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UK government overrules glass inclusion in Scottish DRS

Published:  30 May, 2023

The latest back and forth between the UK government and Scotland’s devolved powers has derailed plans for Scotland to include glass as part of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), with glass now to be fully excluded both north and south of the border.

On Saturday (27 May), a UK government intervention saw ministers write to First Minister Humza Yousaf to inform him that for the Scottish scheme to proceed, it can only include PET plastic bottles and aluminium or steel cans.

The news comes following outrage that Holyrood failed to secure an early exemption to the Internal Market Act (IMA), which would allow it to include glass in its scheme. Competition rules under the IMA state that all businesses across the UK face the same regulations in order to prevent firms in one part being advantaged or disadvantaged.

According to the Telegraph, the UK government has now confirmed it would grant the scheme an IMA exemption, but only if Scotland’s DRS for drinks containers was aligned with one it plans to roll out in England in October 2025.

Although plastic drinks containers and cans can be included, as a compromise, glass bottles will now be excluded.

“The Scottish Wholesale Association welcomes the news that the UK government has agreed to a conditional IMA exemption,” the SWA said in a statement.

“We have argued for several years that a UK-wide approach made more sense and that including glass increased costs and complexity. Glass inclusion is currently the main difference between the Scottish and English schemes, so it represents a major change.”

It added that while the “late timing” of the announcement is “disrespectful to all the businesses which have been waiting for confirmation, it is now critical that the Scottish and UK governments work together and with those affected businesses at pace to ensure that the Scottish scheme can go live smoothly next spring”.

Ministers in Edinburgh formally requested the exemption back in March. Since then, they have come under scrutiny for the delay, with Colin Wilkinson, MD of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, arguing that the Scottish government should have made sure it secured the IMA exemption before it started procedures.

“This gets more farcical by the day. The Internal Market Act (IMA) issue is like building a 20-storey tower block then applying for retrospective planning permission. Who would be so presumptuous?” he said.

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme is currently due to be rolled out in March 2024, with delays pushing it back from August this year.

For now, the glass removal will be particularly welcome for wine and spirits importers, as it will significantly reduce the numbers of SKUs affected.