Road to Scottish Deposit Return Scheme sees plenty of criticism

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
Scotland is the first UK nation to launch a deposit return scheme

After months of preparation and a series of consultations and working groups, the details of Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) have finally been announced by cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform Roseanna Cunningham.

Proposals put forward by the Scottish government place a 20p deposit on aluminium cans, glass and PET drinks containers. It has taken inspiration from a host of international schemes and according to NGO Zero Waste Scotland “hopes to set a benchmark for the rest of the UK”.

Scotland was the first country in the UK to commit to a DRS in a bid to boost its beverage container recycling rate up from 50%. There’s no doubt if the nation is to move towards a truly circular economy then better resource capture will play a fundamental role , yet the announcement has been met with mixed reviews.

Representative body British Glass has been particularly vocal about the decision to include glass within the deposit scheme. Speaking to RWW, CEO Dave Dalton says the move to be the first to launch a scheme is merely a political play.

“Our perspective was that the SNP wants to be first past the post with something, with a journey towards a Scottish independence referendum round two. It’s saying we in Scotland are going to listen to the public and not be damned by Westminster.”

Dalton believes that the scheme has a series of technical arguments that don’t add up, including Scotland’s decision to go it alone.

He adds: “A DRS has to be ubiquitous with who’s operating within it. It’s open to fraud otherwise and that’s just defeating the object. It’s imperative that, whatever happens, it has a commonality to it and my view is that Scotland has done this to force the hand of others.

“This is going to influence how neighbouring nations operate because there are borders and you can’t have a system where there’s a currency in one area and no borders.”

If its aim is to tackle pollution Dalton believes the scheme should focus solely on plastics. “It’s dragging glass into a predominantly plastic problem by putting systems in to cure an overwhelming public backlash against plastic pollution, and then trying to use this terminology to make it sound fair that everyone’s being treated with the same hand.

I think there will be ill-defined consequences and none of us actually know what they will be.”

CIWM Scotland has accused the Scottish government of leaving it ‘in the dark’ during the planning stage of the scheme. It says that its members, who have a wide knowledge base from collections to high-quality recycling materials, have been ignored.

A statement published shortly after the announcement says: “To date the industry has not been afforded the same high levels of contact as other sectors, with minimal direct engagement beyond the consultation exercise.”

The organisation’s main concern is that a DRS will undermine kerbside collections. A DRS could weaken this system given previous large investments on material streams, which have resulted in some Scottish local authorities having the highest-performing collection systems in the UK.

The statement adds: “We will need to ensure that in the long term we still have a viable industry that can respond to, support and implement the collection and reprocessing requirements for new recyclable materials, and materials with higher recycled content that will become available to the Scottish consumer.”

CIWM Scotland said it welcomes the opportunity to be part of the Deposit Return Scheme Implementation Advisory Group to make sure the recycling industry’s views are being heard and acted upon.

There is also concern from those who have invested in the system over the past few years. For example, waste management firm Viridor has invested £477 million in Scotland over the past five years and said it’s concerned that achieving circular ambitions and retaining materials within Scotland could decline.

A Viridor spokesperson says: “We would like to see the Scottish government introduce a scheme with an administrator who is tasked with ensuring this valuable resource is retained by Scotland for reprocessing within Scotland and reintroduced to the country’s economy. This would allow Scottish residents to see the circular economy in action.”

This was confirmed by Zero Waste Scotland programme manager David Barnes, who told RWW there will be a private scheme administrator who will work with a wider stakeholder base so it can understand concerns and ways to avoid any negative impacts.

Part of the plan

A DRS has never been classed as a ‘silver bullet’ and will instead be just one element of a more thorough and ambitious circular economy process. Viridor, alongside other waste management firms, says if conditions are appropriate it will invest further in Scottish reprocessing with a focus on polymers and its continuing glass recycling, which is closely aligned with sectors such as the Scottish bottle manufacturing and whisky industry.

Despite the industry’s criticisms the proposals have garnered cross-party political support, a feat seldom achieved in today’s political climate. The decision to introduce a DRS, Zero Waste Scotland argues, will help to align it with its ‘circular economy ambitions’.

Barnes adds: “We recognise that some stakeholders still need to be convinced by some elements of the design – that’s absolutely fair to say. We are involving retailers and working with local authorities to understand the impact on kerbside infrastructure and how we align that kerbside infrastructure with a DRS going forward.”

The scheme has to be approved by parliament before the next Scottish elections in 2021. Zero Waste Scotland is still assisting the government through the detail of the plan, and insists it is willing to hear from industry stakeholders on the best steps to ensure a seamless transition.

There is no doubt that over the border Defra will be keeping a close eye on proceedings and the reactions of industry, government and the public. At a time of fragmented politics, division and infighting let’s hope the wider context of a ‘climate catastrophe’ will keep all key stakeholders pushing towards a more circular resourceful economy.

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