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The Friday Digest: DRS stumped while tomatoes run out

We start this week’s round-up with the heated row over Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) which shows no sign of cooling. On Wednesday, Footprint reported how the scheme was in disarray after news emerged that politicians in Westminster were planning to block it, while the three candidates to become new leader of the Scottish National Party voiced concerns over the timescales, costs and practicalities.

On the same day, the scheme’s administrator Circularity Scotland put out a press release in which it studiously avoided all talk of discord and delay and championed how producers responsible for more than 2 billion recyclable drinks containers have now registered for the scheme ahead of its planned launch on August 16th. It said this represented more than 95% of the total volume of products sold in Scotland each year (and it shouldn’t be forgotten that these companies have invested significant sums in preparation for the scheme and will only start to see returns once those bottles and cans start coming back).

The plot then took another twist as Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden, quoted in an article in The Scotsman, accused the circular economy minister Lorna Slater of “spinning the sign-up numbers”. Although businesses that have signed up to the scheme account for the lion’s share of the volume of drinks on the market, the total number of producers to have signed up is estimated to be around 15% due to a low sign-up rate among smaller producers.

Slater, meanwhile, who is co-leader of the Scottish Green Party, accused Scottish secretary Alister Jack of attempting to “sabotage” the scheme and undermine devolution, claims dismissed by a UK Government sourced quoted by The Scotsman as “nonsense”. Given the power vacuum in Holyrood created by Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as first minister, don’t expect the row to fizzle out any time soon.

Meanwhile down in Westminster the UK Government has been urging businesses to get ready for reforms that will see packaging suppliers take responsibility for the costs of dealing with packaging waste. Reporting requirements for the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme came into force this week which require packaging producers in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland to collect information on the amount and type of packaging they have supplied during 2023 (Wales will follow shortly). Producers with a turnover of greater than £2m and who handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging each year must also report this information to the Environment Agency twice a year. The first reports must be submitted from October 1st 2023.

On the subject of reports, the government has published a delivery update for its first ever hospitality strategy, which was launched in July 2021 to help the sector recover from the damage caused by the covid-19 pandemic. The new report details progress measures including the establishment of the hospitality sector council and support with energy bills via the energy bill relief scheme and energy bills discount scheme. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the update “shows the substantial progress that has already been made in the sector’s recovery and towards a more resilient future, despite the massive external shocks we have faced”. She went on to call for further action to be taken in the spring budget in areas such as workforce, energy resilience and access to finance.

Nicholls didn’t mention action on tomatoes but there’s no shifting salad off the front pages at the moment amid ongoing shortages in supply. The Grocer reported that supermarket bosses sent middle managers to a meeting with Defra to address the problem, rather than attend in person, after they were angered by government messaging laying responsibility at their door. The National Farmers Union is now warning that current shortages could be the tip of the iceberg since a reliance on imports has left the UK exposed to shock weather events and disruption in global supply chains.

What’s become increasingly clear over the past week is that shortages of salad items are not an isolated issue but the latest symptom of a UK food system increasingly exposed to a cocktail of risks: some UK-specific and dynamic like Brexit, others global and structural like climate change and supply chain power imbalances.

Perhaps we might expect our political leaders to come up with some solutions once they’ve stopped squabbling over deposit return schemes?