Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Scotland’s deposit return scheme

Out-Law Guide | 13 Dec 2022 | 9:56 am | 2 min. read

Scotland will introduce a drink container deposit return scheme (DRS) from August 2023. It is designed to improve recycling rates, reduce litter and help to tackle climate change.

The 2020 Deposit and Return Scheme (Scotland) Regulations set out the legal requirements of the scheme, which will be available throughout Scotland and cover both soft and alcoholic drinks that come in disposable drink containers sized between 50ml and three litres. PET plastic bottles, glass bottles and metal cans are included.

How the scheme will work

The scheme will go live on 16 August 2023 after being delayed from the previous date of July 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumers will have to pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink in a single-use container. Once empty, they can take the container to a return point to get the deposit refunded. There will be two main ways to return empty containers: over the counter or through a reverse vending machine. Online retailers will also collect empty drinks containers.

Small retailers that manually take back containers in the scheme are set to receive 2.69p per container. For returns performed through reverse vending machines, small retailers will receive 3.55p for the first 8,000 containers, and 1.35p for each additional container.

Containers will be recycled into new items once collected, so it is hoped that the scheme will encourage more recycling in Scotland. By 2025 the scheme aims to capture 90% of all drink containers sold.

Obligations for businesses

Under the Regulations, all retailers who sell in-scope drinks for take away must operate a return point. Businesses will be able to apply for an exemption from return point obligations in certain circumstances, including where there is an alternative return point reasonably close to the premises and the operator of that return point has agreed to collaborate on collection with the retailer. The collaboration must not “significantly impair” the ability of a supplier to meet their collection targets.

Businesses can also apply for an exemption when the location, layout, design, or construction of the retail premises does not permit, or cannot be reasonably altered to permit, the operation of a return point on the premises without significant risk of the retailer being in breach of certain other regulatory obligations. There will also be the opportunity for other organisations to apply to be a voluntary return point.

Producers – drinks brand owners for products branded in the UK; importers of drinks into the UK for products branded outside the UK; or those selling drinks in single-use containers that are filled and sealed by the retailer at the point of sale – will be required to register with the scheme administrator for a fee of £360 unless turnover the preceding year was less that £85,000.

Producers will also be responsible for arranging for the collection of containers from retailers acting as return points. A handling fee will be charged by the return point operator to the producer for the containers they collect on the producer’s behalf. Three sources of funding will pay for the scheme: unredeemed deposits, revenue from the sale of materials and a producer fee.

How the scheme will be regulated

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will be the regulator of the scheme and will have powers of investigation and enforcement. SEPA will act as the regulator for all offences under the Regulations. All drinks producers will need to be registered with SEPA once the scheme is fully operational. If a producer is not registered, it will be an offence to sell a drink in a scheme container in Scotland.

Circularity Scotland is the only approved scheme administrator. It will have responsibility for the day-to-day management of the logistics of the DRS. Producers and retailers may appoint the scheme administrator to act on their behalf in fulfilling their obligations. Such obligations include organising collections of empty containers from their premises and refunding return point operators.

Zero Waste Scotland played a role in advising on the design of Scotland’s DRS and providing support and advice on its implementation.

Co-written by Hannah Burton of Pinsent Masons.

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