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Our reaction to the Government’s announcement on Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme

Our reaction to the UK Government’s announcement on Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme

Published May 27th 2023

Late last night, Westminster told the Scottish Government what it can and can’t do with deposit return, and the big element is they’re trying to force Scotland not to include glass.  Over on Twitter we posted our thoughts, which are summarised below.

Front page of The National News Paper - showing headline "UK TORIES TO 'SABOTAGE' SCOTLAND"
Tory plans to remove glass from Deposit Return Scheme are 'democratic ourtrage'
Current and former FM hit our amide row

Before we get to glass, though, there’s a devolution/democracy issue: the Scottish Parliament has had the power to bring in deposit return since 2009 and until very recently no-one would have even hinted at the idea Westminster could interfere with that.

After all, all five parties at Holyrood voted for Scotland’s deposit return regulations, and now UK Ministers are picking and choosing which bits should be permitted to stand. 

Although it would have been worse if Westminster had outright refused to allow Holyrood to introduce deposits at all, this now takes us into micromanagement of devolved policy by UK Ministers. Extremely worrying.

There’s also a move to take control over how much the deposit should be, requiring it to be the same across the UK. The same deposit level makes sense, but the 20p set for Scotland is in line with the €0.20 used across much of Europe.

Why glass should not be excluded

Excluding it is a terrible call in so many ways, and is a particularly perverse decision.

Glass is the most carbon-intensive material, and the most costly for councils to clear up. It causes more injuries to wildlife, pets, livestock, and people than aluminium or plastic bottles. It also is a cause of wildfires (here’s an old but clear example)

The issue of injuries to pets, incidentally, isn’t a footnote to this story. It’s a key part of the history of deposit return in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament first considered a deposit system in 2006 because two primary school pupils were upset that one of their dogs got broken glass in its paw. They’re now nearly 30 years old and we are still no closer to reducing that risk.

Excluding glass risks manufacturers switching away from aluminium in particular, which has the lowest climate impact of all materials when recycled. If this risk does materialise, there will hopefully be overwhelming pressure on Westminster to reconsider.

We get told “kerbside is working”, but almost half of Scottish households don’t even get kerbside glass collection (this is from 2019, but it’s actually worse now!)

The photo in this article is a particularly glaring illustration of how our current glass recycling infrastructure isn’t up to the job.

What others are saying

Marine Conservation Society gather data every year, and this is what they found last year.

Read more about Great British Beach Clean 2022

Similarly, our friends at Surfers Against Sewage, although very busy with actual sewage issues, have been campaigning hard on this. It’s not the only reason they back it, but think bare feet on a beach.

Businesses have also, in good faith, invested to be ready for a March 2023 launch that includes glass. That means labelling prep for glass lines, reverse vending machines that take glass, collection facilities, etc. Westminster has just tipped that money down the drain.

Glass will then no doubt have to be added in later across the UK, as it has been in Finland, Queensland, and other places. That’ll cost more money again.

The Welsh system, announced by UK Ministers on their behalf just a few weeks ago, was to include glass. So it’s not just Scotland that’s being overruled, and not just Scotland that is being told it can’t decide to collect glass more effectively.

All this is why just last week we teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to urge Rishi Sunak to bring glass back into the proposed English system – which was after all an explicit Conservative manifesto commitment in 2019.  

This interference also risks Westminster’s own system for England, and those for Wales and Northern Ireland. The same businesses who will have wasted money on prep for a system with glass will soon be asked to pay for an English system, by Ministers who just undermined them.

In conclusion, decisions for Scotland in devolved areas, like this, should be made in Scotland. It’s bad news for the climate, for our streets and countryside, for councils, for responsible businesses, for Wales, and maybe even England’s own deposit plans.

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