Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme would stop millions of plastic bottles littering our countryside. Time for drinks industry to stop whingeing – Dr Richard Dixon

Despite more than five years of notice, businesses are still whingeing on about the new Deposit Return Scheme, due to start operating in mid-August.

DRS will put a 20p deposit on plastic, glass and metal drinks cans and bottles so that people have an incentive to return them for recycling. Shopkeepers will get to keep some of the deposit and the scheme will massively increase recycling rates for these items, as well as drastically reducing litter and cutting climate emissions.

Instead of trying to extract contaminated bottles and cans out of the mess that is general household waste, the scheme will provide a supply of clean, high-quality materials for recycling, and it will create jobs. These kinds of schemes are common in Europe, and California has had a similar one for nearly 40 years. They are a popular and routine part of life. Iceland, Lidl, Sainsburys and others have already been trialling machines to collect your cans and bottles.

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The scheme will be phased in and aims to be collecting 90 per cent of all relevant containers by next year. It could mean 34,000 fewer plastic bottles becoming litter every day, that’s 12.5 million a year. The start of the scheme has already been delayed twice, once because of Covid. It was first announced in September of 2017 and the laws to make it happen were passed in 2020, with the original start date last July, yet businesses continue to resist it, calling for it to be delayed or put on hold entirely.

At the start of the month, the Scottish Retail Consortium was the latest to try to muddy the waters. Could there be just a little self-interest at work here? It costs the public purse tens of millions a year to deal with waste drinks cans and bottles but the Deposit Return Scheme will make the drinks industry pay for this instead.

The latest to wade in, this week, was Alister Jack, the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary. He repeated a standard industry line that we should wait for a UK-wide scheme, with the clear implication that the UK Government might block the Scottish scheme.

On the face of it, waiting for a UK scheme might sound like a reasonable argument but such a scheme has been promised for five years. It is now supposed to be introduced in 2025 but delays like those to the Scottish scheme could easily mean this is closer to 2030. And, unlike the Scottish scheme, the UK proposals do not include glass bottles.

The DRS is in danger of becoming a political football, with the UK Government previously dragging its feet over changes to tax rules that were needed for the scheme to operate. The point of devolution in 1999 was that Scotland could do things its own way, at its own pace. A Deposit Return Scheme is popular with the public, will increase recycling of valuable materials, reduce litter and save public money. The industry needs to stop whingeing and embrace the change that is coming.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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