NGOS ACROSS UK WARN SECRETARY OF STATE AGAINST “LEGAL QUICKSAND”
APRS media release
Under embargo for 00.01, 8th March 2023
A broad coalition of Scottish and UK environmental organisations have today written to Alister Jack MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, following comments in the media  suggesting he would invoke the Internal Market Act to block Scotland’s long-planned deposit return system.
The letter sets out the legal, economic, and environmental implications of such a move were it to be considered by the Westminster government.
In addition to the negative implications for litter, waste, carbon emissions and local authority costs across Scotland, the Internal Market Act has been in force since the end of 2020 – whereas the core regulations for the Scottish deposit system were made earlier that year.
Substantial investments have rightly been made by retailers in reverse vending machines for larger stores and in significant changes to store layouts, by producers in terms of labelling and stock management, and by wholesalers to enable stock destined for the Scottish market to be managed separately from stock for the rest of the UK.
In January of this year UK Ministers announced their own equivalent deposit return system was intended to launch across England in 2025, alongside systems in Wales and Northern Ireland . Although the English system has been weakened by the exclusion of glass, the most carbon-intensive material used for drinks containers and the most expensive to clean up, the Welsh system will have the exact same scope as the Scottish system due to launch in less than six months.
That document, published six weeks ago, raised no concerns about the legality of the Scottish system, and indeed stated that: “Scotland is moving forward with its own DRS delivery”.
Kat Jones, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said:
“We know that there has been a lot of work behind the scenes between UK Government and the Scottish Government officials to establish how the Scottish systems can operate most effectively in a UK context, and so this intervention from the Secretary of State feels like an attempt to disrupt deposit return.
“Deposit return is too important to become a constitutional football. Many businesses have already invested heavily to get the infrastructure in place to make deposit return work. An intervention from the UK Government at this late stage would have serious consequences for them, and if the businesses affected were to speak to their lawyers he would surely find himself in legal quicksand.”
Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said:
“Drinks-related litter was recorded on 93% of beaches surveyed in Scotland by our dedicated volunteers during our Great British Beach Clean last year. Sadly, our seas and beaches bear the brunt of business not taking full responsibility for the waste that their products create.
“Evidence from around the world shows that a deposit return system is the single most effective way to tackle this kind of pollution. That’s why the UK Government themselves have committed to introduce deposit return just six weeks ago.
“The Scottish deposit system covers the same materials as the majority of successful European systems, charges a comparable deposit, and allows the public to take their empties back for a full refund when they next get their shopping. Millions of people use these systems every day, and they work well for businesses of all sizes. Scotland’s seas and beaches have been waiting for a deposit return system for far too long, and cannot afford any more delays.”
Louise Reddy, Policy Officer for Surfers Against Sewage, said:
“Deposit return schemes are nothing new, they’ve been successfully implemented across Europe for years. We know Scotland and the rest of the UK will see the same benefits from a scheme once launched. Meddling at this late stage would cause chaos after years of planning and investment.
“Given the planning and investment already in motion, a delay would be both costly and disruptive. A delay from the Secretary of State would not just undermine Scotland’s long-planned deposit system but confidence in the delivery of schemes UK wide. He threatens not just Scotland’s scheme but the certainty for schemes across the UK.”
Samantha Harding, Executive Director of Reloop, says:
“Based on Reloop’s ongoing analysis of how deposit systems are set up around the world, it is unprecedented that a government representative is suggesting or threatening to use untested legal powers to derail the implementation of a system properly established by another Parliament.
“Until now, it has appeared that the Conservative parties in both Scotland and England have been supportive of the benefits of a deposit return system, and indeed only six weeks ago the UK Government announced plans for its own scheme. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Scotland has gone rogue? His statements seem reckless and misguided.
“Across Europe and beyond, countries have been inspired by Scotland’s 2017 announcement and have worked to adopt the same model, including some systems which have already launched. Each scheme is proving a success in terms of job creation and a reduction in waste. With under six months to go before the Scottish scheme starts, clarity on this issue is required urgently.”
James Mackenzie, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland
07921 333 617