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Scottish drink trade welcomes DRS delay announcement

Published:  18 April, 2023

Following months of petitioning from the drinks trade, new Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf announced that the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will be delayed until March 2024.

In a statement to the Scottish parliament, Mr Yousaf said: “I’m committed to the scheme to increase recycling and help achieve our net zero goals but recognise the uncertainty created by the UK government delaying a decision on the Internal Market Act.

“I’ve also heard the concerns of businesses, particularly on the launch date, which will now be delayed to 1 March 2024.

“That gives 10 months to get ready and we will work with businesses and [scheme administrator] Circularity Scotland to address concerns with measures to simplify and de-risk the scheme for small businesses.”

The DRS, which was due to come into effect on 16 August 2023, will charge Scottish consumers 20p for a single-use drinks container, whether clear plastic, a can or glass, which they can then get back when the container is recycled at a return point.

Despite the scheme's environmental initiative, many businesses have highlighted the administrative and financial burdens the DRS will bring during already difficult economic times. 

Responding to the delay, UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said: “An immediate delay and review of the poorly designed Deposit Return Scheme was UKHospitality Scotland’s most significant request of the new first minister and I’m delighted he has acted on these calls.

“We urged the first minister, when he was appointed, to reset and repair the relationship with business and his actions today show that is his intention.

“Not only will the delay to the Deposit Return Scheme avoid inflicting enormous pain and cost onto hospitality businesses this August, it also offers a signal to businesses that their concerns are being heard and their importance to the Scottish economy recognised.”

The DRS legislation presented many difficulties for small SMEs, chief among them was the proposed implementation of barcodes on individual bottles, which would be expensive and impractical given the frequency with which batch bottles change for different vintages and production cycles.

Furthermore, this is just the latest in several delays to the system, which has left many businesses feeling underprepared to comply with the ever-changing start date.

Commenting on the first minister’s statement, Scotch Whisky Association CEO Mark Kent said: “This is a very welcome announcement by the first minister, who has listened to the concerns voiced by the industry on the alcohol marketing consultation and the Deposit Return Scheme. More widely, he has signalled a reset with the Scottish business community so the scotch whisky industry and other sectors can help the Scottish government drive economic growth, creating prosperity and opportunity across the nation.

“Our industry has always supported the goals of the Deposit Return Scheme, but the Scottish DRS as currently devised would hamper the efforts of businesses across the country to reduce waste and bring about a more circular economy. The delay until March 2024 and full review in the coming months will enable us to work with the government to ensure DRS is aligned with other systems across the UK and to once again look at the exclusion of glass, which the experience of international schemes tells us will help to simplify the scheme, and reduce the cost for businesses and consumers.”

In a statement, Jamie Delap, SIBA Scotland director added: “Last year we called on the Scottish government, in partnership with others, for them to do three things – reduce the costs to small businesses, amend the terms of the scheme so small producers weren't required to take on extra debt and to delay the start of the scheme in order to allow small producers time to implement the scheme successfully. 

“It is welcome that they have listened to all three and under the new first minister now delayed it. Now is the opportunity for the Scottish government and Circularity Scotland to work in partnership with small businesses to come up with real solutions that work for everyone, not just the largest businesses and we look forward to working with them to address the other barriers to a successful launch of the DRS.”