A deposit and return scheme could cost you your business

Kevin Scott

As you’ll see from this month’s cover, there’s something of a stramash in the works over the sugar contents of certain food and drink products. First it was tobacco, then alcohol, and now it’s sugar. My money is on refined carbs being next, followed by some poor enzyme or another that is targeted purely because there’s nothing else left to lobby against.

For now though, it’s sugar, and it’s been getting a lot of media attention – particularly the BMA’s calls for a 20% levy to be added to sugary drinks (which, incidentally, would set a ridiculous precedent – if tax rates are to be set on the merits or otherwise of the various nutrients in a product then where does it stop?) Then there’s Baroness Hollins’ assertion that the notion that Governments shouldn’t be able to tell people what they can and cannot do needs to be challenged. Well forgive my utilitarian belief in free will, m’lady.

What hasn’t raised the public’s hackles with similar levels of displeasure is the future of the vessels these drinks are sold in. Yet it’s this that retailers should be seeing as a political priority. The Scottish Government’s plans for a deposit and return scheme (DRS) would see the nation’s local retailers charged with the role of helping the Government hit its recycling targets of 70% by 2020, ahead of running a profitable business.

Yes, we all know there are enormous benefits in increasing recycling rates, and everyone should be doing their bit to improve our pretty destructive relationship with the environment, but sticking a huge recycling bin in every store and making retailers legally bound to dish out 10p or 20p for every bottle, can and carton a customer cares to deposit is not the way to go about it.

As well as the impracticalities of handling and storing all those bottles, cans and cartons, retailers would have to manage the financial aspects of this. And do we think for a minute that every container returned would be washed beforehand? The retailer wouldn’t be forced to clean them, of course, but the putrid contents of out of date orange juice and milk containers probably isn’t the sort of aroma a retailer goes for in their store.

Zero Waste Scotland has been conducting a feasibility study into the viability of such a scheme. To do so they’ve scoured the world for similar projects. What they haven’t done is engage with a single retailer in Scotland. That’s a bit like me looking at the feasibility of opening a recycling centre in my living room without checking if it’s okay with my wife.

This scheme could have disastrous repercussions for your store. So take 10 minutes and write to your MSP, your MP, your local councillor and let them know your thoughts – it could be the most important thing you do this year.

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Kevin Scott, Editor