Slater ‘creating complexity’ with DRS changes
Lorna Slater announcing changes to deposit return scheme
Circularity Economy minister Lorna Slater today announced more changes aimed at rescuing Scotland’s troubled bottle and can recycling initiative.
However, industry leaders were “underwhelmed” by the new rules for the delayed deposit return scheme (DRS) with one retail leader saying they are making it more complex.
Outlining the changes in parliament, Ms Slater repeated First Minister Humza Yousaf’s statement on Tuesday that the delay in launching the DRS from August until next March was a result of Westminster prevarication in allowing the scheme to go ahead.
She said businesses had already committed £300 million on preparations for the scheme’s launch.
“To move forward with certainty, the UK Government must stop delaying the long overdue exclusion from the Internal Market Act,” she said.
“This damaging Act was imposed on the Scottish Parliament after Brexit without its consent and creates confusion and uncertainty for businesses.
“After that Act was passed, we engaged in good faith, following the agreed process, and have done so for nearly two years now to agree an exclusion.
“The UK Government needs to at long last issue an exclusion, and recognise the right of the Scottish Parliament to enact legislation in devolved areas without interference.”
Following meetings with industry leaders today, Ms Slater agreed a number of changes to the scheme.
Craft drinks producers and pubs that provide off-sales are among those that will now be granted concessions from changes to the scheme.
The changes announced will mean that drinks miniatures – containers of under 100ml – and producers selling fewer than 5,000 units per year will be excluded, aimed at helping craft producers.
All hospitality premises that sell the large majority of their drinks products for consumption on the premises – pubs and restaurants – will be exempt from acting as a return point.
The online application process for retailers to apply for an exemption from providing a return point has been simplified.
Ms Slater said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme will reduce litter on our streets, massively increase the recycling of drinks containers and help meet our net zero ambitions.
“However, to realise these benefits DRS needs to be delivered in a way that works for businesses, especially for small drinks producers.
More than £300m has already been committed by businesses to the scheme
“The changes I have set out will make the scheme easier for industry to deliver – especially for craft producers – while still making sure the vast majority of drinks containers are captured for recycling.”
Fergus Ewing, a backbench SNP member and critic of the scheme, called for it to be dovetailed with those being planned elsewhere in the UK and should exclude glass.
“Surely the aim of devolution is to do things better, not just to do things differently for the sake of it,” he said. “There should be alignment with the UK, thereby removing double costing, double labelling, 700 lost jobs that will happen in the waste management sector and all the detritus of the complexity of a broken, defective scheme.”
Ms Slater replied that 40 of the 44 similar schemes around the world included glass and that it was regarded as a main pollutant.
But the changes she announced in order to satisfy business concerns were greeted with more disappointment.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Today’s Ministerial Statement has sadly failed to get to grips with the troubled deposit return scheme. The measures announced today are underwhelming, the equivalent of using a water pistol to tackle a fire. It’s not unhelpful, just unlikely to have much effect.
“Changes to the scope of the scheme run the risk of adding complexity and making it harder for some products to be stocked by retailers. The small changes to the exemptions system are helpful, but don’t address the iniquitous position small retailers face where they must invest significantly in a scheme with no guarantee of a financial return. Once again an opportunity to get to grips with the real issues with this scheme has been missed.
“Retailers have been repeatedly asking government and the key agencies for final guidance on pricing, collections, reimbursement, and a myriad of other issues; and the key parties responsible for delivering the scheme have failed again and again to hit those final deadlines.
“That failure to provide guidance has been exacerbated by longstanding issues with the regulations, including an unworkable online take back requirement which may force retailers to withdraw online sales from some or all of the Scottish market, and a small shops exemption system which is a bureaucratic nightmare.
“The Scottish deposit return scheme is currently in a guddle. There is a very short window to fix the ongoing structural issues. That must include revisiting the unworkable elements of the regulations and bringing in effective governance of the scheme, along with increasing the pace of delivery to ensure retailers, who remain committed to the scheme, have the information needed as swiftly as possible.
“Today’s statement is a missed opportunity. Bluntly, the problems with Scotland’s DRS need to be dealt with, not deferred. If this opportunity isn’t taken, then there will have been little point in delaying the launch of the scheme.”
The current deposit return scheme regulations include all drinks from 50ml to 3 litres and place no lower limit on the volume of sales to qualify for the scheme.
Introducing a threshold of 5,000 units per year will remove many craft drinks and limited edition products. It is anticipated that this change will only remove around 0.5% of articles from the scheme but will remove the need for around 44% of businesses to apply a deposit to their products.
The Scottish Government will engage with hospitality businesses on the proportion of sales at which the hospitality measures will apply, to ensure a balance between support for businesses and accessibility for consumers.
Drinks producers will have until 12 January 2024 to register for the scheme.