Scottish Parliament approves Deposit Return Scheme

Scottish Parliament has passed into law a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), which will come into force north of the border from 1 July 2022.

The initiative aims to boost recycling rates of single-use drinks containers in the country, and is expected to have a significant impact on retailers’ in-store operations and procedures.

With Scotland’s DRS, people will pay a 20p deposit on metal cans and PET plastic and glass bottles, which is then refunded when they’re returned for recycling. The Scottish government hopes that it can pave the way for schemes across the UK.

Retailers selling drinks will have a legal requirement to add the deposit and accept returns of empty containers for recycling, while hospitality businesses, including restaurants, bars, cafes, and hotels, will have to charge the deposit as well as operate their own return stations for products sold for take-out.

Drinks producers will have an obligation to make sure the bottles and cans their drinks come in, which are covered by the scheme, are collected for recycling.

There will be multiple ways of facilitating the DRS process – one is expected to be the use of reverse vending machines, which have been trialled over recent years in many of the larger grocers across the UK, notably by Iceland, and retailers such as Boots.

The final regulations, which were laid in the Scottish Parliament in March, have an ambitious approach to recycling materials, with glass included alongside PET plastic and aluminium and steel. There is a commitment to review the performance of the scheme by October 2026, including the deposit level, materials, and the collection targets. 

Although the intention of the scheme to reduce waste levels entering landfill is widely supported, the timing of the scheme entering Scottish law has been questioned by some business groups.

The Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA), the trade group for Scotland’s food and drink wholesale businesses, had called for a delay in passing the decision in light of the current coronavirus-influenced disruption facing the industry.

Colin Smith, SWA CEO, said: “Scotland’s food and drink wholesalers will be bitterly disappointed that the DRS regulations have been passed by Parliament rather than being halted and revisited after Covid-19 disruption has dissipated.

“This is meant to be an evidence-based policy but the evidence on which it is built – container numbers, return points, queueing spaces, online food shopping – will have fundamentally changed as business exits Covid-19.”