Posted: 05/09/2022

Scotland’s drinks sector grappling with minutiae of upcoming Deposit Return Scheme

The DRS aims to improve recycling and reduce overall waste

With less than a year to go, drinks producers, retailers and wholesalers in Scotland are still trying to iron out the detail of the new drinks container recycling scheme due to come into force on August 16th 2023. 

One producer told FFD the launch of Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) felt like “the train is in motion regardless of whether people are ready or not,” as many details are yet to be clarified with the scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland.

Based on an established system in place in Europe, the current plans would see drinks producers add a 20p levy on all beverages sold in aluminium, plastic, and glass containers. This cost would then be passed onto the consumer further down the supply chain as a deposit fee. 

Retailers will then be charged with collecting the waste to be recycled, either over the counter or through the use of reverse vending machines (RVMs), in exchange for a handling fee – unless they are able to find a fellow retailer willing to process the returns.

Scotland is acting as a test bed of sorts for the scheme, as it is still up for consultation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the aim of implementing legislation in 2024 or later. 

Should the rest of the UK choose to adopt a different system, such as a digital DRS or an environmental producer responsibility (EPR) tax, the country risks being perpetually out of step with the rest of the union. 

As it stands, producers may need to print different labels to differentiate between the registered products that will enter the DRS system and those destined to be sent abroad, a costly described as “hugely frustrating at a time like this when there are so many other pressures on the business.”

A number of other sticking points have arisen, namely the obligation for those with an online retail arm to also collect empty receptacles directly from customers’ homes.

For Colin Smith, CEO of the Scottish Wholesale Association, to remove the take back element of the scheme would make it much more workable.

“Let’s have it as a sunset clause, let’s say, we’ll implement DRS and then in three years, review the online take back, see if there’s a solution.” 

“Otherwise, it’s going to clog up this scheme, and add physical, monetary and environmental costs, because you’re now asking somebody to go and uplift an empty container from a residence. Let’s take it out.”

For retailers, the main questions revolves around whether to process returns over the counter or to install a reverse vending machine in their outlet, which, despite assurances that they will receive compensation for the space used and inconvenience, is likely to cause some confusion. 

“We want to be environmentally sustainable because believe it’s a good thing, but are plenty of logistical problems,” said Bill De La Hey, owner of Mainstreet Trading Company.

“When you dial down into it, it’s a lot to bite off when you’re running a small business and you’ve got to deal with all of these issues, like health and safety, what we can and can’t accept, can we refuse large quantities… It takes you away from the shop floor trying to sell stuff to people.”

By Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

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