The ‘Have you Got the Bottle?’ campaign has, from the start, advocated for a comprehensive deposit return system that includes all materials. 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 day. The Scottish system, starting in August, follows international best practice.
There are two main disruptions proposed to the scheme – delaying its introduction or introducing exemptions for small producers. For the reasons listed below, we do not believe that either approach is advisable, and that an all-in approach is needed to ensure a successful scheme which will benefit both communities and the environment.
This is a key producer responsibility scheme, and if it does not go ahead the other, more complex, parts of the circular economy agenda will likely prove impossible. It will cut costs for local government, reduce emissions, and substantially reduce litter. The principle of producer responsibility should be extended as far as possible through the Circular Economy Bill. Where there is uncertainty under the Scotland Act or the Internal Market Act, the Scottish Government can either request a Section 30 or follow the framework process for Internal Market Act exemptions.
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 atmosphere. Any further delay to the scheme will increase these environmental impacts.
Further delay to deposit return would undermine confidence amongst those businesses who have invested significantly in order to be ready (and who would be out of pocket as a result). Delay would therefore risk jeopardising not just the Scottish system but also the systems across the rest of the UK.
We believe that further delay would not increase readiness (just as the last delay did not).
The lobbying against the system comes from various different angles. Most active are the whisky sector, who opposed minimum unit pricing, even though it would barely affect them given the value of their product. Small brewers’ concerns are a mix of disinformation and issues which Circularity Scotland Ltd and SG teams are aware of and being dealt with. The British Soft Drinks Association recently came out strongly in favour of deposit return starting on time – this includes all the big manufacturers like Pepsi, Coke, Barrs, Britvic etc as well as smaller members. Big supermarkets who have come out against it are doing so primarily as big own-brand producers.
Circularity Scotland have based their financial modelling on a full roll-out. A partial launch would affect this, and those providing finance may review or pull the terms of their funding. Furthermore, a partial launch would not significantly reduce the cost base. The same number of return points would have to be visited by the scheme’s waste contractors, feeding the same number of counting centres. This would be unlikely to reduce staff costs by significant amounts.
A reduction in the expected volumes of returned cans and bottles would reduce the income from the sale of recycled materials, adding to funding pressures. Fewer PET bottles would also make less recycled plastic available. This may result in a need for scaled-back recycled plastic content targets.
Due to these cost pressures, plus fewer producers paying the producer fee, costs would rise significantly for those participating in the scheme.
Similar product lines, possibly next to each other on the shelf, may have dramatically different prices if one producer is in the scheme and so adds the deposit compared to the other from a “smaller producer”. This is unlikely to go down well with the large producers and may cause supply issues if demand increases for the deposit free product. Producers are unlikely to scale up production for such a short period of time.
Exempting some smaller producers from the costs associated with recovering the materials they sell – without time for a full further Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment – would also risk a challenge from producers above the threshold under competition law.
A partial exemption for producers would lead to confusion among retailers as to which products are included in the scheme. There would also be confusion among customers who would not know which products are produced by large or small producers and may just react to perceived price differentials, undermining the objectives of the scheme.
Some retail outlets focusing on craft products may end up selling few articles included in the scheme, though will still need to operate as a return point.
Under a phased introduction, hospitality would have to run two return systems – one for the deposit return scheme, and one for non-scheme articles. This would involve separate storage areas and increased staff training, and increased costs – under deposit return they eliminate costly trade waste contracts for cans and bottles and are instead paid small handling fees for the same work.
Finally, any delay or reduction of scope would mean more time with taxpayers and the environment paying the cost for waste, rather than the onus for waste being placed on those producing it.
- Reloop Global Deposit Book 2022. Available at https://www.reloopplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/RELOOP_Global_Deposit_Book_11I2022_P1.pdf
- Based on data from Zero Waste Scotland