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DRS support package ‘reeks of desperation’

A £22 million (US$26.5m) support package for drinks producers to help them prepare for the roll out of the deposit return scheme (DRS) has been called “too little, too late”.

Circularity Scotland established the DRS in 2021

Scotland is set to become the first country in the UK to implement a DRS on 16 August this year.

The initiative requires consumers pay a 20p deposit when buying a drink in a single-use container made from polyethylene terephthalate, glass, steel or aluminium, sized between 50ml and three litres.

The 20p deposit will be refunded by the drink’s producer when the container is returned for recycling at one of 30,000-plus return sites.

The body responsible for the DRS, Circularity Scotland, launched the support package on 21 February, designed to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs have previously voiced concerns about the impact of the scheme on their cashflow, according to Circularity.

David Harris, chief executive of Circularity Scotland, said: “Circularity Scotland was established by industry to meet their obligations under the deposit return scheme as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

“This announcement is further evidence of how we are continuing to innovate and identify additional ways to mitigate the pressure on businesses. We know that smaller producers in particular have been concerned about the cashflow impacts of the scheme, and these measures will address those concerns.”

Producers ‘large and small’ to benefit

Circularity Scotland has secured more than £100m (US$120.4m) of third-party funding to “establish the infrastructure” of the DRS, according to Harris, “with only minimal up-front funding from the very largest producers”.

“This funding approach allows producers both large and small to benefit on equal terms from this investment in world-class infrastructure and leading-edge technology and only pay their share of the costs once the scheme is in operation,” he continued.

The £22m package includes: upfront charges removed for lower sales volumes; improved payment terms for lower sales volumes; simple labelling option for niche products to alleviate the ‘administrative burden’.

Circularity Scotland was established in 2021 with the specific purpose of administering Scotland’s DRS.

The body was founded by a combination of drinks producers, trade associations, retailers and work with companies throughout the supply chain.

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater said: “This is a big and welcome change that responds directly to many of the concerns that have been raised, particularly those from smaller producers like craft brewers.

“It addresses initial cash flow challenges, and provides a pragmatic and simple solution to the issues raised around barcodes for smaller product lines. This is a package that gives businesses the clarity and confidence they need to be part of Scotland’s deposit return scheme.

“Over the last few months I have been meeting industry regularly to listen to their feedback and this industry-led solution has been designed in direct response to its concerns.

“I remain committed to a pragmatic approach to implementation between now and the 16 August. By working together we can lead the UK in delivering a deposit return scheme which will increase Scotland’s recycling rates from around 50% to 90%, cut emissions, tackle littering and address public concerns about the impact of plastic and other waste.”

‘Reeks of desperation’

However, the launch of the support package has been met with resistance.

Whisky Day founder Blair Bowman tweeted that the announcement “reeks of desperation and is too little, too late”. “This does nothing to address the enormous number of major outstanding issues with DRS,” he continued.

“Frankly, it’s just not good enough @lornaslater.”

Additionally, Circularity Scotland sent a letter out to producers earlier this week (21 February), writing that registration for the DRS is required by 28 February, and it is a legal obligation to do this.

Bowman tweeted: “You couldn’t make it up. @Circ_Scotland have sent this letter out for producers just five weekdays before the deadline to sign up which is a legal obligation. This letter should’ve been sent to businesses this time last year, or even better this time two years ago. Hopeless.”

MSPs speak out

In parliament on 22 February, member of Scottish parliament (MSP) Sharon Dowey said that if businesses fail to sign up by next week, “the risk that they may no longer be able to sell in Scotland could significantly impact the rural supply chain”.

“Having spoken to rural businesses, they’ve raised concerns about the 24 substantial steps required to register for the deposit return scheme,” she continued.

“The first step requires the business to sign up to a three-year legal commitment which will significantly change their operations and could even bankrupt them.

“It should be easy to introduce a scheme where people purchase a drink container and a deposit is returned when the product is recycled. We can’t [endorse this scheme] because the SNP-Green scheme is headed for disaster.”

MSP Annie Wells said in parliament on 22 February that the current proposals for DRS are “very controversial”, and businesses say they are “unworkable”.

If the SNP and Green party “push ahead” with the DRS it will result in the “loss of jobs and a sever hit to “economic growth”, she concluded.

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