Green groups and businesses clash over Scottish bottle deposit return scheme

A row has broken out over the introduction of glass bottles into Scotland's new deposit return scheme.

New legislation to introduce a deposit return scheme with a 20p refund will be introduced later this year.
New legislation to introduce a deposit return scheme with a 20p refund will be introduced later this year.

Details of the DRS, announced in Holyrood today, revealed that glass bottles had been added to the list of drinks containers which shops will be expected to collect and recycle.

In a statement to Parliament this afternoon, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the scheme would also involve all shops which sell drinks offering a 20p deposit refund if new legislation is passed by the Scottish Parliament later this year.

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The scheme is expected to be up and running by 2021 and will include aluminium and steel cans as well as plastic and glass bottles.

But while the announcement was welcomed by environmental groups, the Scottish Retail Consortium said the addition of glass bottles to the DRS would add an additional £50m per year to operating costs. Richard Walker, Managing Director at Iceland also urged the government to reconsider including glass in the scheme and the Scottish Beer & Pub Association said the move was "deeply disappointing".

Addressing Parliament, Ms Cunningham said that Scotland was the first part of the UK to outline the design of a deposit return scheme "one that is ambitious in scale and scope, and which gives the people of Scotland a clear and straightforward way to do their bit for the environment."

She added: “There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. I am therefore delighted to confirm that I intend to implement a system covering PET – the most common form of plastic packaging – aluminium and steel cans, and glass, with a deposit refund set at 20p.

“Supported by international evidence our plans for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme are gathering pace with widespread consensus demonstrating that a well-run, appropriately-targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter, and support a more circular economy.”

Environmental campaigners welcomed the announcement about the scope of the system, with the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, suggesting that the DRS could divert around 140,000 empty cans and bottles from litter to recycling every day . Jenni Hume, the campaign manager, said: “The deposit system set out today is a major step in the right direction, setting the pace for the rest of the UK, and it will have a substantial positive impact on litter and recycling.

"It's great news that the Scottish Government are ready for the system to expand in future to include more drinks containers, which will be both more effective and easier for the public to use."

Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: "Our beach litter data highlights a shocking amount of glass items found on Scotland's beaches, an average of 78 pieces for every 100m of beach surveyed during the Great British Beach Clean 2018.

"We are very pleased with today's announcement that the system will include glass, along with some plastics and aluminium, and all sizes of those drinks containers."

And Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This is great news: the system announced today will provide a huge boost for recycling of bottles and cans, reduce litter across Scotland, and save both materials and climate change emissions. This is a great start to getting the public to do even more recycling and it is the kind of system which can be expanded to other products over time.

“This scheme will set a good benchmark to influence the thinking for a similar scheme for England and the ideal is that the two schemes will eventually work in the exactly the same way."

But Richard Walker, Managing Director at Iceland, said that while the ambitious DRS scheme was commendable, and will be supported by the public, it should reconsider including glass.

“A scheme incorporating glass would put further pressure on high street retailers due to the size and scope of equipment required to recycle glass, and the requirement to manage additional health and safety concerns," he said. "As well as this, the recycling of glass would have the inevitable consequence of diverting footfall from an already precarious high street, due to the customer inconvenience of recycling heavy glass bottles in stores without parking.

"The existing kerbside glass collection scheme is effective and widely used, and we’d encourage the Scottish Government to focus their efforts on the immediate need to recycle plastics.”

Head of Policy with the SRC, Ewan MacDonald-Russell, echoed Mr Walker's remarks. He said: "A successful DRS, working within a wider comprehensive strategy to reduce waste following producer responsibility reform, would herald an opportunity to drive further increases in recycling and reduce litter, over and above the existing household kerbside system.

“However, we are concerned the disappointing design unveiled by ministers may make that unachievable. The inclusion of glass will add an additional £50 million per annum to the cost of running a DRS; a cost that will end up being paid by consumers. Glass is a difficult, bulky, and heavy material to manage and will be an enormous burden, especially for those operating from smaller stores."

SBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said that while it supports a DRS for plastic containers, “the inclusion of glass containers inside the system is, however, deeply disappointing to our members and the wider industry. Including glass inside a DRS substantially increases costs and adds complexity to the system. This will impact consumers and creates significant challenges for Scotland’s pubs. Many pubs simply do not have the storage space for glass. It cannot be crushed and therefore the storage requirements are huge for smaller premises in pubs or small shops."

While Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association said: “The inclusion of glass raises costs and introduces a complexity which creates unnecessary risk to the successful launch of a DRS in Scotland."

The government is currently being advised by the Deposit Return Scheme Implementation Advisory Group providing industry input and guidance on how the scheme will work for consumers, producers, retailers and the hospitality industry. Around 2.5 billion single use drinks containers are sold in Scotland each year, and the deposit return scheme is expected to encourage more sustainable use and recycling.

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur welcomed the announcement as "the right thing to do to end our throwaway culture", and Scottish Labour's environment spokesperson, Claudia Beamish, said: "It is right that glass is included, and there will be producer responsibility through a not for profit operating model."

The move to include glass was also welcomed by Truls Haug, managing director of TOMRA Collection Solutions UK & Ireland. He said: “This type of scheme – with as few restrictions as possible, which is convenient and easy to use – will achieve the best return rates in our experience.

“For that reason we welcome the inclusion of glass in a DRS for Scotland. I can confirm that TOMRA will have a small footprint machine for convenience stores that can accept PET, can and glass ready for the Scottish rollout. This will have an even smaller footprint than those being trialled in Scotland today."

However the Federation of Small Businesses also criticised the government for ruling out an exemption for the smallest shops. Colin Borland, FSB director of devolved nations, said: “A bottle deposit scheme is undoubtedly a popular idea. But it is understandable that those that run the very smallest shops have concerns about storage.

"That’s why we’ve been working with officials, underlining the importance of an opt-out for those without appropriate capacity. 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.”

Draft legislation on the scheme will be published later this year.