What is a deposit return scheme? Recycling measure explained as SNP's deadline for UK government looms

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf warned that if the UK government does not back down over the demand concerning glass bottles, the entire scheme could be scrapped in Scotland
The deposit return scheme has become a sticking point for the SNP and the Scottish government after the UK government demanded that glass bottles were not included in the scheme. (Credit: PA)The deposit return scheme has become a sticking point for the SNP and the Scottish government after the UK government demanded that glass bottles were not included in the scheme. (Credit: PA)
The deposit return scheme has become a sticking point for the SNP and the Scottish government after the UK government demanded that glass bottles were not included in the scheme. (Credit: PA)

The deposit return scheme (DRS) has become a sticking point in Scottish politics for the SNP with the UK government being handed a deadline to remove conditions to the scheme.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf gave the UK government a deadline of Monday 5 June to retract their conditions that glass not be included in the soon-to-be-introduced environmental measure. The scheme, which was initially announced by former FM Nicola Sturgeon, has become a controversial policy for the SNP as businesses rushed to criticise the rollout.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has insisted that glass not be included in the scheme. The implementation of scheme had already been delayed from August 2023 until March 2024, but the SNP has warned that if the UK government does not meet the glass demand, the entire scheme could be scrapped altogether.

The party's deputy leader Keith Brown said: "The cabinet will have to make a decision on what remains of the scheme if it has been sabotaged by the UK government. The first minister will be hoping Rishi Sunak can bring some pressure to bear on Alister Jack to see some sense."

But what is the scheme - and why has it become such a hotly debated issue in Scotland? Here's everything you need to know about the deposit return scheme.

What is a deposit return scheme?

The scheme would introduce an added charge onto the cost of the item at the point of purchase. In Scotland, this would constitute a 20p added charge onto the cost of a drink from a shop.

The 20p would then be returned to the customer after the container is returned to a deposit return machine or at the place of purchase. A special barcode on the side of cans or bottles would allow the containers to be recycled at any deposit return scheme.

The scheme is similar to that of the glass bottle return scheme that companies such as Irn Bru had implemented up until 2015, which granted consumers a monetary gain if they were returned to shops.

Retailers would pay out the 20p per item deposit and then be refunded by the manufacturers.

The environmental measure was planned to encourage more recycling of drink containers such as cans and bottles. The idea is that the monetary incentive would encourage higher rates of recycling of drink containers.

In its current form, the Scottish DRS would include plastic and glass containers, with the UK government demanding that glass bottles are withdrawn from the scheme.

What are the criticisms of the scheme?

The deposit return scheme has become a controversial topic, with businesses and retailers pointing out flaws in the system. Drinks retailers criticised the scheme for adding an extra charge to Scottish customers, many of whom could miss out on having their deposit refunded if the container is not returned correctly.

Some have questioned whether Scottish customers would travel to England in order to buy cheaper alcohol as a result of the added deposit charge on each drink and any additional business costs added because of the scheme.

It has also raised questions over the added cost to manufacturers. Those operating UK-wide would have to adjust their packaging for the entire country or create Scotland-specific packaging at an extra cost to the business.

This point has seen UK alcohol companies pledge to withdraw their business from Scotland if the scheme goes ahead including glass bottles. Chris Jones, manager director of Manchester-based Paragon Brands, told The Scotsman: "Scotland only represents less than 10 per cent of our business so we’re having to decide what to do. There are so many flaws in the scheme (including) that they haven't considered small to medium sized businesses, it seems to be based around large businesses only.”

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