Deposit Return: costs of delay

APRS media release

Under embargo for 00.01, 19th February 2023

In six months time, on August 16th, the Scottish deposit return scheme for drinks cans and bottles will launch, some 867 days after the original launch date of 1st April 2021, and campaigners are urging MSPs to unite against yet more delay. 

Over that period more than 2.1 billion drinks containers will have been wasted across Scotland – either littered, landfilled or incinerated [1]. 

The current Scottish recycling system captures just 53% of the cans and bottles due to be covered by deposit return, but by 2024 the Scottish deposit system is expected to achieve a collection rate of at least 90%. 

In addition to reducing litter and waste, Scotland’s deposit return scheme will have a considerable effect in reducing national carbon emissions and tackling climate change. The two delays to the start date will mean more than 380,000 tonnes of avoidable carbon emissions [2].

Delay has increased costs for local councils as well as the environment. Between 1st April 2021 and 16th August, Scottish local authorities will have spent an estimated £18.2m on higher levels of street cleaning and bin emptying, money that could have been spent on other public services had deposits been in place. 

Kat Jones, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said:

“At APRS we have been campaigning for deposit return for years, alongside other community and environmental organisations. Parliament has set the rules and it is now up to industry to deliver. The implementation is in their hands now, and big business needs to make sure it runs fairly for the smaller players. For too long the costs of single use cans and bottles have been met by local taxpayers, communities and our environment. It is high time that industry took responsibility for the waste they create, just as they do around the world. 

“We need to recognise the benefits that deposit return will have – in reducing litter, cutting our carbon emissions, and in reducing costs to local councils. We are in the middle of a climate crisis, with litter plaguing our towns and countryside. The price of any further delay or weakening of the system would be frankly unbearable.”

David Spence from the Fife Street Champions, who helps coordinate litter picking volunteers from a Facebook group of more than 3,000 members, said:

“It’s not until you get involved in litter picking, either professionally or as a volunteer, that you really understand the size of the problem. Having corresponded with litter picking groups all over the UK, I can honestly say that there is hardly a council in the country that can cope.

“The deposit return scheme will undoubtedly help to reduce the amount of drinks containers that are thrown indiscriminately on the ground, a large proportion of which are thrown from moving vehicles. This scheme cannot come soon enough.”

Laura Young, climate activist and campaigner, said:

“Walking around Scotland you only have to look around at your feet to see that we are indeed in a litter emergency. We must embrace change and strive for sustainable innovation in the form of a deposit return scheme. Although the proposed scheme from the Scottish Government needs to keep adapting to the needs of local communities and small businesses, this scheme will bring a vital solution for both litter, and ongoing poor recycling rates. 

“Scotland can achieve recycling rates of over 90%, and we can incentivise a generation to look after our environment and shift us towards a circular economy, and it starts with taking a step in the direction of a successful deposit return scheme, and embracing change and continually looking for ways to improve for everybody.”


  1. Based on data from Reloop is an international non-profit organisation that brings together industry, government and NGOs into a broad network that seeks to bring about positive change at all levels of resource and waste policy. See:

Calculations assume drinks container sales in Scotland are proportional per capita with the UK-wide figure, and use the Scottish Government’s own recycling figures from Table 2 of this document, i.e. 63% for glass, 50% for PET plastic, and 48% for aluminium cans. Sales data was provided to Reloop by GlobalData.

  1. Based on data from Zero Waste Scotland, which estimates that deposit return will reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions by 160,000 tonnes annually.

APRS (The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland) is Scotland’s countryside charity. We campaign to promote, enhance and protect Scotland’s countryside and rural landscapes for everyone’s benefit, and support others to do the same. We have been running the Have You Got the Bottle? campaign since 2014, advocating for a successful and comprehensive deposit return scheme for Scotland. https://aprs.scot/


Sarah Doherty, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland

Campaign Manager for the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign 


07761 255771

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