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SWA: ‘delayed success’ better than failed DRS

A “delayed success” would be better than “a quick failure” for Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS), the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said.

Mark Kent SWA CEO
Mark Kent, chief executive of the SWA

On 16 August 2023, Scotland is due to become the first country in the UK to implement a DRS. Consumers will have to pay a 20p deposit when buying a drink in a single-use container made from plastic, glass, steel or aluminium, sized between 50ml and three litres.

The 20p deposit is refundable by the drink’s producer when the container is returned for recycling to one of 30,000-plus centres across the country.

Producers have until 28 February 2023 to register with the scheme.

Speaking to The Spirits Business, Mark Kent, chief executive of the SWA, said there needed to be greater clarity about the scheme – not just for Scotch whisky, but for the wider drinks industry that will be affected.

“At the moment, there is this lack of clarity and we see it in the Scotch whisky industry, but it’s far wider,” he adds. “You’ve seen a whole range of people voicing concerns over the past few weeks and we are no different in that respect.”

Earlier this month, the SWA teamed up with several trade bodies to pen an open letter to Scotland’s minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, Lorna Slater, to call for an 18-month legal grace period for smaller producers.

They argued by rushing to meet the August launch date, many drinks products would no longer be available in Scotland from 16 August and prices ‘will substantially increase’.

‘I can’t gamble with my business’

“We obviously share the ambition on sustainability, we understand why the government wants to make progress on sustainability and we want to be a partner on that,” said Kent. “Like any project, the important thing is to make it a success.

“It’s better to have a successful scheme that takes longer to implement than a quick scheme, which is a failure. If the delay is needed in order to get us to that place, we need to do that; that is far, far better.

“Drinks companies are having to make big decisions very quickly, and decide whether to make big investments, or say, ‘Actually, I can’t gamble with my business, so I’m not going to continue selling into Scotland’. That has serious effects for economy and for consumer choice.

“As I say, if the difference is between a quick failure or a delayed success, then we’ll go for the last one every time.”

See the March 2023 edition of The Spirits Business for the full in-depth interview with SWA chief executive Kent.

Earlier this month, the SWA reported Scotch exports reached £6.2 billion (US$7.5bn) in 2022, passing the £6bn (US$7.3bn) mark for the first time. SB compiled a list of the top 10 export markets by volume and by value.

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