APRS Resources

Deposit Return: the facts

Published March 7th 2023

Deposit return has become a topic of considerable discussion over the last few months. Here are some of the key pieces of information to counter some of the misinformation we have seen in the press over the past weeks.

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 across 70 countries and jurisdictions will be using deposits every day1. The Scottish system, starting in August, follows international best practice. The English system, announced in January of this year, is weaker as it excludes glass, but the Welsh system announced at the same time will follow the Scottish lead and include glass

Scotland’s deposit return scheme was first announced in 2017, and originally planned to begin in early 2021. Since then, the scheme has been delayed twice. Delays so far will have resulted in 2.1 billion drinks containers being littered, landfilled, or incinerated, and an avoidable 380,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions being released to the atmosphere2. Any delay to the scheme will increase these environmental impacts.

The 20p placed on drinks containers is a deposit, not a price increase or tax, and is therefore not inflationary as it is fully refunded to the consumer when they return the container. Producer fees partially cover the costs of the scheme, and this is linked to the efficiency of the system. Scottish producer fees remain high but have been reduced already, and are expected to fall as the system beds in. In Norway the producer fee for aluminium is negative, meaning producers are paid to put aluminium cans on the market. This is due to the high efficiency of the scheme and the fact that it provides a lucrative stream of high quality recyclate. We believe that a Scottish scheme should aim for this kind of efficiency once it is established.

The inclusion of glass ensures that the most carbon-intensive material is recaptured in far higher quantities. Almost half of Scottish households do not have access to kerbside glass collection3, and littered glass causes injuries to people, pets, and wildlife, as well as exacerbating the risk of wildfires. 

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 surveyed4. Deposit return will almost eliminate drinks related waste and reduce litter by roughly one-third5.

Scottish local authorities will save money overall once deposits are introduced. Reductions in pressure on street cleansing and bin emptying will lead to a net saving of £600,000 per month across Scotland5, though there will be some revenue loss from selling recyclate once the volume of recycled materials they collect drops.

A series of improvements have been made to the system to support small producers and small retailers. Retailers will be paid between 1.6p and 3.7p for every can and bottle returned to their store to cover their costs, the highest in Europe, and the exemption system for small retailers is being streamlined. Individual producers will no longer be responsible for online takeback, with only large supermarkets being required to offer an online takeback service. 

Hospitality businesses, which were particularly hard hit in recent years, will also see a financial benefit from this scheme. They would profit from being paid a small handling fee of 0.13p for the cans and bottles they return, instead of having to pay substantial sums for trade waste collections.

Many businesses have already begun preparations for deposit return. Biffa, the scheme’s logistics partner, have already begun hiring for the 500 jobs they plan to create through this scheme. Supermarkets across the country have already installed infrastructure for container returns. Any delay or scrapping of the scheme will be hugely costly to businesses. 

A small degree of fraud is common in most international schemes. However, Police Scotland have stated that they are working with partners to reduce this risk, and the scheme’s BRIA assessment found that its design affords producers the flexibility to adapt fraud prevention measures7

Deposit return is a producer responsibility scheme. It shifts the responsibility and costs for waste away from local authorities, communities, and the environment, and back to those who produce it. It is therefore unsurprising that it has been so widely resisted by industry, both in Scotland and elsewhere. These schemes, which internalise the environmental and societal costs of drinks production, can be transformative for radically improving the use of resources and reducing waste and pollution. 

Discussions around the Internal Markets Act between Scottish Government and the UK Government began in July 2021, and have since been ongoing. In February 2023 the Scottish Government presented a final paper on a proposal for exclusion to the Resources and Waste Common Framework working group8.

Through our work in education and community engagement, we have seen overwhelming support amongst the Scottish public for this scheme. A poll commissioned by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland found that 78% of Scots support this scheme5

If you would like to discuss anything about the deposit return scheme with us, we would be very happy to take any questions. As the charity which has led this campaign for several years, we would also be happy to give any comment to the media on articles surrounding deposit return.  

APRS have been campaigning for a deposit return scheme for Scotland since 2015 with our ‘Have You Got The Bottle?’ campaign. Our founding partners in the campaign are Marine Conservation Society, Circular Communities Scotland, WWF Scotland, Surfers Against Sewage, Spokes and Friends of the Earth Scotland, and it is backed by more than 100 businesses, NGOs and community groups.

  1. Reloop Global Deposit Book 2022. Available at https://www.reloopplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/RELOOP_Global_Deposit_Book_11I2022_P1.pdf
  2. https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/23332556.deposit-scheme-scotland-delay-unbearable-say-campaigners/
  3. Based on data from WRAP’s Local Authority Portal
  4. Based on data from Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean 2022 results
  5. Based on data from Zero Waste Scotland
  6. https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/deposit-return-scheme-scotland-ministers-could-face-legal-action-if-drs-blocked-leading-lawyer-warns-4043776
  7. https://www.gov.scot/publications/deposit-return-scheme-scotland-full-business-regulatory-impact-assessment/pages/7/
  8. https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/correspondence/2023/02/internal-market-act-correspondence/documents/timeline-and-process-for-securing-an-internal-market-act-exclusion-for-drs/timeline-and-process-for-securing-an-internal-market-act-exclusion-for-drs/govscot%3Adocument/DRS%2BTimeline%2Band%2BProcess.pdf
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