Countdown to the UK’s First Deposit Return Scheme

The official “go live” for the UK’s first Deposit Return Scheme is due on August 16th 2023 in Scotland. The scheme is designed to encourage recycling of single use plastic bottles.

With less than a year to go before the scheme launches, we spoke with our consultants Mark Haywood & Robin Hughes to understand what the scheme is and how this will impact on companies waste policies.

What is the Deposit Return Scheme?

It’s a scheme designed to reduce waste by encouraging consumers to return their single use PET plastic, metal and glass bottles for recycling. DRS is due to go live in Scotland on 16th August 2023. The launch is due to be followed by similar schemes in England, Wales & Northern Ireland and there are bound to be lessons that can be learned from the early Scottish adoption.

Consumers will pay a 20p deposit on each single use drinks container at the time of purchase, when the container is returned the deposit will be refunded to the customer.

That sounds like a great idea, it will help close the circular waste economy. What can we expect in reality?

That’s part of the challenge, no one knows exactly how the scheme will work. There are DRS schemes operating in multiple countries already so there are some great case studies out there, however, they have never really worked in the UK when operating on a voluntary basis.

Irn Bru used to run a voluntary DRS for their glass bottles but saw steadily declining rates of return and took the decision to scrap this in 2015. Improved household recycling was partly responsible for this decision.

How will this impact retailers?

Under Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme regulations, all retailers who sell, to consumers on their premises, in-scope drinks for take away must operate a return point. For smaller retailers there will be an issue around physically locating this return point. For larger retailers space may not be such a constraint, however, the details of administering the scheme and the finances associated with this are still to be confirmed.

Further return points will also be available at “voluntary” locations, which are expected to include municipal sites, transport hubs and shopping centres.

Many retailers have moved away from offering on site recycling services as council waste schemes improved in their efficiency, these will now need to be reinstated and there is the concern of increased littering around these facilities.

The government’s impact assessment estimates that the total set up cost will be £1,093 million, with running costs of £814 million per annum. It expects these costs to be met by producer fees and unclaimed deposits in about equal measure. It does not anticipate taxpayers’ money being used.

The existing costs for products and recycling do not allow for the process, equipment and additional admin/ reporting within current costs so they have to be funded from somewhere.

What about the wider roll-out across the UK?

All 3 national governments have committed to a DRS and they, along with the retailers and waste operators, will be looking closely at the Scottish scheme to see what works well and where improvements can be made before launching.

The scheme offers a great opportunity to reduce up to 76,000 tonnes of waste each year in Scotland, we need to see that it is easy to use for consumers, retailers and the waste operators and that the scheme delivers long term reductions to this problem.

It will be interesting to see how the scheme operates at first, what happens if a bottle from England is put into a bin in Scotland? Or a consumer pay’s extra in Edinburgh for the bottle and then dispose in Newcastle but want to recover their deposit? This additional challenge between lines sold in both Scotland and England could lead to increases in SKU. and how to handle materials that are brought cross border.

These are short term wrinkles that will need to be addressed to ensure that the scheme achieves maximum take up and it’s environmental goals.

Contact us as we would love to have the opportunity to learn about your company and understand how we can work with you as you grow.

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