve over the coming months, environmental groups see the move as part of a wider shift in the way we think about litter, with a greater responsibility being placed on manufacturers for the impact of their products after they have been consumed.
James Mackenzie, Have You Got the Bottle’s communication and policy adviser, told Holyrood: “The whole point of DRS is about shifting the costs away from taxpayers and towards a producer responsibility system. That’s a much fairer system.
“If industry bears the cost of the clean-up and collection and recycling of all its products in full, that will provide an incentive for them to run proper collections, to reduce and recycle. This specific approach won’t necessarily work with other things – a crisp packet is not a valuable thing to recycle, so it would be hard to put a deposit on it. The economics will not work the same way, but that principle, that producers pay for what they put on the market, that’s an incentive to get them to change the way they behave. The focus would be on what producers and retailers offer, rather than badgering the public that it’s their fault if there’s nothing recyclable in the shops.”