How the industry reacted to the latest Deposit Return Scheme delay

22 May 2024, 12:36 PM
  • The food and drink industry has voiced its concern over the inconsistent approach between the four nations' Deposit Return Scheme plans after the scheme was delayed again
How the industry reacted to the latest Deposit Return Scheme delay

Leading voices from across the UK food and drink industry have responded positively to recent clarification from government on timelines for the DRS (Deposit Return Scheme), but with some concerns around the scope of glass. 

What is the Deposit Return Scheme?

The Deposit Return Scheme is the government’s strategy to boost recycling rates and reduce waste by offering cash or vouchers to consumers for returning empty drinks containers.

All four nations have consulted on plans for single-use drinks containers, with costly delays to Scottish implementation (poised to begin in 2021) causing outrage.

The DRS will target single-use drinks containers, with government saying it will work with industry to support voluntary trials of reusable and refillable bottles and cartons.

Deposit Management Organisations (DMOs) will operate on behalf of drinks packaging producers, with consumers being charged a small deposit when they purchase a drink in an in-scope container. This will be refunded only when the consumer returns the container to a designated collection point, from where it will go on to be recycled.

The new Deposit Return Scheme timeline

A later date of October 2025 was set for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but this has now been set back to a revised date of 2027, giving businesses more time to prepare. In a joint policy statement, the government said the new deadline aims to allow more time for consumers, retailers and producers to understand the DRS, while recognising devolved waste and recycling policies. 

Clarifying its position, the government said plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) drinks bottles and metal drinks cans sized 150ml to 3litres will be in scope across the UK, and will be excluded from disposal fees and labelling obligations, while the position on glass bottles will be set out by each nation individually. Defra has confirmed they will not be in scope in England, while the Welsh government has restated that Wales will consider glass bottles in scope.

The UK government previously blocked Scottish plans to include glass in its DRS through the Internal Market Act over concerns that the weight and fragility of glass would make it too difficult to include in the scheme.

Industry urges a ‘consistent approach’

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said though the organisation is happy with the decision to delay the DRS, it is disappointed by the moves from Welsh government to keep glass in scope, adding that it’s “vital that the DRS scheme is aligned as far as possible across the UK to keep business costs down and maximise the benefit for consumers, whilst allowing clear messaging across the whole of the UK about how the scheme will function.” 

Dr Joshua Wells, principal political consultant for the environment and climate change at Dods said implementing the scheme is vital for the UK to achieve its ambition of moving towards a circular economy, but recognised attempts so far have faced numerous obstacles – notably a disagreement between Scotland and England over the scope of glass.

“Questions will remain about the fate of glass containers, which each administration will address in separate statements. Once these statements are made, the glass debate, which divides industry and stakeholders on grounds of cost, practicality, and environmental benefit, is likely to continue,” he said, pressing how urgent it was for the UK to catch up with other countries, such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden “all of which have had DRS for decades”.

Karen Betts, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation echoed Dr Wells’ concerns, saying it is critical for UK governments to work closely together now, to ensure the scheme is “easy to use and understand, operating under the same rules and with the same labels across the four nations. A consistent, UK-wide approach is the best way to ensure value for money and to drive up the UK’s disappointing recycling rates.”

Richard Naisby, chair of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers and Associates, said that to make the DRS work for small independent breweries and consumers, “we need one scheme that is introduced with the same materials, the same rules and on the same day across the UK.

“While much progress has been made across the four nations to align the schemes including a de minimis for low volume products, today’s announcement means that small businesses in Wales will be penalised by the political failure to agree the same materials, with Wales the only nation to include glass. This will create barriers for small breweries to trade, increase costs and reduce the choice and availability of independent beer,” he said.

“The rest of Europe has moved with the times to create a circular economy for drinks containers, so it’s only right that the stopwatch starts again in the UK’s race to build an effective Deposit Return Scheme,” added Carol Robert, COO of Suntory Beverage & Food Great Britain and Ireland.

“As well as long term benefits such as reduced litter and increased recycling rates, a DRS is also a critical step for businesses, and the UK, to achieve net zero. We’ve seen a positive start for Ireland’s DRS and it is now essential that we work on an interoperable UK-wide approach with detailed, prescriptive and consistent DRS regulations. SBF GB&I has been poised on the starting line and we’re ready to give our full backing to make DRS a reality and a contributor to our goal of achieving 100% sustainable packaging by 2030.”

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