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Deposit return schemes in the spotlight – again

The Scottish Government is to take another detailed look at deposit return schemes (DRS) as part of a new inquiry launched by MSPs on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

The ECCLR will look at the volume, sources and treatment of waste in Scotland before considering what improvements might be made.

However, it’s the focus on a DRS that will likely attract the most attention, with politicians in Westminster still also mulling over the idea.

Environmental groups have been pushing for the schemes, in which consumers pay a small deposit when they buy a product and are then refunded when the container is returned to a collection point. Litter will fall and recycling rates will rise, they say. A report by consultants at Eunomia in 2015 showed that return rates of 85% to 95% are possible with 10p and 20p deposits. Research by Zero Waste Scotland has also suggested the schemes can work.

However, the packaging industry, together with retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers, are less sure. They believe it’s a costly idea that’s unlikely to deliver the benefits campaigners suggest.

“Until we have an absolute idea [of what the system might look like] we’re going to be concerned,” said Scottish Wholesale Association spokeswoman Margaret Smith recently. “It’s yet to be designed and yet to be costed.”

A report by a subgroup of the ECCLR, published last month, also highlighted that “… the appropriateness or not of a deposit return scheme depends entirely on the starting point and the aims of Scotland’s waste strategy”.

Critics often cite the experiences of drinks manufacturer Irn Bru: the firm dumped a 30p deposit scheme for glass bottles two years ago with return rates of just 54%. However, Coca-Cola recently changed its mind on DRS, coming out in support of the concept.

“We plan to take evidence to identify the key issues for waste management before focusing on possible priorities for action,” said ECCLR convener Graeme Day. “A deposit return scheme might be part of the solution but we will examine this in the context of a wider look into waste management.”