APRS formally calls on the UK government to grant an exemption to the International Market Act
The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) has formally called on the UK government to stop blocking Scotland’s deposit return system and to grant an exemption to the International Market Act (IMA), legislation which means devolved powers can only be used where Westminster agrees. This most recent delay means that almost half a billion extra bottles and cans will be littered, landfilled, or incinerated .
Environmental campaigners from APRS and Marine Conservation Society protested outside Queen Elizabeth House, the UK Government’s headquarters in Scotland. The campaigners brought bags of littered cans and bottles found last week by litter picking group Fife Street Champions, one of the many litter picking groups across Scotland that are campaigning for deposit return.
Scotland’s deposit return scheme was first announced in September 2017, and has now been delayed three times. Most recently, the First Minister announced that Scotland’s deposit return scheme would be delayed by 198 days, given Westminster’s failure to grant this exemption, without which industry cannot be sure it will go ahead at all.
The Scottish system charges a 20p deposit for every single use drinks can and bottle, which is fully refunded once that can or bottle is returned to a shop or other return point. It is expected to reduce litter by roughly one third, and is scheduled to launch on 1st March 2024.
The UK Government acknowledged the benefits of a deposit return scheme when it announced that England, Wales, and Northern Ireland would introduce similar deposit return systems across the rest of the UK from October 2025 .
Campaigners argue that if the UK Government fails to grant an exemption, they risk undermining devolution as well as Scotland’s environment, and setting a dangerous precedent for other future environmental policies in Scotland, or indeed elsewhere in the UK outside England.
David Spence, from Fife Street Champions, said:
“Fife Street Champions were asked to donate some of the discarded drinks containers we collect to this event in order to illustrate the size of the problem. I personally collected three bags worth, in little more than an hour, which in itself shows the extent of the problem.
“We are in a ‘litter emergency’ and the Scottish and UK Governments must take the lead in doing everything they can to stern the tide of detritus that affects us all.
“The Internal Market Act, introduced by the UK Government, gives them the power to undermine any type of action proposed by Holyrood, be it for practical reasons or simply to gain political advantage. This must end now.”
Dr. Kat Jones, Director of APRS, said:
“Every day this scheme is delayed, more and more cans and bottles are littered in our towns, countryside, and waterways. We have been waiting years for this scheme to be introduced, meanwhile the environmental cost is stacking up.
“We are in the midst of an environmental crisis, yet UK Ministers are treating a basic recycling system as a political football. Disrupting the Scottish deposit system will set Scotland’s environment back yet again, and would mean hundreds of millions of pounds of investment will have been wasted. It also risks sabotaging Westminster’s own system, which is due to start in 2025.”
Petra Hoefer, a litter picking volunteer with the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said:
“As a person who regularly litter picks I am extremely disappointed at just another delay to the deposit return scheme. While litter picking recently, I collected 400 glass bottles in addition to several bags of plastic bottles and cans. The majority of litter I pick is drinks containers, and I believe that a deposit return scheme is the only way to encourage improved recycling of bottles and cans.”
 An estimated 499,068,504 drinks containers will have been littered, landfilled, or incinerated over the 7 month delay, based on data from Reloop https://news.stv.tv/scotland/scotland-wasted-920-million-drinks-containers-in-2019
 See: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/deposit-return-scheme-for-drinks-containers-moves-a-step-closer