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The deposit return scheme: Where are we now?

The launch of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks containers in the UK has suffered yet more delays. Legislation to establish the schemes was included in the Environment Act 2021 but it looks as though 2026 will be the earliest that a scheme gets up and running.

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Single-use plastic deposit return scheme: what’s the background?

In January 2023, we reported that Scotland was the first of the United Kingdom’s nations to establish a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks containers with a ‘go live’ date of 16 August 2023.

The idea behind a DRS is that by placing a financial value on selected single-use drinks containers, it will encourage consumers to return the containers for recycling, reducing the likelihood that they will end up in landfill and increasing the likelihood they will be recycled.

The deposit return scheme will cover PET plastic, aluminium, steel and glass. At the time, feedback was awaited from consultations for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and a start date of late 2024 for equivalent schemes was anticipated.

However, since we wrote that article, the administrator of the scheme in Scotland (Circularity Scotland Ltd) has collapsed and government ministers in Scotland have shelved plans to launch a DRS this year, next year or at anytime in the near future.

So, what now?

Talks are taking place between all of the UK governments and industry bodies aimed at resurrecting the schemes but it would appear that the start date of any DRS will be delayed well beyond 2024. The UK government website currently states that “the new scheme, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025, following extensive work with industry to prepare for the necessary changes – including setting up infrastructure and amending labelling”. However, the food and drink industry take a more pessimistic approach and predicts that the earliest that a scheme could be up and running would be 2026.

The Walker Morris Food & Drink team will keep you updated with developments.

Explore more updates for food and drink businesses in this edition of our Food & Drink Update.