Scottish Government unveils 20p deposit return scheme for plastic bottles

The Scottish Government has revealed the results of its consultation on implementing a national deposit return scheme for drinks packaging, confirming that it will introduce a 20p deposit fee for all PET and glass bottles as well as aluminium and steel cans.

Scottish Government unveils 20p deposit return scheme for plastic bottles

PET bottles with a 50ml-3l capacity will be subject to a deposit fee under the system

The fee and the scope of the scheme were revealed yesterday (8 May), following months of consultations with retailers, packaging producers, drinks brands, hospitality companies and consumers.

It was also confirmed that the scheme will operate under a “return to retail” model, where shoppers bring their empty packaging to the shop they purchased the drinks from, whether they made their purchase online or in-store. Retailers can choose whether to let staff collect the containers and issue deposit returns, or to invest in reverse vending machines to automate the process.

Such a model is currently used in Germany, where a deposit return scheme was introduced in 2003 and the recycling rate for PET bottles now stands at around 99%.

The scheme will cover all beverage products between 50ml and 300ml. However, HDPE-made plastic bottles, which are typically used for milk, will not be included.

As for drinks served by hospitality firms, the deposit fee will not apply to drinks served for in-house consumption in pubs, restaurants and cafes. Whether mobile food vans are included in this exemption is yet to be confirmed.

“Supported by international evidence, our plans for Scotland’s deposit return scheme are gathering pace, with widespread consensus demonstrating that a well-run, appropriately targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter and support a more circular economy,” Scotland’s Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said.

Scotland first began exploring the feasibility of implementing a nationwide deposit return scheme in 2015 and confirmed its intention to develop such a policy in 2017. A draft policy framework for the scheme is set to be published later this year, but an implementation date is yet to be revealed.

No more bottling it up

The announcement from the Scottish Government has been widely welcomed by key members of the nation’s green economy and environmental campaigners.

Non-profit Zero Waste Scotland has hailed the proposed deposit return scheme as a “game-changer for recycling and the circular economy”.

“By giving people an extra incentive to do something good for our environment, and having a consistent approach across Scotland, we are confident it will be easier for all of us to do the right thing,” the organisation’s chief operating officer Jill Farrell said.

“This will improve the volume and quality of recycling and help tackle litter in the process.”

“By introducing a deposit return system for glass, plastic and metal drinks containers it has taken a significant step in tackling the problem of packaging pollution – one that has resulted in devastating consequences for our countryside and environment for far too long,” Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) litter programme director Samantha Harding added.

Nonetheless, the decision to include glass bottles has prompted some pushback from the glass industry, while small businesses have voiced concerns that they won’t – as was initially explored – be exempt from the scheme.

The move from Scotland comes as the UK Government is consulting on what its own national deposit return scheme should look like under its new Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS).

It is exploring two variants of the system, which will operate for cans and plastic and glass bottles. An “all-in” model would focus on all beverages placed on the market, irrespective of size, while the second, “on-the-go” model would restrict drinks containers that could operate in the system to less than 750ml and sold in a single format.

Consultations on this aspect of the RWS, which additionally proposes the introduction of a consistent set of materials collected across England from households for recycling, close on 13 May.

Sarah George

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