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Waste group says DRS deal will decimate sector

Bottle return Deposit Return Scheme
A waste management group says the DRS will damage the indusrtry

Awarding a US firm the contract to collect Scotland’s recycled bottles and cans will decimate the waste management industry, says the sector’s representative body.

The Resource Management Association Scotland (RMAS) says that handing the deposit return scheme contract to US-owned corporation Biffa needs to be reviewed, while an SNP MSP claims it may breach a government pledge to focus on existing providers.

The DRS aims to reduce litter and carbon emissions by charging consumers a refundable deposit on single-use plastic, aluminium, steel, or glass drinks containers.

There has been widespread criticism from the drinks industry and politicians about shortcomings and lack of detail about how the scheme will operate.

RMAS has now accused Circularity Scotland and Biffa of failing to meet a pledge to explore opportunities to utilise the sector’s existing infrastructure, collection services and networks.

It says the decision to appoint a single, centralised contractor will ‘decimate’ smaller waste operators leading to lost revenues, job cuts and a reduction in customer choice for waste collection services, especially in remote, rural and island communities.

RMAS has also raised concerns that the move could result in an increase in long haul collections creating higher carbon emissions. 

The group is now calling for the DRS to be realigned and rolled out in tandem with schemes being planned in England and Northern Ireland which is proposing an exemption for glass. It says the scheme could be digitalised to help lower carbon emissions and alleviate many of the financial and administrative concerns being raised by smaller retailers.    

A cross-party group of MSPs, which includes former minister Fergus Ewing; fellow SNP colleague Christine Grahame; Labour’s Claire Baker; Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur; and Conservative Maurice Golden, is backing RMAS in calling for a rethink on the single contract approach in addition to adopting an evidence-based approach to the launch of the scheme.

Drew Murdoch, chair of RMAS, said: “While we are fully behind the aims and intentions of the DRS, the proposed scheme is badly flawed.

“The decision to appoint a single contractor gives an unfair market advantage to one large operator. This goes against assurances we were given by Circularity Scotland and Biffa that opportunities to utilise existing infrastructure and collection services would be fully explored.

Drew Murdoch: scheme will put firms out of business

“Instead, we are faced with the situation that, from August, hospitality businesses currently serviced by multiple operators across the Scottish waste management sector will have no alternative but to accept Biffa’s services for the collection of all qualifying drinks containers.

“This will decimate our industry putting many small waste management companies out of business and lead to significant job losses, particularly within rural and island communities.”

He said the Scottish Government has missed an opportunity to engage with the Scottish sector which remains keen to support the design of a “more appropriate scheme” which optimises existing recycling infrastructure.

“We now call on the new First Minister to put the brakes on the planned launch once they are elected later this month. To be successful, the DRS needs to be rolled out on a UK basis and in line with the proposed schemes in England and Northern Ireland and exclude glass which is already widely collected through kerbside recycling programmes.”  

Fergus Ewing MSP said: “The DRS will cause unnecessary upheaval to businesses, especially within this economically challenging environment.

“As well as adversely impacting the wider waste management sector, I share the RMAS concerns that the appointment of a large, single contractor may also be at odds with the Scottish Government’s National Economic Transformation Strategy where the focus is on using existing providers at local level across Scotland to address the threat of climate change.”

“Two of the SNP leadership candidates – Ash Regan and Kate Forbes – have said they will pause the scheme while Humza Yousaf has proposed a delay for small firms to allow them to adjust.

A Biffa spokesperson said: “We employ more than 10,000 people in the UK, including 300 in Scotland. Recruitment is well underway for an additional 500 people to work on DRS, and we’re actively engaged with a number of small and medium organisations in Scotland to help us deliver parts of the scheme.

“We’re also investing £80 million on infrastructure, including opening processing centres in Motherwell, Aberdeen, Thurso, Inverness, Dundee and Grangemouth to count, sort and bale the plastic, glass and aluminium drinks containers collected through the scheme. Work has already started on most of these sites and several counting machines have already been delivered.

“Our logistics contract for DRS includes an obligation to reduce carbon activity for the delivery of the service. The wider scheme also aims to ensure that at least 90% of recyclable drinks containers are captured and prevented from becoming waste. That’s more than two billion bottles and cans every year. 

“For PET plastic drinks containers alone, the scheme is designed to recycle an extra 355,000 tonnes against ‘business as usual’ between 2024 and 2049, a carbon saving of 761,000 tonnes of CO2e. For aluminium drinks containers, an extra 184,000 tonnes is set to be recycled over the same period, a carbon saving of 1.8 million tonnes of CO2e.”

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