APRS Resources

Deposit Return Briefing for MSPs 2023

This Wednesday 22 February 2023 the Parliament will debate the deposit return scheme, and we would like to provide the following briefing in support of the scheme from APRS, which has been running the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign for deposit return since 2015. The campaign was founded by the Marine Conservation Society, Circular Communities Scotland, the World Wildlife Fund, Surfers Against Sewage, Spokes and Friends of the Earth Scotland, and is backed by more than 100 businesses, NGOs and community groups.

Deposit return is an internationally successful and proven circular economy measure. Schemes are in operation in fifty countries and territories, and by the end of 2026 almost three quarters of a billion people will be using deposits every day. The Scottish system, starting in August, follows international best practice.

The costs of collection are met three ways in modern deposit systems, including the forthcoming Scottish system. First, the system operator will sell the valuable materials gathered. Second, unredeemed deposits (if a can or bottle is littered, destroyed, or otherwise not returned) will be kept in the system. Finally, the balance of the costs are met through a per-item producer fee. The Norwegian system is so efficient that producers of drinks in aluminium cans pay a negative fee, i.e. receive money for every can they put on the market. This is the level of efficiency the Scottish system should be aiming for.

The inclusion of glass ensures that the most carbon-intensive material (and the one which causes the most injuries to people, pets and wildlife) is recaptured in far higher quantities. Almost half of Scottish households do not have access to kerbside glass collection. This is also why the 2019 UK Conservative manifesto promised to “introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass”. The Welsh Government’s deposit system, which may start in 2025, will also include glass.

Deposit return effectively addresses litter from drinks containers. Scotland’s towns, countryside and beaches remain plagued with littered cans and bottles.  Data from the Marine Conservation Society in late 2022 shows that litter on Scottish beaches has increased by 42% in the past year, with drinks related litter found on 93% of beaches surveyed. Deposit return will reduce litter volumes by roughly one-third. 

Litter is not the only way the current linear economy model wastes valuable materials and reduces resource efficiency. 2019 data from Reloop indicates that in that year Scotland wasted 920.2 million cans and bottles that year – this includes those landfilled and incinerated as well as littered. 

Good modern deposit systems of the type due to launch here in six months achieve return rates of over 90%, in some cases even exceeding 95%. This is far above Scotland’s current overall recycling rates of 63% for glass, 50% for PET plastic, and 48% for aluminium cans (2020 figures – the most recent available). 

Deposit return also provides clean single streams of material fit for bottle-to-bottle recycling, unlike kerbside. This is particularly important for plastic, as PET plastic bottles recovered from kerbside or on-street collection typically cannot be recycled back to food grade. The shortcomings of kerbside recycling are a key reason for the introduction of deposit return.

Scottish local authorities will save money overall once deposits are introduced. Although they will lose some revenue once the volume of recyclate they collect drops, reductions in pressure on street cleansing and bin emptying will lead to a net saving of £600,000 per month across Scotland. 

As with all well-designed circular economy measures, deposit return is also a climate mitigation policy. According to Zero Waste Scotland’s calculations, our deposit system will reduce emissions by an annual 160,000 tonnes. 

Deposit return is a producer responsibility scheme, requiring the producers responsible for litter and waste to take responsibility for their costs. It is therefore unsurprising that it has been so widely resisted, both in Scotland and elsewhere. Those costs are currently borne not just by councils but also by our climate and our environment.

That is why the system operator, Circularity Scotland, is correctly an industry-owned body, making key decisions on implementation. It is a cost centre to producers, and internationally this has been proven to drive efficiency savings. Issues like labelling, registration and communications are their responsibility, not that of Scottish Ministers.

The Scottish system has already been delayed twice following industry lobbying, unlike any system elsewhere in the world. There is no evidence that a further delay would improve implementation. A third delay would, however, definitely lead to unnecessary litter, carbon emissions, and costs to local government. 

Waiting to align with the proposed English system would expose Scotland’s environment to a delay of uncertain length, and would be extremely expensive for those businesses who have invested on the basis of an August 2023 start date. The DEFRA document committing to an English system says:

We propose to include in the regulations a commencement date for DRS of 1st October 2025. This is a stretching target date. We would like to continue to work with industry to assess the feasibility of this date as more detail is developed on the implementation phases of the scheme, including as part of the DMO application process.

A series of improvements have been made to the system to support small producers and small retailers. Retailers will be paid between 2.69p and 3.7p for every can and bottle returned to their store to cover their costs, and the exemption system for small retailers is being streamlined. Individual producers will no longer be responsible for online takeback, and the per-item producer fee has been reduced (although it remains higher than the European average). 

The system will always work for big producers and big retailers, who have opposed it while operating successfully in other deposit territories. We urge Circularity Scotland to prioritise the needs of smaller businesses as the system evolves, and in particular to draw on international experience and best practice.

We would urge all members to support this process and to support other measures to reduce waste and litter, reduce emissions, and to build a truly circular economy.

If you require any further information on any of the issues covered here, either before or after Wednesday’s debate, please do get in touch.

Kat Jones


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