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Scottish deposit return scheme is scaled back ahead of launch

Scotland will be 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. It is hoped that by placing a financial value on selected single-use drinks containers, a DRS will encourage consumers to return the containers for recycling, reducing the likelihood that they will end up as litter and increasing the likelihood they will be recycled. The deposit return scheme will cover PET plastic, aluminium, steel and glass.

drinks containers subject to Scottish deposit return scheme

However, under new guidance published in November 2022, the Scottish Government has confirmed that thousands of smaller retailers will be able to opt out of the DRS. The guidance makes the process of applying for an exemption from the deposit return scheme regulations much less complex.

The changes within the guidance include:

  • A new Return Point Mapping & Exemption Support service to help retailers identify an alternative return point, and to remove the requirement to share commercially sensitive information with other retailers.
  • Confirmation that the Scottish Government will take the size of a premises into account in determining the risk of breaching obligations relating to environmental health.
  • A retailer with a footprint below 25 square meters would be automatically excluded on application.
  • A retailer is likely to be approved for an environmental health exemption if the footprint of their premises is 100 square meters or less, or if they are a food-to-go retailer and the footprint of their premises is 280 square meters or less.
  • Streamlined evidence and assessment processes that take into account the challenges facing specialist, food service, and hospitality retailers. This should also speed up the decision making process for Scottish Ministers, and provide clarity to retailers on the outcome of their application.

Industry bodies have welcomed the guidance and are now urging ministers in the rest of the UK to follow suit. Feedback is awaited from recent consultations for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and a start date of late 2024 for equivalent schemes is anticipated. We will have to wait and see whether the deposit return schemes in the rest of the UK are similarly scaled back. The Walker Morris Food & Drink team will keep you updated. No new legislation is required to establish the schemes as enabling provisions were included in the Environment Act 2021.