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WSTA urges DRS delay after ‘car crash’ meeting

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) is calling for a delay of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) after finding fewer than 15% of producers have registered for the initiative.

Miles Beale, WSTA chief executive, has spoken out against the DRS

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater has overseen the scheme’s roll-out, which is due to come into effect on 16 August 2023. Circularity Scotland is the body responsible for the DRS.

Slater was grilled about the DRS in Holyrood, Scotland, earlier this week after the registration deadline passed.

The WSTA said Slater had left businesses ‘fuming’ after being unable to answer the ‘basic question’ of how many businesses had registered for the scheme.

The WSTA said 664 drinks producers out of 4,500 have registered with Circularity Scotland for the scheme – fewer than 15%.

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.

However, containers must be returned in tact, and crushed cans or broken bottles will not be accepted.

‘Car crash’ debate

Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: “During the car crash debate in Holyrood, Lorna Slater accused the UK government of ‘misinformation and deception’ over DRS, but in the absence of any straight answers to the live issues which require clarity, there is concern that minister is putting her own spin on registration numbers to save face to the detriment of the Scottish businesses and consumers.

“In addition, she continues to be unable to provide answers to basic questions about the scheme’s design, implementation and timetable.”

The DRS has so far faced a lot of backlash, from ministers of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) to trade bodies and producers.

Beale continued: “The WSTA has long argued against the inclusion of glass in the DRS. Put simply the scheme is not more environmentally friendly, will not improve the quality of glass recycling rates and is likely to lead to fraud.

“We are committed to reducing the amount of packaging placed on the market and improving collection and recycling rates.”

A total of 26,000 stock keeping units, which are unique codes to track products, have been registered with the scheme, according to the WSTA.

Circularity Scotland reportedly expected around 50,000 registrations.

“The WSTA believes there are currently over 100,000 SKU’s on shelves in Scotland – meaning that just 25% of products available in Scotland’s shops have signed up to the scheme,” said Beale.

Scottish Licensed Trade expresses concerns

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has called for ‘swift action’ over the lack of answers in regard to the DRS, and also expressed concerns over the current registration figures.

Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, said: “Yesterday, we were told that drinks producers responsible for more than 95% of containers sold in Scotland have signed up for the DRS along with more than 650 small and medium-sized producers.

“Circularity Scotland says that producers responsible for more than two billion recyclable drinks containers had registered for the scheme.

“However, when you look closely at these figures, just a fraction of firms have registered. It’s a very low figure and it reaffirms our concerns that this DRS is not fit for purpose.”

SLTA does not want to “scrap” the scheme, according to Wilkinson, but pause it so that other trade groups can be taken into consideration prior to its implementation.

Mark Kent, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, recently said that a delayed but successful DRS would be preferable to a failed one.

“The DRS as it stands needs to be rethought and adjusted to ensure that smaller businesses are not bogged down by bureaucracy and forced to deal with unnecessary layers of administration,” Wilkinson added.

“Slater insists that she understands our concerns – but quite clearly, she doesn’t. The industry is still recovering from the pandemic and we are all now in one of the worst cost-of-living crises that has been experienced in a generation. Yet customers will be expected to pay 20p upfront for each drinks container purchased from retailers.

“Now is simply not the time. Deposit return schemes have been introduced successfully in other countries, but these have been done in stages – not the all-encompassing big hit the Scottish government is trying to achieve.”

Recent developments in the DRS mean small drinks producers in Scotland could be granted a year-long grace period from the initiative.

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