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Small businesses disadvantaged as DRS saga continues

Published:  03 March, 2023

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) continues to express serious concerns over the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) ahead of the August launch date with many questions about its operation still unanswered and small businesses still disadvantaged.

In a statement Colin Wilkinson, MD of the SLTA, questioned how many SMEs have actually signed up for the scheme: “Yesterday, we were told that drinks producers responsible for more than 95% of containers sold in Scotland have signed up for the DRS along with more than 650 small and medium-sized producers.

“Circularity Scotland says that producers responsible for more than two billion recyclable drinks containers had registered for the scheme.

“However, when you look closely at these figures, just a fraction of firms have registered – 664 out of the 4,000-4,500 that was anticipated. It’s a very low figure and it reaffirms our concerns that this DRS is not fit for purpose.”

Architect of the DRS scheme, Scottish minister Lorna Slater confirmed that 664 producers have registered with Circularity Scotland Ltd (CSL), who had been expecting 4,500. This means that less than 15% of producers who sell products in Scotland have registered. 

Wilkinson and the SLTA are not alone in their critique of the scheme. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) is calling for a substantial delay and fundamental review of the DRS in Scotland.

Miles Beale, CEO of the WSTA said, “During the car crash debate in Holyrood, Lorna Slater accused the UK government of ‘misinformation and deception’ over DRS, but in the absence of any straight answers to the live issues which require clarity, there is concern that the minister is putting her own spin on registration numbers to save face to the detriment of the Scottish businesses and consumers. In addition, she continues to be unable to provide answers to basic questions about the scheme’s design, implementation and timetable.

“The WSTA has long argued against the inclusion of glass in the Deposit Return Scheme. Put simply the scheme is not more environmentally friendly, will not improve the quality of glass recycling rates and is likely to lead to fraud. We are committed to reducing the amount of packaging placed on the market and improving collection and recycling rates.”

A total of 26,000 SKUs – using unique codes to track products - have been registered with the scheme. CSL expected some 50,000. The WSTA understands that there are currently over 100,000 SKUs on shelves in Scotland – meaning that just 25% of products available in Scotland’s shops have signed up for the scheme.

Wilkinson of the SLTA added: “We reiterate that we don’t want to scrap the scheme – we want it paused so that our concerns and those of other trade groups representing all aspects of the drinks industry and the supply chain can be carefully considered and addressed ahead of its implementation.

“Registration for retailers and hospitality operators kicked in yesterday yet countless issues remain unresolved – collection times, storage and security, hybrid hospitality venues where some off-sales transactions take place.

“It’s all very well for Circularity Scotland, the scheme administrator, to come out and say that there will be improved payment terms for lower sales volumes and a much simpler labelling option for niche products – but what are those terms and options? Please tell us.”