The minister at the centre of Scotland’s controversial deposit return scheme (DRS) has admitted the plans could be scrapped this month.
Circular economy minister Lorna Slater said it is “essential” to secure an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act if the scheme is to proceed.
On Thursday, she told the Scottish Grocers Federation that if no exemption has been secured by the end of May, the Scottish Government will have to make a “proactive decision” as to whether it is “viable”.
It is understood that such a decision is unlikely in this timeframe.
In response, the Conservatives have said the Scottish Government is “attempting to stoke a constitutional grievance”.
Deposit return scheme controversy
The deposit return scheme will see shoppers charged a 20p deposit every time they buy a drink in a can or a glass or plastic bottle, with that cash given back to them when the empty containers are returned for recycling.
“Completely unworkable”, “negative” and “complicated” are just some of the words used by business owners to describe the plans.
And the increased costs for Scottish shoppers, could be far greater than the 20p according to a Fife wholesaler, who highlighted concerns over increased warehousing costs and a reduction in competition in the marketplace.
The DRS in Scotland was delayed after Humza Yousaf was installed as First Minister.
It had been due to come into force in August, but its launch date has now been pushed back to March 2024 amid concerns from businesses about the impact it could have.
Call for Sunak to act
On Thursday, Ms Slater said: “We have engaged with the UK Government in good faith on the exclusion for Scotland’s deposit return scheme for nearly two years now.
“Despite following the mutually agreed process, we have still to be given necessary assurances that this will be provided in good time.
“This is creating uncertainty and confusion for all the businesses that have worked so hard to prepare for the scheme going live.
“I urge the UK Government to agree the exclusion by the end of May at the latest.
“Doing so is absolutely essential to the successful delivery of the scheme.”
With concerns that the UK Government will not have made a decision by the end of May, charities and environmental organisations have called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to act.
The letter, which has also been signed by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Keep Wales Tidy, also urges the PM to include glass bottles in the DRS schemes planned for England and Northern Ireland.
They told Mr Sunak that businesses in Scotland have “already invested hundreds of millions of pounds” ahead of the scheme being brought in, and they “would be substantially out of pocket if the launch date was changed again”.
The letter continued: “The rollout of deposit return in Scotland in March 2024 will require an Internal Market Act exemption which we know is under discussion across Whitehall.
“Such an exemption will protect the substantial investment industry has already made in Scotland and ensure we start to see the environmental benefits as soon as possible.”
UK Government assessing impact of DRS
A UK government spokesman said it received a formal request for an exemption on March 6.
The spokesman said: “It therefore hasn’t been possible yet for us to fully assess the impacts of the exclusion request on cross-UK trade, firms and consumers.
“We will continue to engage with the Scottish government to realise our shared ambition to improve the environment while meeting the needs of consumers and businesses across the UK.”