Lorna Slater: Millions of pounds at-risk as Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme 'cannot go ahead' as planned
Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) "cannot go ahead" as designed, leaving "hundreds of millions of pounds" spent by industry "at-risk", Lorna Slater has told parliament.
The Green co-leader, who is Scotland's circular economy minister, will join First Minister Humza Yousaf in a meeting with business figures tomorrow and is "urgently" seeking talks with the UK Government "to decide whether it is feasible for us to go forward".
Westminster leaders refused to grant an exemption to the UK Internal Market Act to allow the Scottish DRS to go forward unless glass is removed from the recycling scheme, which aims to stop single-use drinks containers being wasted.
If implemented, consumers will pay a refundable 20p charge for disposable containers, which can be recouped at designated return points.
UK ministers say the DRS planned for England in 2025 will not include glass and any difference in Scotland would present risks to consumers and barriers to business.
Slater was asked to "confirm that she's drawing up a modified scheme without glass" and if this "could be up and running by March next year".
The minister said she and DRS administrator Circularity Scotland is "looking at how we can take an alternative scheme forward in Scotland, because the one that this parliament passed has been shot down by Westminster".
She told the Scottish Parliament: "The UK is not acting with good faith here to support Scotland's scheme going forward and is in fact doing everything possible to undermine it."
SNP MSP Clare Adamson accused Westminster leaders of using the Internal Market Act, which was brought in to ensure barrier-free domestic trade after Brexit, to "rewrite devolved laws".
They say we have to adhere to their rules but they haven't written the rules yet
The comments follow a call by Circularity Scotland to ministers to ensure that DRS does go ahead in March 2024, even without glass. It said around £300m has been invested and "there would be a risk to jobs and investment if the scheme does not go ahead for cans and plastic, not to mention the ongoing environmental impact we will see from too many of these containers continuing to end up as waste".
Slater told MSPs: "Hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to prepare for the launch of the deposit return scheme across a range of businesses is now at risk of loss as a result of the UK Government's 11th hour intervention in our Deposit Return Scheme. The exact figures on investment are held by industry themselves, but published estimates suggest that retailers will invest up to £200m, and producers have invested around £100m for this scheme. Alongside this, contractors to Circularity Scotland such as Biffa will have invested significant funds, with some estimating this at around £80m."
On potential changes to DRS, she said: "It doesn't make the same amount of business case to run a system without glass than one with. It undermines the fundamental point of deposit return, which is the environmental and litter benefits. Even the UK Government's own analysis of deposit return schemes across the UK showed that social benefits of reduced litter emission saved and the economy are increased by 64 per cent when glass is included. It is England that is the outlier here by removing glass from a bottle return scheme."
The Labour-run Welsh Government is planning to include glass in its DRS. Slater said: "Wales are at an earlier stage than we are in deposit return, they haven't yet passed the regulations, and once it comes to drafting their regs and doing the detailed design, Wales will very likely say face the same barriers that we are now dealing with."
Green MSP Mark Ruskell asked Slater "what assurances has she had that there will actually be a DRS scheme in England?" and when this will be up and running.
Slater said: "I am unable to answer that question because the UK Government has not passed the regulations. They say a date of 2025 but we have not seen any sort of critical pathway to making that decision. They haven't got a scheme administrator in place, they haven't even determined whether their deposit will be 20p to match ours, so they can't even answer basic questions about interoperability.
"They say we have to adhere to their rules but they haven't written the rules yet. Will the deposit be 20 pence? Will the producer fees change? We cannot answer that because the UK Government has taken away our power to do so."