Initially set to open in April 2021, Scotland’s pioneering deposit return scheme will now not launch until August 2023

Scotland’s long-awaited deposit return scheme (DRS) has been delayed by another year and is now set to launch on 16 August 2023.

In an update to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Lorna Slater, circular economy minister, announced the findings of an independent review, which concluded the proposed implementation date of July 2022 was no longer achievable.

Slater confirmed the new launch date has now been set for August 2023, despite the report warning delivery between July and September 2023 carried “significant risk to achievement”.

Scotland’s DRS will see consumers charged a 20p deposit on drinks cans and bottles that is refunded when they return the empty container to recycling collection points. The scheme was first expected to launch in April 2021, before a delay was announced in May in response to the COVID crisis that pushed the launch date back to 2022.

In her address to Parliament, Slater said the scheme represented “a massive national undertaking” that would involve contracts with 4,000 producers, tens of thousands of return points, and a turnover of around £500 million. As such, she argued a further delay was necessary to ensure the scheme delivered as promised.

However, in a more positive turn, the circular economy minister announced targets for the scheme have been accelerated to ensure the DRS can still achieve maximum environmental impact by 2024. As such, producers will be required to collect 90 per cent of eligible containers by the second year of the scheme, rather than the third.

Slater added that she hopes the scheme can operate on a voluntary basis from November 2022, following a phased roll out of the return infrastructure across retailers. Full plans for delivery were published yesterday.

Circularity Scotland, which is administering the scheme, is set to have signed contracts for logistics, operations, and IT systems by March 2022, ahead of return infrastructure being rolled out across retail sites throughout the summer. Summer 2022 will also see a public awareness campaign launched and counting and sorting centres developed, the government said.

Slater also confirmed that changes had been made to the scheme, including allowing retailers selling from a distance, such as online retailers, to refuse to accept a return of a disproportionately large number of containers.

The independent review highlighted a number of challenges that it said still need to be addressed. In particular, an agreement on VAT charges has not yet been reached with the UK government. “It could not be clearer that the purpose of deposit return is environmental, not to raise revenue, so it is hugely disappointing that the UK Government is maintaining that VAT applies,” Slater said.

She concluded by stressing the role producers and retailers in Scotland will play in the successful implementation of the scheme. “Strong and robust governance structures must be in place to oversee the scheme’s implementation, recognising that, with the appointment of Circularity Scotland and the passage of legislation, responsibility for successful delivery is increasingly dependent on the actions of producers and retailers across Scotland,” she said.

Environmental campaigners expressed disappointment that the scheme is to be delayed.

Nina Schrank, senior campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “We saw this coming but are still devastated that Scotland’s deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cans has been delayed yet again. There has been much support for Scotland leading the way with the first national system to collect and repurpose these bottles and containers. It is sad as well as bewildering that implementing this policy, which is already widespread across Europe, is taking so long.”

Her comments were echoed by Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, who said: “The delay to Scotland’s DRS is not unexpected but it is disappointing. The Scottish Government must learn from its mistakes to make sure the same problems don’t persist and result in even further delays to the scheme. Challenges cannot be left to lie – producers and retailers must be held to account, and more transparency is required. The proof will be in the delivery.”

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