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Has the Scottish Government done a U-turn on its Deposit Return Scheme ‘ultimatum’?

MP Lorna Slater told the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that the SNP/Green coalition would continue to look into an alternative DRS plan which excludes glass despite previous warnings that it could be scrapped altogether.

Has the Scottish Government done a U-turn on its DRS 'ultimatum'?

First Minister Humza Yousaf threatened the UK government with an “effective ultimatum” on the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) last week, suggesting a Scottish scheme may fail to go ahead unless the UK Government revoked its decision on the glass exemption.

The Scottish First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister last week imploring the UK Government to reconsider its decision to exclude glass from the UK-wide DRS, saying that his decision to block thew Scottish scheme’s inclusion of glass “put the future of DRS in grave danger”.

However, MP Lorna Slater, minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, who is responsible for the scheme, said in a parliamentary meeting this afternoon that the Scottish Government would continue to look into an alternative scheme, but gave no further detail of what this would entail.

She said that the Scottish DRS “in its current form cannot go ahead as planned”, and criticised Westminster for failing to act “in good faith” regarding devolved nations formulating their own DRS plans.


“The UK Government has used, some might say abused, the Internal Market Act to impose changes on this devolved matter; changes in this very late stage of the Deposit Return Scheme that we now have to properly assess. Our scheme as this parliament passed cannot go forward, we know that that’s the case. Is there an alternative scheme that can be made from the pieces that the UK government has left us? Thai is what we are rapidly assessing,” she said.

Slater also criticised Conservatives on the issue, claiming they are “betraying their own commitments on DRS because they see undermining Scottish parliament as more important”.

She noted that she and the First Minister are meeting with industry representatives tomorrow and attempting to get a meeting with the UK government to see whether they can go forward with a Scottish DRS.

Circularity Scotland, the organisation responsible for implementing the scheme in the country, is in support of the scheme excluding glass. The organisation said in a statement released to the drinks business this afternoon: “We have been clear that industry is well prepared for the Deposit Return Scheme to go live in March 2024, and that a scheme without glass is both economically viable and is an opportunity for Scotland to provide a platform for a UK-wide DRS. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to address the impact of any planned changes to how DRS may operate in Scotland with the aim of preventing any further delay in introducing this vital environmental initiative.”

UK Government response so far

Scotland’s First Minister sent a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 2 June urging him to rethink the UK Government’s intervention into the Scottish DRS plan which was due to include glass.

He warned that Westminster’s decision, which would force Scotland to exclude glass from its DRS, would “detrimentally” impact businesses and “fundamentally” threatens the viability of the scheme.

Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Alister Jack, secretary of state for Scotland and Thérèse Coffey, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, responded to Yousaf on 5 June on behalf of the PM.

“Whilst you described your letter to the Prime Minister as a 72 hour ‘effective ultimatum’, our view is that it is better for us to work together sensibly to ensure the rollout of deposit return schemes across the UK is as effective as possible,” the letter addressed to the First Minister read.

Deposit Return Scheme industry impact

Biffa, the waste management company selected by Circularity Scotland as a partner to provide logistics and counting services for the Scottish DRS scheme, has also come out in support of the UK legislation.

Michael Topham, CEO of Biffa, claimed in a letter  to Yousaf that Biffa has already invested over £65 million in property, vehicles and counting equipment for the DRS, saying it had invested this money “in good faith” based on an expectation that Biffa would make back these funds over the coming decade once the DRS had been legislated by the Scottish Government.

Biffa claims to have worked with Circularity Scotland to “mitigate the impact” that the glass exemption proposed by the UK government will have on the scheme, resulting in a “relatively modest” cost impact.

“I strongly believe that the best course of action at this stage is to proceed without further delay, enabling Scotland to deliver this ground-breaking environmental solution as soon as possible and substantially earlier than the rest of the UK,” Topham said in his letter to Humza Yousaf.

The Biffa CEO warned that to delay the scheme beyond March 2024 would risk the Scottish Government “completely undermining its position as a legislator that can be relied upon”.

Today the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) also responded to Slater’s remarks, urging for a DRS which will work “seamlessly across borders”.

CAMRA’s Scottish director Stuart McMahon criticised the Scottish Government’s proposed scheme for risking “a catastrophic reduction in choice for consumers of quality beer and cider from small and independent businesses from across these islands”, caused by incompatibility between the English and Scottish return schemes.

He stated: “Whatever happens next, ministers must now make sure small brewers and cider producers from elsewhere in the UK can afford to keep selling their products into the Scottish market. These businesses provide consumers with a choice of distinctive and quality products — but at a time of rising costs, rocketing energy bills and customers tightening their belts the last thing they can afford is extra costs and red tape just to keep selling into Scotland.”

Earlier this week C&C Group, one of Scotland’s largest drinks producers which counts Tennent’s and Bulmers among its brands, called out First Minister Humza Yousaf for misrepresenting its stance on the DRS.

Last week Scottish businesses welcomed the government’s decision to exclude glass from the UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme, despite an outcry from Holyrood accusing Westminster of “sabotage” and an attempt to “undermine devolution”. Read more here.

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