One of the most fundamental challenges facing the food and drink industry globally is sustainability. 

According to a House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report from 2017, at least 13 billion plastic bottles are sold every year in the UK. Of those:

  • 7.5 billion (just under 58%) are recycled
  • 15 million (0.11%) are dropped as litter, landfilled or incinerated every day
  • 233,000 tonnes of CO2 are produced from landfill or incineration
  • £778 million was spent on clearing plastic litter and enforcing laws in 2015-16

In the face of such worrying statistics and what many are now calling the "global climate emergency", packaging has become a renewed focus area, as part of wider circular economy and zero waste policies.

The Scottish Government is committed to creating a more circular economy, where products and materials are kept in a high-value state of use for as long as possible – maximising resources to benefit the economy and the environment. In the face of plateauing recycling rates, the Scottish Government believes that fresh interventions are needed to bring about the systemic and behavioural change necessary to fulfil its aspirations for a zero waste environment. One of the main proposed interventions is the introduction of a deposit return scheme.

In May 2019, following an extensive consultation period, the Scottish Government outlined its plans for a deposit return scheme for some plastic drinking containers, cans and glass and published Phase 1 of the Full Business Case that underpins the design for the deposit return scheme for Scotland.

On 10 September 2019 a draft of The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 was laid before the Scottish Parliament for a 91 day representation period, until 10 December 2019. An accompanying statement has also been published.

It’s expected the scheme will become law in 2020, with the intention of a scheme going live by 1 April 2021.

On this basis Scotland will likely become the first nation in the UK to introduce a deposit return scheme. That is possible because recycling is a devolved issue.

However, a consultation has also taken place this year in England and Wales with a deposit of about 15p being mooted. Further consultations are expected in 2020, with a possible date for the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England and Wales of 2023.

A deposit return scheme is also under consideration in Northern Ireland.

The Scottish Government believes a deposit return scheme would help to reduce litter and improve recycling rates, representing a significant step towards achieving its zero waste ambition.

With the deposit return scheme, the Scottish Government aims to:

  • increase the quantity of target materials captured for recycling
  • improve the quality of material captured, to allow for high-value recycling
  • encourage wider behaviour changes in the uses of materials
  • deliver the maximum economic and social benefit for Scotland

The Scottish Government has supported Zero Waste Scotland to design a scheme that is tailored to meet Scotland's specific needs. Zero Waste Scotland has in turn worked closely with a range of stakeholders to ensure an evidence-based approach, and carefully considered equalities and social justice issues on which the scheme may have an impact. A Deposit Return Scheme Implementation Advisory Group has been set up to provide industry experience and advice on practical issues relating to the operation of the scheme.

So what is proposed?

It is proposed that: 

  • the deposit will be set at 20p
  • all retail outlets, regardless of size, will need to comply with the scheme
  • following a lot of discussion, the scheme is to include glass; this is despite some criticism from the glass industry
  • containers made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - which typically carry fizzy drinks and water – and aluminium and steel cans will all be subject to the deposit return

How does the scheme work?

Effectively, 20p - the deposit - will be added to the price of a single-use drinks container bought from a shop. The consumer will get their deposit back when they return the empty bottle or can to the retailer. The scheme will operate throughout Scotland, including rural areas. All types of drinks and all containers above 50ml and up to three litres in size are included. Businesses selling drinks which are opened and consumed on site - such as pubs and restaurants – will have the choice as to whether to charge the deposit to the public and will only be required to return the containers they sell on their own premises.

Online retailers will also be included in the scheme.

There will be two ways consumers can return their empty containers - over the counter, or by using a reverse vending machine (RVM). An RVM is a machine that scans containers when they are returned and then refunds the deposit. The returned containers are stored in the machine and are then collected for recycling.

As well as retailers and hospitality businesses, schools and other community hubs will be able to act as return locations.

The Scottish Government says an independent, privately-run, not-for-profit company will be in charge of administering the scheme and that the system will be paid for through three sources of funding - unredeemed deposits, revenue from the sale of materials and a producer fee.

If you have any questions about the Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland or would like to discuss how it might impact on your business, please contact Andrew Ley in the first instance

Key contact

Andrew Ley

Andrew Ley

Partner, Corporate
Edinburgh, UK

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