Dairy farmers battle for exemption to bottle deposit plan

Farmers believe cartons should be exempt.

Scottish farmers are calling for plastic milk containers to be excluded from the nation’s new deposit-return system (DRS), which is being set up to improve recycling and cut the amount of man-made litter polluting the environment.

They say Scotland should copy Germany and parts of the US and Canada, where plastic cartons for fresh milk are not part of DRS schemes.

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They fear Scottish food ­producers such as dairies, which already operate on tight profit margins, will be adversely affected by additional costs involved in complying with the national system.

NFU Scotland, which represents 9,000 farmers, crofters and growers across the country, is urging Scottish ministers to look more closely at the impact a DRS could have on specific sectors in the food chain that are heavily reliant on plastic packaging.

Responding to the Scottish Government’s public consultation on the DRS, the union has acknowledged the potential merits of such a system in Scotland and supports efforts to encourage recycling.

However, members believe proposed changes will increase the outlay for suppliers without bringing major benefits, which will hit dairies particularly hard.

Gone are the days when milk was delivered to doorsteps in returnable glass bottles.

Nowadays most people buy milk from shops and supermarkets, meaning dairies have grown increasingly dependent on convenient disposable packaging.

However, farmers claim most local authorities already have successful schemes in place to recycle common plastic packaging such as milk containers, so including them in the DRS is unnecessary.

“The fresh milk chain is one that sees the process of milking, cooling, farm collection, processing, pasteurisation, packaging and delivering to shop shelves often completed within 24 to 36 hours,” said George Jamieson, milk policy manager for NFU Scotland.

“That is a high-value chain delivering a fresh, nutritious product but one that traditionally operates on small margins.

“Introduction of a deposit-return scheme on milk packaging will bring additional costs to an industry already under strain, and farmers fear, based on past experience, that any such additional costs will simply be passed all the way back to the farm gate and a lower milk price.

“Our thoughts are that exempting milk containers from deposit-return but continuing to encourage and ­promote recycling through kerbside collection – a system that is currently working well – will still deliver on our recycling ambitions but without huge additional cost on the dairy sector.”

The government-funded charity Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has been charged with devising the new system.

A spokeswoman for ZWS said the organisation is committed to helping deliver the “best possible” DRS for Scotland – one that “works for everyone, including farmers in the dairy industry”.

She added: “There are still a lot of options to consider regarding what a Scottish deposit-return scheme will look like, and this includes the materials that can be taken back.

“The public consultation included questions about the types of materials which could be included, and all the views will be considered.”

The organisation has undertaken a programme of engagement events across the country, involving communities and representatives from trade, industry, manufacturers, retailers and local authority groups, to find out what people want from the system.

The spokeswoman added: “We have been motivated by the positive feedback to the deposit-return scheme as it shows the appetite in Scotland for us all to live a more sustainable lifestyle by recycling as much as we can.”

The public consultation on Scotland’s proposed DRS closed this week.

Responses will be analysed later this year, with an announcement expected by next spring.