Recycling for the future

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Detailed work on how a potential ‘deposit return scheme’ might operate in Scotland has been commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Deposit return schemes, in existence round the world, see consumers pay a small deposit that is fully refundable once the empty bottle is returned and, it’s believed, can reduce litter and increase recycling.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has confirmed Zero Waste Scotland will investigate design options and the associated costs and benefits of how a deposit return scheme could operate in Scotland’s unique environment. Options will then be put to the public for consultation before Ministers come to a final decision on the future of deposit return.

Zero Waste Scotland has today also published findings from its gathering of evidence, undertaken on the Scottish Government’s behalf, that show which areas should be further investigated.

Ms Cunningham said:

“I am grateful to Zero Waste Scotland for its work so far on deposit return and to everyone who provided evidence to help us better understand the benefits of deposit return for recycling and reducing litter, and potential impacts on retailers and local authorities.

“Clearly there are a number of issues for the Scottish Government to consider when it comes to deposit return schemes that can only be addressed by carrying out work to understand the design of a potential system. I have asked Zero Waste Scotland to start this work.

“Progress will be overseen by a steering group involving representatives from the packaging industry, retailers and environmental groups, and followed by a full public consultation to ensure we are as well-informed as possible before any decisions are made.”

However, the prospect of a deposit return scheme has not been welcomed by the Scottish Retail Consortium.

Commenting on the Scottish Government’s decision to ask Zero Waste Scotland to investigate design options and the associated costs and benefits of how a deposit return scheme could operate in Scotland, Ewan MacDonald-Russell, SRC Head of Policy and External Affairs, said:

“Scottish retailers face an incredibly uncertain economic situation right now. That has been exacerbated by the Scottish Government’s unwelcome and unhelpful decision to continue investigating this unnecessary, anachronistic, and expensive deposit proposal.

“Further investigation won’t change the facts. We know consumers will be hit up front with a higher initial cost for every drinks container – a cost which is never recovered due to the necessity to buy further drinks. That cost is increased every time a customer is unable to return a drinks container to a store, which will add up to tens of millions each year.

“We know this scheme will be hugely expensive for retailers, costing tens of millions to install reverse vending machines, cannibalising profitable floor space for unprofitable waste machines, disrupting operations and hugely inconveniencing customers.

“In fact, the costs are clear. What is still uncertain is whether such a scheme will significantly improve overall recycling rates. The Scottish Government should be focusing on delivering the Household Recycling Charter and making a success of our existing kerbside recycling system. It’s a pity they’ve fumbled the chance to toss this unfair, outdated concept into the rubbish bin.”