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Deposit return scheme launch date pushed back to August 2023

The deposit return scheme has been delayed until at least 2025. Image: Shutterstock.

The launch date for Scotland’s deposit return scheme is being pushed back to August 2023, more than a year after the original proposed date.

Originally the scheme was due to begin in July 2022, however an independent review has since concluded this date is now “not achievable”.

Circular Economy Minister and Co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater says the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainties caused by Brexit are to blame for the delays.

Scheme delayed by over a year

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed Scotland was to get a deposit return scheme back in 2017.

The scheme will see shoppers paying 20p extra for drinks in cans and bottles, with the money being claimed back when they return the empty containers for recycling.

The announcement of 16 August 2023 start-date comes after Food and Drink Scotland told MSPs September 2023 was the right time to bring measures in, leading to environmental campaigners to accuse big businesses of trying to “push ministers off course” by lobbying for further delays.

The remit of introducing this scheme was handed over to Ms Slater earlier this year after the SNP-Green deal was agreed, with campaigners repeatedly hitting out at the government for the “shambolic delays” to this scheme.

Original date ‘no longer feasible’

Speaking in Holyrood Ms Slater said: “This will be the first scheme of its kind in the UK and one of the most environmentally ambitious and accessible in Europe.

Circular Economy Minister and Co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater

“Implementing a scheme on this scale is a massive national undertaking involving tens of thousands of producers and retailers.

“Given the challenges that the pandemic and Brexit have placed upon these businesses, it is disappointing – but understandable – that the independent review concluded the original start date was no longer feasible.

“Despite calls to water down the scheme by removing materials or waiting for other nations to catch up, we have maintained our ambition and ensured that the scheme will still meet its original target of achieving 90% collection rates by 2024.”

Businesses which are able to start the scheme early however are being encouraged to do so from November next year.

Ms Slater also announced a number of key milestones along the way to meeting the August 2023 start date:

  • March 2022 – Circularity Scotland (which is running the scheme) will sign contracts with partners to deliver logistics, operations and IT systems
  • August 2022 – public awareness campaign launches and counting and sorting centres will start being built
  • November 2022 – retailers start rolling out the infrastructure they need, and will start using it on a voluntary basis
  • January 2023 – Circularity Scotland and SEPA will begin to register producers
  • July 2023 – end-to-end testing of containers through the system.

Government to blame for ‘shambles’

Scottish Labour has hit out at the delayed start date, saying the Scottish Government is solely to blame.

Colin Smyth, the party’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, said: “The government are trying to pin this shambles on anything they can, but the truth is blame lies squarely at their own feet.

“The SNP were warned time and time again about the problems piling up around the scheme – but they buried their head in the sand, failing to provide the most basic answers to small businesses about how it would work in practice.

“Now they have passed this mess over to the Greens, whose environmentalist credentials are looking shakier by the day.

“Despite all these delays, the minister gave us no real answers, no real solutions, and no real confidence in the latest timescales.

Plastic bottles and cans can be recycled through the deposit return scheme

“This is just the latest in a growing list of failed environmental policies and missed targets from the SNP-Green government.

“This record of incompetence casts serious doubt on their ability to meet our crucial net-zero targets.”

Scheme to begin early in Orkney

Despite the delayed start date, it is expected to go-live in Orkney nine months earlier.

Ms Slater says the decision to have an earlier start date in the Orkney Islands shows the government’s commitment to making sure the deposit return scheme is rolled out in rural areas as well as in the more urban centres.

Stromness, Orkney

Councillor Graham Sinclair, chair of Orkney Council’s development and infrastructure committee, said: “Orkney Islands Council is committed to working with both local and national organisations to improve recycling rates and to ensure that materials are kept in use for as long as possible.

“We welcome this initiative on the return of drinks containers in Orkney and are supportive of the aims and objectives.

“We look forward to working with the Scottish Government, Circularity Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland to ensure that this initiative brings benefit to local community groups and increases opportunities for recycling drinks containers across all of Orkney.”

Deposit return will be a ‘gamechanger’ – even if delayed ‘for a couple of years’