Data claiming overwhelming support for the Scottish government’s flagship recycling scheme has been called into question amid more calls for it to be delayed.
Circularity Scotland, the administrator for the deposit return scheme, claimed producers responsible for more than 95% of the drinks containers sold in Scotland had registered for the deposit return scheme by last night’s deadline.
It said this equated to more than 2 billion recyclable drinks containers and 26,000 products.
But Lorna Slater, the Circularity minister, was accused of failing to concede that most companies had not signed up.
Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP challenged the figures, saying the they are made up predominantly by the largest producers. He said just 664 out of 4,500 producers in Scotland have signed up.
“Overall, around 84% of producers have not registered, representing small brewers, distillers and other businesses the length and breadth of the country,” said Mr McArthur.
“At a time when businesses and the public need reassurance, the minister offered nothing but bluster, assertion and dodgy figures”.
Scottish Labour also leapt on to estimates suggesting just one in six producers have registered.
Net Zero spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “Lorna Slater is shamelessly dodging the most basic questions in an attempt to spin her own failure and won’t even say what proportion of Scotland’s drinks producers have signed up.”
SEPA, the scheme regulator, earlier confirmed that registration will remain open to enable all producers to sign up in time for the launch of the scheme on 16 August.
Circularity Scotland chief executive, David Harris, said the number signing up represented “a fantastic start and a real landmark for the deposit return scheme, which is set to deliver ground-breaking environmental benefits to Scotland.”
However, some producers have refused to register. Innis & Gunn founder Dougal Sharp claimed the scheme is unworkable and illegal.
Mr Sharp told Daily Business: “We have invested huge amounts of money into planning for the scheme but it’s just not workable and doomed to failure in its current format.
“There are just too many changes and unanswered questions and we cannot take the risk of signing a contract with a separate legal entity to the Scottish Government.”
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce today accused Circularity Minister Lorna Slater of ignoring calls for it to be delayed when she spoke in parliament today.
“The Ministerial statement on the Deposit Return Scheme has completely ignored concerns from Scottish firms,” said Chambers CEO Liz Cameron.
“Our call was to pause the scheme and redesign it with the business community and that call has been rejected by the Minister.
“It’s been clear to the business community for some time that operating this poorly designed scheme in its current form is impossible and is adding unnecessary cost pressures on businesses.
“We are not alone in voicing our concerns. All three candidates for the Scottish National Party leadership have expressed their reservations too.
“It is abundantly clear to all involved that the roll-out of the scheme has to be paused immediately and then reviewed in partnership with the business community. The scheme must be made cost-effective for firms and better aligned with DRS plans in the rest of the UK.”
Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scotland policy chair, Andrew McRae, said: “It is bitterly disappointing that the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with DRS, in spite of the serious concerns raised by business and the reluctance of all three candidates to be First Minister to support the scheme in its current form.
“It’s worrying to see how few firms have actually registered – 664 registrations out of a predicted 4,000 or 4,500 is hardly mass participation.
“And when you dig into the figures, we fear it’ll be the largest producers with the deepest pockets who have been able to sign up – not the smaller traders, who have the most to lose and for whom costs and administrative burdens are proportionately highest.
“Ministers must provide clarity about who has signed up and who has not – so we can have constructive conversations about how to address their issues.
“Nothing said today alters the need for the scheme to be paused until we’ve had a chance to step back and find a way of reshaping it so it works for everyone.”
Mr Harris said Circularity Scotland “never underestimated the challenge of delivering a scheme which requires the support of so many Scottish businesses.”
He added: “I would encourage those producers who have begun their registration to complete it as soon as possible and can assure those producers who have yet to sign up, that we have people on hand to support them through the process.
Jack accused of misleading parliament
In a further twist, the SNP has called on the Prime Minister to sack Alister Jack, after the Scottish Secretary, accusing him of misleading the Westminster Parliament about efforts from the Scottish Government to implement the Deposit Return Scheme.
On 22 February, Mr Jack told the House of Commons that “we have not been asked for an exemption for this under the rules of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 by the Scottish Government. Nno request for an exemption has come. The exemption bar is very high indeed, otherwise what is the point of the UKIM?”
The SNP has issued Scottish government documents revealing discussions about the need for an exclusion go as far back as 2021. In January, the Deputy First Minister wrote to the UK Government to signal his alarm at the lack of progress on this issue.
SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop said: “Alister Jack has deliberately misled the Westminster parliament and as such the Prime Minister has no option but to sack him.
“There is no justification for the UK Government blocking this policy, which is why Alister Jack has had to resort to making things up.”
RPO registration open
Today also marks the opening of registration for Return Point Operators (RPOs).
An RPO is anyone who provides a service for the collection of recyclable PET plastic, metal and glass containers included in Scotland’s scheme and refunds consumers’ deposits.
This service can range from accepting returns over the counter and refunding consumers’ deposits from the till, to operating a Reverse Vending Machine which will automatically accept containers and refund deposits as vouchers.
Most retailers and hospitality businesses that sell drinks to take away are legally required to operate a return point. This includes online retailers of drinks.