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Shoppers face ‘bewildering’ recycling scheme

Sainsbury's recycling machine
A long list of issues to be resolved

Shoppers face a bewildering mix of responses to the government’s proposed bottle and can recycling scheme because of confusion over how it is to operate.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said progress has been made on liability for VAT but there remained a “long list” of issues with the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) that could take months to resolve.

In a letter to the First Minister, the SRC says the system is difficult to understand with the process of returning drinks and retrieving deposits likely to be cumbersome.

It repeats an earlier concern that consiumers will almost certainly face higher prices, lower choice, and less availability as retailers try to “guess” what they are required to do. 

Furthermore, the decision of the Scottish Government to “arbitrarily” extend producer registration, alongside the uncertainty caused by the contest to become the next leader of the Scottish National Party, means there can be no certainty over key aspects of the scheme until April at the earliest. 

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said:  “Retailers have a strong record of accomplishment on recycling, reducing the environmental impact of their operations, and supporting improvements throughout the supply chain and with customers.

“They want DRS to be a success for the environment and customers and have already invested tens of millions of pounds in the scheme, alongside providing funding for Circularity Scotland and dedicating project teams to delivering the scheme.  That’s why we committed to intensify work at pace in February in a last-ditch effort to get the scheme back on track.

“Whilst some progress has been made, for example the clarity over how VAT will apply to deposits, the reality is the biggest issues remain unresolved.

“Retailers don’t know what price to put on shelves, which producers they can buy from, which shops will or won’t be exempted, and when containers will be collected. They still have no transparency over the retail handling fee and are still legally compelled to an online takeback requirement which is impossible to deliver.”

Two of the SNP leadership candidates, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, have called for the 16 August implementation date to be dropped. The third, Humza Yousaf, wants a temporary exemption for small drinks producers.

Mr MacDonald-Russell added: “There is a miasma over the future of the scheme. Candidates vying to be the next First Minister have wildly different views on the scheme, which means businesses will have no certainty until late this month or more likely well into April. 

“The Scottish Government’s decision to effectively waive the legal requirement for producers to register by the end of February raises the question which other parts of the regulations are now optional.

“All of this means there is no clear or comprehensive blueprint or plan for DRS with barely five months until go live. That means the risk of shoppers paying the price is now stratospheric.

“Customers will likely face a bewildering patchwork of approaches which will be difficult to understand with the process of returning drinks and retrieving deposits likely to be cumbersome. Consumers will almost certainly face higher prices, lower choice, and less availability as retailers try to guess what they are required to do. 

“It is for the Scottish Government to decide whether it is wise or reasonable to press on with an August launch in these circumstances or pause implementation until the catalogue of outstanding issues are fully addressed. If they choose to proceed, they must be aware there is a significant risk DRS will land very badly with Scotland’s shoppers.”

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