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Deposit return scheme ‘could breach UK law’

Bottle return Deposit Return Scheme
The deposit return scheme is due to launch in August

Scotland’s deposit return scheme could be delayed for months after a lawyer said it created an unlawful trade barrier with the rest of the UK.

The initiative is due to launch in August and is designed to boost recycling via a 20p deposit on single-use drinks bottles and cans.

But Aidan O’Neill KC has advised a group of distillers that the Scottish government may have to delay it until the launch of a UK-wide scheme in 2025.

Drinks industry leaders have voiced concerns that it will force up prices, reduce choice and potentially put some operators out of business.

Drinks producer based in Scotland will have to add 20p to products to be sold in the country in a single-use container. It will be charged to the retailer who will refund the consumer. But the initial sale makes products more expensive than south of the border.

A total of 17,000 return points have to be set up across Scotland, with the scheme due to go live on 16 August.

In a legal opinion, Mr O’Neill said he believed there were “well-founded” concerns that the scheme would create a trade barrier between Scotland and England as it would require different prices to be charged for the same product on each side of the border.

He said expert economic evidence would be required to confirm this, but that it meant the scheme could contravene the UK Internal Market Act 2020.

Mr O’Neill also warned that the regulations could not be enforced for single-use packaged drinks imported into Scotland from elsewhere in the UK, which would disadvantage Scottish producers.

He said the Scottish Parliament was warned about such potential legal difficulties in a 2020 briefing paper.

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