Glass decision could shatter DRS plans

The future of Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) hangs in the balance after ministers in Westminster insisted that glass be excluded from the scheme.

The UK Government this week agreed to an exclusion from the Internal Market Act on a temporary basis but on the condition that glass is excluded from Scotland’s DRS. It said this was to ensure “maximum alignment and interoperability” between schemes planned for the rest of the UK. A DRS for England is planned to come into effect in 2025 covering PET plastic, aluminium, and steel cans only. Wales is also planning its own scheme.

In a policy statement, the UK government referenced “the strong representations made by relevant businesses, including distillers and the hospitality sector, about the impact on trade and in particular consumer choice created by permanently different arrangements on glass within the UK internal market”.

However Scotland first minister, Humza Yousaf, accused UK ministers of sabotaging Scotland’s scheme. He told the BBC: "They're not just trying to scupper the DRS - they're trying to undermine devolution.” The Scottish Greens, meanwhile, have launched a petition to keep glass within the scheme following what they described as a “blatant attack on our democracy”. 

In a ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament, Lorna Slater, minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, said the decision would increase carbon emissions and reduce the social benefits from the scheme such as reduced litter. She added that “forcing Scotland to remove glass at the eleventh hour risks critically undermining the commercial viability of Scotland’s DRS”. Glass is predicted to make up between a quarter and a third of volumes recycled. Removing it now would severely reduce the scheme’s income while the glass related costs are largely sunk, according to Slater.

Scotland’s DRS has been mired in controversy in recent months amid concerns from businesses over the cost and lukewarm support for the scheme from candidates during the recent SNP leadership election. The start of the scheme has already been pushed back three times and is now due to begin in March 2024. Shoppers would pay a 20p deposit every time they buy a drink in a can or bottle, with that money refunded to them when the empty containers are returned for recycling.

The BBC reported that one source closely involved in the DRS had put the chances of it now going ahead at 50/50 following the ruling on glass.

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