Glass an unwelcome addition to Scotland’s deposit return scheme

Envipco Flex DRS machine

The news that glass bottles will be collected as part of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and that small stores won’t be exempt has been met with dismay from the local retailing industry.

As expected, the scheme will also recycle drinks containers made of PET plastic, aluminium and steel. HDPE plastic will not be included. The deposit rate will be set at 20p per container. Every store that sells drinks in single-use containers will be obliged to participate in the scheme.

Confirming its implementation to the Scottish Parliament (8 May), Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the scheme was “ambitious in scale and scope” and gave the people of Scotland a “clear and straightforward way to do their bit for the environment”.

She added: “Supported by international evidence, our plans for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme are gathering pace with widespread consensus demonstrating that a well-run, appropriately-targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter, and support a more circular economy.”

Industry bodies, on the whole, condemned the announcement.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said the inclusion of glass would add an extra £50m to the annual DRS running cost; a cost that will end up being paid by consumers. Its Head of Policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell said: “Glass is a difficult, bulky, and heavy material to manage and will be an enormous burden, especially for those operating from smaller stores.”

Both the Scottish Grocers Federation and Scottish Wholesale Association were also highly critical.

SGF Chief Executive Pete Cheema commented: “We are clearly disappointed. The refusal to consider exemptions for small stores and the decision to include glass clearly shows that the Scottish Government has broken its promise –- made in the 2017 programme for government – to take into account the needs of small retailers. We need a system which benefits local shops and local communities.”

Cheema’s counterpart at the SWA, Colin Smith, added: “As a member of the Deposit Return Scheme Implementation Advisory Group we are committed to working with the Scottish Government to deliver a scheme that works for businesses and consumers but our concerns about including glass and exempting small shops have not been taken on board.”

The SGF and SRC are also members of the Advisory Group, as are the NFRN and a number of other trade bodies.

The SWA was also not alone in expressing concern that the Scottish Government has chosen not to pursue a UK-wide solution. This, it said, would save its members and Scottish businesses the burden of cost, logistics and segregation resulting from a Scotland-only system.

The SRC’s MacDonald Russell agreed: “Charging ahead with a Scotland-only scheme rather than working collaboratively on a pan-UK approach may affect the range and price of those products in scope. For example, to prevent fraud, Scottish drink containers will need to be labelled differently from those in the rest of the UK. That will impose enormous costs on retailers and producers, and could even place a question mark over the economic viability of selling some products north and south of the border.”

One small crumb of comfort for retailers came with the exclusion of HDPE plastic. This means milk containers won’t be included in the scheme. There had been concern that improperly rinsed-out empties would cause foul smells and other hygiene problems.

Reverse vending machine (RVM) manufacturer Tomra welcomed the inclusion of glass, saying that it was the company’s experience that schemes with as few restrictions as possible delivered the best return rates. Tomra currently has RVMs in over 60 markets worldwide.

Several Scottish stores have already conducted DRS trials using RVMs supplied by Tomra and rival manufacturer Envipco. These machines only accepted cans and PET bottles, so the news that glass will also now need to be collected may have surprised some retailers.

Truls Haug, Tomra’s UK boss, was quick to address this: “I can confirm that Tomra will have a small footprint machine for convenience stores that can accept PET, can and glass ready for the Scottish rollout. This will have an even smaller footprint than those being trialled in Scotland today.”

He added: “A deposit of 20p is also good news as a higher deposit value makes a difference in motivating consumers to return containers.”

Jill Farrell, Chief Operating Officer, Zero Waste Scotland, said DRS would a game-changer for recycling and the circular economy in Scotland.

The NFRN also welcomed the announcement. National President Mike Mitchelson said: “Independent retailers see the benefits both to the sector and to the wider community from the introduction of a deposit return scheme.”

Draft DRS legislation will be published later this year with the system expected to be in place in 2021.