A Scottish minister has accused the UK government of trying to “sabotage” Scotland’s bottle returning pilot after Westminster said the scheme could only go ahead if glass bottles are excluded.
Lorna Slater, the Scottish government minister responsible for implementing the deposit return scheme (DRS), said Holyrood now has to reconsider the viability of the scheme.
The DRS is a scheme aimed at increasing the recycling of single-use bottles and cans. Under the plan, from March next year, consumers in Scotland will have to pay an extra 20 pence for a drink that’s in a container made of PET plastic, metal, or glass. They can get the money back when returning the bottle or can to a retailer.
The rest of the UK is developing a similar scheme, but the joint DRS, which will cover England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is due to be launched in 2025 and won’t include glass bottles.
Different schemes mean the same products may be sold at different prices within the UK and products sold in Scotland may require different markings and barcodes.
Amid concerns of a trade barrier within the UK, Scottish ministers had been forced to delay the launching of the scheme from August this year to March next year, and to seek an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act.
In a policy paper published on Saturday, the UK government said ministers have agreed to let Scotland launch its own scheme first as long as Holyrood excludes glass bottles from the scheme and reaches an agreement with the rest of the UK on a maximum cap on deposit levels.
The document said the UK government has noted “strong representations made by relevant businesses” about “the impact on trade and in particular consumer choice created by permanently different arrangements on glass within the UK internal market.”
The government said the type of permanent divergence would be “a very significant step for businesses and consumers, and there is insufficient justification for such an approach.”
The UK government’s decision was trailed by media outlets on Friday. Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf took to Twitter late on Friday to complain that “after spending the day briefing the press, UK Government sent us a letter at 9.45 p.m. tonight.”
Slater also complained about receiving the UK Government’s decision letter “more than 12 hours after its contents being briefed to press,” accusing Westminster of “treating the Scottish Parliament with contempt.”
“Despite discussions over the last two years this is an eleventh hour attempt by the UK government to sabotage Scotland’s deposit return scheme by forcing us to remove glass bottles,” she said.
Slater said Holyrood will have to “look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme and talk to businesses, delivery partners, and other organisations over the coming days and weeks.”
“Removing glass also means taking out around six hundred million bottles that would have been collected by the scheme, despite businesses in Scotland having invested millions of pounds in preparation to include them,” she said.
“Many of these bottles will unnecessarily end up as broken glass on our streets, our parks and our beaches.”
The Scottish government had previously noted all but six of the 51 deposit return schemes operating elsewhere in the world include glass, adding that forcing Scotland to remove it from its scheme would mean recycling rates for glass bottles remain at an “unacceptable” 63 percent.
A spokesperson for the UK government said on Saturday that ministers made the decision after listening to concerns from the drinks industry.
“Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system,” the spokesperson said.
Gavin Pennington from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said on Friday that their members had “made significant investments of money, resource, and time since 2019 to prepare for the launch of DRS Scotland,” but “given the level of political uncertainty currently surrounding DRS Scotland, surely the only viable option now is for all stakeholders to commit to launching DRS across the UK on the same timeframe, October 2025.”
But Kat Jones, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), which has led the campaign for DRS in Scotland, said Westminster’s decision was “in breach of the basic principles of devolution.”
PA Media contributed to this report.