Plastic bottles found on Isle of Arran. Photo credit: Plastic Free Arran

Scotland is set to become the first country in the UK to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks cans and bottles. The new scheme includes a 20p cost on drinks, which is refunded if the customer returns their container to a collection point. 

The ambitious scheme is based on successful international equivalents  – which can deliver around 97% recycling rates – and will be widely accessible, with all shops which sell drinks offering deposit refunds to customers. It is set to be introduced within the lifetime of this parliament – so before March 2021.

The scheme design has been widely welcomed by environmental campaigners including Surfers Against Sewage, recognizing that the Scottish government has rejected the pressure from big business actively lobbying to undermine the success of the scheme.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage says:

“The bar has been set appropriately high to deliver a world-class system and a powerful right-hook to the scourge of plastic and packaging pollution. It also ensures that long-overdue responsibility is moved back onto big business, to address the full impact and life-cycle of the packaging they produce. “

Scotland’s new Deposit Return Scheme will include aluminium and steel cans as well as drinks containers made of glass and Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic with a 20p deposit as part of plans to combat climate change.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“Scotland was the first part of the UK to commit to a deposit return scheme as part of our wider efforts to prevent discarded drinks containers from ending up in our streets and seas, and is now the first to outline its design – one that is ambitious in scale and scope, and which gives the people of Scotland a clear and straightforward way to do their bit for the environment.

“There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. I am therefore delighted to confirm that I intend to implement a system covering PET – the most common form of plastic packaging – aluminum and steel cans, and glass, with a deposit refund set at 20p.

“Supported by international evidence our plans for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme are gathering pace with widespread consensus demonstrating that a well-run, appropriately-targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter, and support a more circular economy.”

Hugo Tagholm continued: 

“We welcome today’s announcement for an ambitious and far-reaching Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland, including all sizes of bottles and cans, and covering materials including plastic, glass and aluminium. It’s encouraging to see politicians driving the sort of radical thinking and systems redesign our environment desperately needs.

This ambitious scheme is what hundreds of thousands of citizens joined us in calling for over the past two years and will have a huge impact in the fight against plastic and packaging pollution that is choking our ocean and wider environment.

 We’d like to congratulate our fellow NGOs and campaigners, and the people-powered movement supporting us all, which pushed so hard for a world-class deposit return scheme for Scotland. This is a big win for people and planet. 

Surfers Against Sewage has worked with a range of NGO partners as part of the ‘Have You Got The Bottle?’ campaign, which launched in 2015 to press for deposits on drinks containers in Scotland.

Campaigners have long argued for a system which includes as many materials as possible. Not only do such systems reduce packaging pollution and boost recycling, but they also reduce the risk that producers will switch to less sustainable materials in order to avoid having to take part in the system.

Research commissioned by the campaign indicates that the system proposed by Scottish Ministers today will, when operational, divert around 140,000 empty cans and bottles from waste to recycling every day.

Jenni Hume, Campaign Manager for the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, said:

“The deposit system set out today is a major step in the right direction. Now we know how the system will work initially, the key will be to persuade the rest of the UK to adopt the Scottish model. It is in the interests of the environment, the public and business for the other administrations to adopt an approach that is just as inclusive.

“Introducing deposits will be a complex process, and the setup phase must be very robustly organised. We are hopeful that Scotland will continue to draw on the experiences of our friends and neighbours in Scandinavia and the Baltics and build an efficient system that captures as many empty drinks containers as possible.”