DRS debate rages on at Holyrood

Industry experts raise concerns with proposed scheme

(Clockwise) Susan Love, Federation of Small Businesses, Colin Smith of the SWA, SGF’s John Lee, and Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham

INDUSTRY figures presented a unified front in their criticism of current deposit return scheme (DRS) proposals at the Scottish Parliament last month.

At sessions of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, industry representatives shared their views on the government’s proposed scheme – raising many logistical concerns.

Jonathan Marshall, of British Glass, said that the glass industry was not “anti-DRS”, but that he had “major concerns” about the Scottish scheme.

He said that by including “valuable recyclables” like glass in DRS, the Scottish Government risked undermining the current kerbside recycling system.

Ewan Macdonald-Russell, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said that glass presented a safety issue for businesses who also provide food to go, with the potential for broken glass to cause cross contamination in food.

“It feels like we are having to come up with solutions for a problem that has been given to us,” he said.

Ed Woodall, of the Association of Convenience Stores, warned that translating European schemes into the Scottish retail market may not be a straightforward task.

“The convenience market is very different in Europe,” he said,  “it isn’t easy to make parallels.”

Woodall also suggested that the Scottish Government was “underestimating” the time involved for manual returns, and that the scheme would not be “cost neutral” for convenience retailers.

Dr John Lee, head of policy and public affairs at the Scottish Grocers Federation, also called into question the timeline for DRS.

Under current proposals, deposit return would go live in Scotland in the spring of 2021. Lee said that “with the best will in the world, we don’t think the timescale is achievable.”

Colin Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association, stressed that his members wanted a UK-wide scheme, rather than having Scotland press forward on its own.

“We are now creating a trading border between Scotland and England,” he said, “internal borders are being created.”

And Susan Love, of the Federation of Small Businesses, was adamant that a “large number” of smaller companies would “struggle” with implementing DRS.

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham was questioned by the committee on the concerns raised by industry.

On glass, Cunningham said  that she was aware of the issues caused by the weight and volume of the material.

“But equally, it is the one thing, that I understand it, is the most concerning among the public. And that is because of the dangers glass poses if we don’t pick it up,” she said.

Cunningham insisted that the Scottish government were not trying to “reinvent the wheel”, but were basing Scotland’s DRS  on a successful scheme run in Norway.

Committee member and Conservative MSP Finlay Carson noted that the scheme in Norway does not include glass, as the Scottish one will; and features a variable deposit, which the Scottish scheme won’t.

On the subject of delaying DRS until a UK-wide scheme could be introduced, Cunningham was uncompromising.

“What is the point of devolution then?” she said.