In an attempt to improve Scotland's recycling habits, the Scottish Government has introduced a new deposit return scheme (DRS) due for implementation in March 2021. The scheme is due to affect any establishment selling drinks to take away and has so far received mixed reviews about its ability to establish a lower carbon footprint. It is likely that other UK jurisdictions will follow suit once the legislation has become clear.

1. Improving Scotland's recycling

Improving Scotland's recycling rates has been the forefront of discussion for the past three years in the Scottish parliament. The quality of recycled material, the impact of litter in Scottish towns and the economic and social opportunities offered by addressing Scotland's recycling issues have resulted in the Scottish Government taking action.

Scotland initially committed to a DRS in 2017 following work carried out by Zero Waste Scotland on the Scottish Government's behalf. Further details were released in May this year, providing that a further charge of 20p will apply to drinks containers made from aluminium, steel, glass and PET plastic. It is part of an incentive to encourage wider behavioural change around materials, whilst delivering a benefit for Scotland to establish a low carbon footprint. 

The new scheme is expected to be implemented by March 2021 and will require all retail outlets throughout Scotland to comply. 

2. How does DRS work?

From March 2021, consumers who purchase a drink will pay an extra charge of 20p on top of the cost of their product. Once the product is consumed, the consumer can return the container to be recycled and will receive their 20p deposit in return. The products that can be returned include those listed above from 50ml up to three litres. Whilst plastic milk bottles, tetra packs and pouches are not included, it is anticipated that these could be incorporated within the new rules at a later date, depending on the success of the new system. 

Return points will be located at any establishment that sells drinks to take away. There will also be return points located at schools and designated community points, as well as the ability to return your containers over the counter or by using a vending machine. Vending machines will read the bar code on the container, return the deposit to the consumer and hold the containers for collection. 

3. A not-so-positive reaction

Whilst the majority of the rest of the UK has congratulated Scotland on its DRS, some critics remain sceptical. Ewan MacDonald-Russell, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, described the scheme as "disappointing" and argues that it does not go far enough to recycle and reduce litter. He also claimed that the inclusion of glass within the scheme will add an additional £50 million per year and indicates that this cost may have to be borne by retailers and consumers. 

Scotland is not the first jurisdiction to introduce such a scheme. Berlin has operated a similar scheme since 2003. Whilst this has had an overwhelming impact on littering, there have been some noticeable negative social effects. Many of Berlin's unemployed and pensioners have resorted to collecting discarded bottles from public bins, generating an unhygienic practice as a means of financial support.

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