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Scottish Deposit Return Scheme delayed after Westminster 'sabotage'

Lorna Slater addresses the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Deposit Return Scheme delayed after Westminster 'sabotage'

The Scottish Government's Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will not launch as planned, Lorna Slater has confirmed.

The circular economy minister says the recycling initiative has been "sabotaged" by the UK Government and will be delayed until at least October 2025.

Conditions imposed by Westminster "blow a massive hole" in the certainty needed for business, the minister said.

And, following morning talks with industry, she said: "We have been left with no other option but to delay the launch of Scotland's DRS until October 2025 at the earliest."

The Scottish Government requires an exemption to the UK-wide Internal Market Act to allow the DRS to launch in March 2024.

The initiative aims to stop single-use drinks containers going to landfill and would introduce a refundable 20p charge on cans and bottles.

But UK ministers said they would only give this on a temporary basis if glass was removed from the scheme.

Failure to do so would create unacceptable divergence in the domestic market, it is claimed.

DRS schemes are also planned for England and Northern Ireland in 2025. However, Scotland's is at a more advanced stage and while UK ministers want to see the same rules in place across the four nations, regulations in other parts of Britain have not yet been established. Meanwhile, Wales intends to include glass.

The news comes after DRS administrator Circularity Scotland urged ministers to ensure DRS would 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".

However, big players including Tesco and Tennents had called for Scotland to join a cross-border scheme.

Slater accused the UK Government of having committed an "act of sabotage" against the DRS through conditions including the setting of a maximum cap on deposits. Highlighting the lack of decision on the regulations for England's planned DRS, she said: "It puts this government in an impossible situation to ask Scottish businesses to comply with regulations that don't even exist."

The row around DRS is constitutionally-charged, with SNP and Green MSPs accusing the UK Government of attacking devolution and undermining legislation made in the Scottish Parliament.

However, Labour's Sarah Boyack said "it is clear that Scotland is paying the price for two bad governments, both of whom seem more interested in a constitutional fight" than "constructive work with each other".

Green co-leader Slater said: "The Scottish Government has worked at all times as a good faith actor following the common frameworks and agreed processes; we can see that the UK Government has not. I wrote to the my counterpart at Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] yesterday asking for the opportunity to reset our relationship so that we can work together in good faith going forward. That is very much how I would like to proceed."

Scottish secretary Alister Jack was accused by Slater of having "torpedoed" DRS.

Responding, he said: "I welcome the announcement from the Scottish Government that they are to pause their deposit return scheme so that it starts at the same time as the UK Government’s scheme, and also their commitment to interoperability.

"Deposit Return Schemes need to be consistent across the whole of the UK to provide a simple and effective system for businesses and consumers.

"We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, on a UK-wide deposit return solution.

"The UK Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market."

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