Government 'dithering' over bottle return scheme say Greens

The Scottish Government has been accused of “dithering” after delaying the introduction of its bottle deposit return scheme until 2022.

The deposit return scheme has been delayed until 2022.
The deposit return scheme has been delayed until 2022.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham told MSPs that the proposed DRS timescale had been pushed back by a year to help businesses cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ms Cunningham said her “heart was set on the earlier date”, with the scheme having originally been expected to come into force from April 2021, but she said she had had to “accept the reality of where we are”.

When asked about the impact delaying the start date until July 2022 would have, Ms Cunningham told the committee: “We haven't made a precise calculation of the difference the 15 months makes in terms of climate change.”

However Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell criticised ministers for the “glacial” pace of progress they had made on the scheme - which was first announced by Nicola Sturgeon in 2017. “Some countries have rolled out deposit return schemes within six months,” he said.

“I really feel progress on this has been glacial, to be honest, though maybe that is a bad metaphor given glaciers are melting faster these days.”

Mr Ruskell said the delay would add to carbon emissions and “clean-up costs” for local authorities. And he said that coronavirus should not hamper the introduction of the scheme, suggesting that the government was being influenced by “industry lobbying”.

The confirmation of the delay comes just a day after the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), said any interruption to the scheme would lead to more than 63 million extra cans and bottles being dumped in Scotland’s streets and countryside, as well as a further 60,000 tonnes of extra carbon emissions.

“I understand why the current public health crisis has led to the postponement of some measures, but the Scottish Government has had the power to introduce a deposit return scheme for 11 years,” said Mr Ruskell. “Putting it off for another two or more is yet more dithering. Every delay means more carbon emissions, more littering and clean-up costs for councils.

“By the government’s own admission there are no Covid-related reasons why a deposit return scheme cannot be introduced in 18 months’ time, so the obvious conclusion is that this extra delay has as much to do with industry lobbying than public health concerns.

“We must work hard to ensure this doesn’t get further bogged down with delays. DRS needs real commitment and ambition if it is going to succeed.”

The scheme would see shoppers pay a refundable deposit of 20p when buying items in bottles and cans made of aluminium, steel, glass and PET plastic, which would be returned when the bottle was recycled.

APRS director John Mayhew has said that a two year delay “would completely undermine ministers’ claims that Scotland is leading the world on this agenda.”

However other MSPs questioned why ministers are continuing to push ahead with the plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Conservative Finlay Carson said the lockdown could “change the face of retailing and distribution”, and leave businesses “facing unprecedented uncertainty that is likely to continue for some time in the future.”

He demanded to know where there is “the urgency to push through these measures in the face of such uncertainty.”

Labour's Claudia Beamish said there are concerns about bringing forward the regulations during the lockdown when many businesses are “struggling, some indeed for their very survival”, but added: “I am very supportive of the scheme in principle, as are Scottish Labour, and there would in my view still be plenty of time to implement the scheme before July 2022.”

Ms Cunningham said: “I accept and understand why some people might say 'why are you doing it at the moment', but we can't suspend all non-Covid-related business.

“This was one piece of business that was quite far on in terms of where we were with it.”

She said there was no certainty about when “this Covid emergency will be over”, adding that the July 2022 start date gives businesses a “reasonable time” to get the scheme up and running.

She added: “The longer we leave it to lay the regulations, the longer we leave that uncertainty hanging in the air, the increasing likelihood is of that July 2022 date slipping away as well.”

The MSPs on Holyrood's environment committee agreed the necessary regulations for the scheme to come into place - with three SNP members voting in favour of these, two Tory MSPs voting against, and the Labour and Green MSPs on the committee both abstaining.

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