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Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will give drinks producers a chance to lead on the climate emergency

With the regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme now published, we’re on the cusp of a step change for recycling in Scotland.

Iain Gulland | 10 Sep 19

The Scottish Government hit the headlines last week with the climate commitments made in its Programme for Government. But this week, the focus is on delivering against commitments already made to the planet.

The Scottish Government set out its desire to introduce a deposit return scheme in 2017. On Tuesday, they laid a copy of the proposed regulations before parliament. Their publication marks a turning point in the scheme’s journey – from an exciting possibility to hopefully becoming a routine part of Scots’ daily lives.

Much of what’s in the regulations will be familiar to those that have been following the progress closely. The regulations commit the scheme design that was published in May of this year into law. This includes the 20p deposit level, the materials that will be captured (PET plastic, aluminium, steel and glass), and the ways in which people will be able to return their empty containers.

What’s new?

What’s new is detail on the obligations for producers and retailers, which will be enforced by SEPA, and the dates for key milestones. These dates will be reviewed for the final text but are consistent with the Scottish Government’s ambition to implement the scheme before May 2021.

Crucially, it sets out how producers will be able to group together to form a scheme administrator.

Putting producers in charge

The scheme is an example of what’s known as Extended Producer Responsibility, or EPR. The idea of EPR is partially encapsulated by the ‘polluter pays’ principle, under which manufacturers should bear the costs of the environmental impacts of their products. But there’s more to Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme than allocating costs – it’s also about encouraging closed material loops.

Some recycling is in fact downcycling – the raw materials are used again, but for a lower value purpose. That isn’t the case for deposit return. Because the materials in the scheme will be collected separately, there will be a very low level of contamination. This means it’s not just more recycling, it’s better recycling.

It will increase the number of items being recycled into items of the same use – for example, bottles being recycled back into bottles. This is a particular benefit to industry, which has an increasing demand for recycled content of high quality.

Sharing responsibility

The responsibility for the scheme will be borne by drinks producers and there is the option to work together to make delivery simpler. By grouping together to form a scheme administrator, producers will be able to fulfil these responsibilities much more easily. This will give drinks producers control and accountability for the running of the scheme.

It also means that their skills and experience will be utilised in making sure that the scheme is as effective and efficient as possible. It’s a model that has already proved successful across much of Europe, including Scandinavia, and we’re confident it will work here as well.

Taking on the climate emergency

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme might have been conceived before the announcement of the climate emergency, but it’s very much part of Scotland’s response to the urgent environmental pressures we face.

The power of giving people a 20p incentive to return their empty bottles and cans is clear in the estimated CO2e reductions. The Scottish Government has set an ambition of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and the scheme is expected to cut emissions by around 4 million tonnes over a similar period.

We can’t afford to pass up any opportunity to cut carbon and that’s why glass is a key part of the scheme. Glass bottles account for 1.3 million tonnes of those reductions.

At Zero Waste Scotland, we’ve been working on deposit return for several years now and we're looking forward to seeing the full benefits of the scheme realised. While the scheme might focus on drinks containers, it’s also an opportunity to influence behaviour change across all material use. These regulations are testament to the hard work that’s gone in to delivering what will be a world-class scheme. With producers able to work together to lead on the scheme, it will give them a chance to lead part of Scotland’s fightback against the climate emergency.

For more information, visit www.depositreturn.scot.

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