“The scheme as designed is fundamentally flawed” - business owners react to Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme pause

First minister Humza Yousaf announced that the Deposit Return Scheme will be delayed until March 2024, following concerns from business owners.

After promising to pause the controversial Deposit Return Scheme during hustings in March, First Minister Humza Yousaf has now confirmed that the scheme won’t be going ahead until March 2024. The Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) was due to launch on 16 August, but has been plagued with criticism from business owners, producers and MSPs due to the complex nature, costs and how it will impact their businesses and green infrastructure already in place. The scheme was aimed at increasing the number of single-use drinks bottles and cans that are recycled. During a statement on Tuesday 18 April, Mr Yousaf said: “I remain committed to this Scheme as a way to increase recycling, reduce litter and help achieve our net zero ambitions. But we recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK Government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act. We had hoped for that decision this week – but it has not come. At the same time, I – and the Circular Economy Minister – have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August. As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to the 1st of March 2024. This provides 10 months for businesses to get ready. We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.”

Reacting to the pause of the DRS, the Night Time Industries Association Scotland commented that while they welcome the delay, the current scheme is flawed. They said: “NTIA welcomes the news that the Scottish Deposit Return Scheme has been delayed until March 2024, but we need to be clear that the scheme as designed is fundamentally flawed and remains completely unworkable for large parts of our sector. It would also be significantly inflationary and worsen the cost of living pressures being felt across society. Scotland's DRS as currently proposed cannot be fixed by tweaking around the edges, and a total redesign, learning the lessons of schemes elsewhere, is needed. If there is to be a scheme it also must be identical in scope across the UK, launching at the same time UK wide, and it should be much simpler and less expensive to implement. We urge the Scottish Government to now engage in meaningful consultation with businesses and commission a full review and redesign from scratch of the deposit return scheme."

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Jamie Delap, Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Scotland Director and owner of Fyne Ales said that the delay gives small breweries time to at least catch their breath and begin to prepare for its introduction. He added: “While we fully support the principle of DRS, we have highlighted for many months the extreme complexity of the scheme in Scotland which many small producers do not have the resources or finances to prepare for. Many small breweries have been anxious about the impact it will have on their businesses as they face the cost of living crisis, energy price increases and the lingering effects of the pandemic. Last year we called on the Scottish Government, in partnership with others, for them to do three things – reduce the costs to small businesses, amend the terms of the scheme so small producers weren’t required to take on extra debt and to delay the start of the scheme in order to allow small producers time to implement the scheme successfully. It is welcome that they have listened to all three and under the new First Minister now delayed it. Now is the opportunity for the Scottish Government and Circularity Scotland to work in partnership with small businesses to come up with real solutions that work for everyone, not just the largest businesses and we look forward to working with them to address the other barriers to a successful launch of the DRS.”

Most critics don't disagree with the aim of the deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, but it needs to be workable. Picture: George Frey/Getty ImagesMost critics don't disagree with the aim of the deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, but it needs to be workable. Picture: George Frey/Getty Images
Most critics don't disagree with the aim of the deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, but it needs to be workable. Picture: George Frey/Getty Images

Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) chief executive Colin Smith said that they welcome the delay and the continued commitment to support small businesses impacted by the scheme. "We await the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity's speech on Thursday when we will get further details of plans to simplify the scheme and what that will mean for Scotland's wholesale sector,” he said. "It's now essential that the Scottish Government, CSL, Seap and business work together so we can address the myriad practical issues still standing in the way of a workable DRS being launched in March. SWA has been pushing hard for a de-minimis approach to ensure wholesalers putting small volumes of a product on to the market aren't hit hard by DRS and consumer choice isn't reduced significantly. We believe that approach would help small importers but it would also reduce the numbers of producers CSL has to deal with, thereby simplifying and de-risking Scotland's DRS."

Chris Payne, director Shoogle Spirits also welcomes the delay and welcomes any government representatives to visit the business in Glasgow to talk about how the firm can help make the scheme more effective for the environment, the Scottish economy, and ultimately for consumers who are facing significant cost-of-living challenges. He said: “While we welcome the delay, we also point out that had the scheme been better managed and administered, there would not have been any need to pause it, and the benefits of a workable DRS postponed. To this end, we highlight the deliberate obfuscation around the real issues that have plagued the DRS from the outset and we have to place this squarely at the feet of the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. The ongoing denial of issues surrounding all aspects of scheme administration, the inability (or unwillingness) to answer straightforward questions, and the easy dismissal of stakeholders concerns has demonstrated that there is a conflict of interest between interest and the Minister. We therefore urge the First Minister to consider a change in leadership of the scheme to help re-establish trust with businesses and to assure the collective cooperation and commitment needed to realise the environmental benefits that a workable DRS will deliver.”