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Environmental campaigners tell Scottish Government to stand up to big business over deposit return scheme delays

Environmental campaigners say businesses are lobbying the government for delays to the deposit return scheme

Environmental campaigners say it’s time for the Scottish Government to stand up to big business for the good of the planet over delays to the deposit return scheme.

Supporters of the proposed deposit return scheme in Scotland say businesses are delaying the introduction of the scheme and are trying to “push ministers off course” by lobbying for further delays.

This comes after Food and Drink Scotland told MSPs the right time would be September 2023, almost two years away.

The trade body’s associate director Jim Fox is also the head of public affairs at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, which environmental campaigners say is responsible for a large proportion of bottles and cans dumped as litter.

No date for introducing scheme

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon first promised a deposit return scheme would be introduced in Scotland in 2017.

Once introduced, the scheme will see shoppers paying a 20p deposit when buying drinks in a can or bottle, with the money returned to them when they return the empty containers for recycling.

The coronavirus pandemic saw the start date pushed back to July 2022.

However last month Circular Economy Minister and Co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater said she could not say when the scheme will actually come into force.

Lorna Slater MSP

Businesses ‘trying to delay effective system’

Jim Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which runs the ‘Have You Got The Bottle?’ campaign, hit out at businesses and ministers using the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit as an excuse for the scheme being delayed.

He said: “A year is roughly the length of time it’s taking other countries to bring in deposit return during a pandemic, so there’s no reason not to move just as quickly here.

“Businesses in Scotland aren’t any different to anywhere else, they’re just trying to delay an effective system.

“Some parts of the industry are even trying to use Brexit as an excuse nearly two years on.

“Others complain about the costs of labelling, how tricky it is to set up an IT system, or how VAT will be calculated.

“There is nothing new or difficult here, and we are disappointed that such weak arguments are being used to push ministers off course.”

There is nothing new or difficult here, and we are disappointed that such weak arguments are being used to push ministers off course.

– Jim Mayhew, director of Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, added: “It’s unacceptable to be using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to kick the can down the road on the plastic pollution crisis.

“Industry have had years to prepare for deposits in Scotland and have proven how quickly they can adapt to its introduction in other countries.

“It’s time for ministers to stand up to corporate interests and get on with implementing a deposit return system, which is a proven way of reducing packaging pollution and meeting climate commitments.”

Plastic bottles will be included in the deposit return scheme

And Nina Schrank, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace, said: “While our supermarkets had four years to prepare, other countries in Europe introduced similar systems in just one year.

“It’s time for ministers to listen to the evidence about what can be done, not unsubstantiated arguments from industry about why it can’t be done.”

Government ‘fully committed’ to scheme

The Scottish Government however says it remains “fully committed” to introducing a deposit return scheme to Scotland, but added those responsible for introducing the proposals have been hit hard by coronavirus and Brexit.

A spokesman for the government added: “Industry has made progress, including the establishment of a scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland.

“This has been done in trying circumstances, with those sectors responsible for delivering the scheme facing unprecedented disruption as a result of the pandemic and Brexit.

“That is why we commissioned an independent review of progress and readiness for the go-live date.

“We are committed to the scheme being operational as soon as is practicably possible.

“We are working hard with Circularity Scotland and industry to agree a final timescale and clear milestones for delivery, and will announce that schedule to parliament in due course.”

A further update on Scotland’s deposit return scheme is due to be given to MSPs in Holyrood on Tuesday 14 December.

Deposit return scheme delay demoralises litter pickers in Angus and Fife