Recycling scheme now likely to become UK-wide
A recycling scheme will go ahead in Scotland but without the inclusion of glass and with the expectation that it will be part of a UK-wide initiative.
The UK government has agreed for Scotland to pilot a controversial deposit return scheme (DRS) covering PET plastic, aluminium, and steel cans only. It said it wanted to ensure the Scottish operation aligned with UK-wide plans.
First Minister Humza Yousaf said UK ministers had “demanded” the exemption in a letter sent on Friday night, while Circularity Minister Lorna Slater today said the Scottish Government will have to “look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme”.
The DRS aims to cut the number of single-use drinks containers dumped in streets and hedges by adding 20p to the price which can be redeemed at collection points.
It was due to begin in August but was delayed until next March following concerns from the drinks industry and opposition politicians.
Some firms said it would add significantly costs and might even be unworkable in its proposed form.
Because similar initiatives are planned, Scottish ministers had sought an exemption from post-Brexit internal market regulations which are designed to ensure fair trade and consistent rules across the UK.
The UK government confirmed today that it had accepted the Scottish government’s request “on a temporary and limited basis”.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish government’s deposit return scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year.
“Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system.
“A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter – as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers.”
The temporary exclusion will cover the period from the launch of the Scottish scheme until planned schemes are in place in the rest of the UK.
The Scottish Government reacted angrily to the decision and pointed out that some firms had spent considerable sums preparing to collect glass.
However, other firms and lobby groups have sided with Westminster and said glass should not be included, not least because there are well-established glass collecting processes across the country which were potentially threatened by Holyrood’s plans.
The Welsh scheme will include glass and has been approved by the UK government. But the Welsh government did apply for an exemption under the Internal Market Act as it does not require. suppliers outside of Wales selling in the country without signing up to the scheme. However, this puts Welsh suppliers at a disadvantage.
Scotland’s Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater insists the UK government has shown “disregard for devolution” and criticised it for informing Scottish ministers more than 12 hours after the media had been briefed.
“This is treating the Scottish Parliament with contempt,” she said. “Despite discussions over the last two years this is an eleventh hour attempt by the UK Government to sabotage Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme by forcing us to remove glass bottles.
“This is at odds with all the evidence that says the biggest benefits, economically, financially and environmentally, are from including glass. We are now going to have to look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme and talk to businesses, delivery partners and other organisations over the coming days and weeks.
“Removing glass also means taking out around six hundred million bottles that would have been collected by the scheme, despite businesses in Scotland having invested millions of pounds in preparation to include them. Many of these bottles will unnecessarily end up as broken glass on our streets, our parks and our beaches.”
The Scottish Government noted that during consultation in January Westminster had said: “Since waste management is a devolved policy area, it is the responsibility of each nation of the UK to decide the scope of its own DRS in a way that fits its policy needs.”
It said the UK Government’s own analysis of deposit return schemes across the UK showed that the social benefits of reduced litter, emissions saved and to the economy are increased by 64% when glass is included (from £3.6bn to £5.9bn).