In an effort to reduce its waste levels, Scotland is pushing forward with new legislation that will see a 20p deposit imposed on takeaway coffee cups and drinks cans and bottles.

The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 were originally intended to come into force in April 2021 – and later changed to June 2022, as a result of COVID-19. However, the impact of the pandemic means further delay is unavoidable and it seems a further consultation on the scheme is now unlikely to begin until 2021 at the earliest.

Once in force, the DRS will see drinks sold in disposable containers such as PET plastic, glass bottles and metal cans of all sizes incur an additional charge of 20p. Customers can then reclaim their 20p by returning the empty containers to shops or specialised reverse vending machines.

Positive and negative responses

The proposed scheme has received mixed reviews, however, initial trials demonstrated promising results. Among those taking part were Zero Waste Scotland and NHS North Ayrshire and Arran, which teamed up to pilot the scheme, introducing a 10p charge for disposable cups at a canteen at the University Hospital Crosshouse in Kilmarnock.

Improvements were noted in recycling levels, as well as an increase in the reuse rate of coffee cups, from 1% to nearly half of all hot drinks sales. Additionally, the volume of disposable cups consumed dropped by 157 each day.

Criticism of the new regulations has been forthcoming too, with the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) claiming that they fail to fully consider the potential consequences and costs - and that applying a standard 20p rate to all container sizes will impact on customer behaviour. For example, customers will be charged an additional £4.80 for a 24-can multipack but only 80 pence for the same volume of drink, packed in four larger plastic bottles. Having carried out its own independent research, Alupro claims two thirds of consumers would likely opt for larger plastic alternatives, resulting in greater production of those bottle sizes, which they estimate will cost around £82 million.

Back in June, British Glass encouraged Scottish Ministers to put a hold on all plans for the scheme until the full impact of COVID-19 on the drinks industry, its supply chain and local authorities could be properly analysed. Since then, the food and drink market has supported this opinion. Many smaller retailers have asked the Scottish Government to halt plans to implement the scheme, as the associated costs will add further strain to those already under pressure from the impact of COVID-19.

There have also been calls for a unilateral approach to the scheme from the UK and Scottish Governments, as some operators fear they will struggle with the increase in registration fees and the cost of labelling products with different barcodes depending on where they will be sold.

Deposit return schemes in the rest of the UK and Europe

Although Scotland will be the first part of the UK to introduce the DRS, England and Wales are well on their way to implementing something similar, having already carried out a consultation with the aim of introducing a 15p refundable deposit scheme and a more effective litter enforcement by 2023. At the beginning of August, MPs from all four nations called on the Prime Minister to back a comprehensive DRS to tackle Britain's waste problem. This proposed system for England and Wales will be introduced via the Environment Bill; part of the UK Government's 25-year environmental plan.

Across Europe, several countries already operate similar schemes. Norway's system has achieved a 97% recycling rate, putting it 10 years ahead of Europe's 2029 target date when countries must recycle at least 90% of their plastic bottles. Currently, the UK and France recycle just under 60%.

The success of countries already adopting deposit return systems, combined with plans in the UK, demonstrates the push from governments to make these schemes part of the new norm - placing the burden of waste on suppliers, to increase consumer recycling rates and minimise plastic waste.

Environment – a priority for businesses

It's clear that reducing the environmental impact associated with the manufacture of products across Scotland and the rest of the UK has become a top priority. However, it is not only the responsibility of the UK and Scottish Governments to plan for June 2022, when the Deposit Return Scheme comes into force - businesses should also be using this time to consider how to adapt their methods. . Establishing processes now, in line with the regulations and the Scottish Government's vision will place those business owners ahead of the curve.