APRS News

FM must “Hold his Nerve” on Deposit Return

Campaigners urged the First Minister to “hold his nerve”, following Westminster’s decision to force Scotland to exclude glass from the deposit return system approved by all parties in 2020 [1]. The UK Government’s own figures show the English system would bring £5.9bn in benefits with glass but just £3.6bn without [2].

The FM has written to the Prime Minister urging him to reconsider both the glass decision and other conditions imposed on the Scottish system, conditions which build in uncertainty. NGOs support these calls, but argue that, no matter what Westminster decides, the environmental benefits of deposit return just for cans and plastic bottles mean that should be the Scottish Government’s fallback, not cancellation of the whole system.

Dr Kat Jones, Director of Action to Protect Rural Scotland [3], said:

“There is no economic or environmental justification for Westminster’s decision to force glass out of the Scottish deposit system. It’s the most carbon-intensive material used, the most dangerous when littered, and the most costly for councils to clear up. UK Ministers should think again: if not they will be responsible for hundreds of millions of littered and landfilled glass bottles across Scotland over the years to come. 

“If Westminster do not do the right thing, though, and it seems unlikely they will, the First Minister must hold his nerve and press on with cans and plastic bottles. Dropping the whole system and accepting the failing status quo would only benefit those big businesses who have always opposed deposit return. It’s obviously cheaper for them if we keep picking up the cost for their products.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society [4], said:

“Last year, our volunteers found drinks-related litter on 93% of beaches surveyed in Scotland. It’s a terrible mistake by UK Ministers to refuse the collection of glass bottles in a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland. However, Scottish Ministers still have the power to reduce drinks-related litter, even without the inclusion of glass. Plastics remain the most substantial problem, with an average of 168 pieces found every hundred metres. 

“Plastic bottles and cans end up on our beaches and in our seas in vast numbers. In fact, more than 80% of the drinks containers wasted are cans and plastic bottles. There is still the opportunity to make substantial environmental benefits from a Deposit Return Scheme. We must still push forward with what we can.”

Kim Pratt, Circular Economy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: 

“After years of planning and preparation, Scotland’s deposit return scheme – a simple and effective way of improving our recycling rates – cannot be thrown in the bucket. Worldwide, over 50 other deposit return schemes include glass, just like the Scottish Parliament voted to do.

“It’s not acceptable for Westminster to play politics during a climate emergency. The UK Government should be looking to match the ambition of the schemes in Scotland and Wales, not forcing them down to the lowest common denominator.

“The changes being forced by the UK Government show that it doesn’t care about the planet or about the businesses who have already invested substantially in getting the scheme ready to go – if it doesn’t go ahead at all it will be even worse for both.”

There has also been a lack of clarity around the volume of cans and bottles affected. In 2021, Reloop, an international non-profit organisation specialising in resource and waste policy, calculated that in 2019, 920.2 million containers were wasted across Scotland, in other words littered in our countryside and our towns and cities, lost into the marine environment, landfilled, or incinerated. 437.4 million of that total were cans, 334.9 million were PET plastic bottles, and 147.9 million were glass bottles – although the real figures will be higher, as this dataset does not include wines and spirits [5].

Notes

1. See:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2020/154/contents/made

2. See p94:

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environment/consultation-on-introducing-a-drs/supporting_documents/DRS%20Consultation%20FINAL%20.pdf

3. APRS (Action to Protect 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. 

4. For the MCS data discussed, please see:

https://www.mcsuk.org/what-you-can-do/join-a-beach-clean/great-british-beach-clean/gbbc-2022-results/#results-for-scotland

5. For the full report, see:

https://www.reloopplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/What-We-Waste-Reloop-Report-April-2021-1.pdf

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