Is Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme Doomed to Be a Costly Failure?

Scottish Young Fabians member Logan Machell explains why the Scottish Greens' Deposit Return Scheme risks damaging Scottish business.

In numerous countries around the world, there is a deposit scheme for single-use and reusable drinks containers. The scheme would reduce the amount of litter on our streets, and encourage reusing when possible. While welcome in principle, concerns have been raised over how the scheme will affect small retailers, and the use of misleading statistics by the government. 

One of the concerns about this proposal is how the information is being presented. Lorna Slater, the minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy, and Biodiversity, said that drink producers that represent 90% of the total volume of drink containers have registered to take part in this scheme. However, she fails to mention that this is only 20% of retailers which has been mentioned multiple times to her. From this it is clear that bigger businesses are more likely to sign up for this scheme while smaller local businesses may struggle to cope with this new scheme. There are also concerns with rural communities and how regular collection will be for these communities that may be more difficult to get to compared to urban areas. This has led to the government offering a grace period to smaller more local businesses, hoping that this will help them cope with the new scheme.

Those who do not sign up for the scheme are not allowed to sell the products that are in the deposit scheme. While this may not be a problem for big retail stores like Asda, Lidl, or Aldi this will be a problem for independent retailers, giving international corporations an unfair advantage over independent retailers.  The deposit scheme will add an extra 0.20p to all the products. As the cost of living continues to rise and more people are forced to use food banks, an extra 0.20p added to a product can be too much for people who are already struggling.

The scheme in Scotland can be beneficial for the environment. However, there are many problems that the government has not considered, unlike other countries. The government uses Germany as an example of this scheme where it does work. In Scotland, there is a deposit of 0.20p on all products that are part of the deposit scheme and treats both single-use plastics and glass bottles the same. While in Germany, the deposits for single-use plastics and glass are different. Products cost more or less depending on their environmental impact. This gives an incentive for retailers to use less single-use plastics and more reusable packaging, making sure that the scheme has a more positive effect in the long term. 

Finding an alternative way to implement this scheme might be better for independent retailers to cope with the changes and compete with larger corporations. Having a different deposit for reusable packaging might encourage independent retailers to prioritise reusable rather than single-use, as it may prove to be cheaper in the long run. It may be beneficial for small independent retailers to be exempt from the scheme entirely and offer an alternative scheme that does not involve deposits for packaging. For example, providing more recycling centres in urban areas and rural areas. The grace period for smaller independent stores is not long enough for them to cope with these changes. An alternative has to be found or it may do more damage than good to our communities.

One business that is worried about its future is one wine retailer in Fife called St Andrews Wine Company. The owner, Peter Wood, said that he supports the deposit scheme but not in its current form as it could damage many small businesses. The problem for businesses, especially for wine, is the barcode system. Many wine producers do not include barcodes as the product changes every year and processing to add barcodes to the products would be too costly. The solution he has offered is either not including glass in the deposit scheme or making the registration mandatory for retailers and not importers. This shows that we need more time for the Scottish government to come up with an alternative deposit scheme for Scotland’s smaller businesses or risk losing them.

Logan Machell is a Politics and International Relations graduate from Aberdeen City. He was a candidate for Aberdeen City Council in 2022 and was the chair of Aberdeen University Labour Students. Logan focuses mainly on topics related to environmentalism, democracy, Scottish politics, and LGBT+. You can follow Logan Machell on Twitter @Loganmach

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