Warning SNP-Greens’ deposit return scheme ‘out of date before it has started’

SCOTLAND’S flagship deposit return scheme risks being “out of date before it has got off the ground” after ministers failed to include a digital system that could allow bottles to be returned in home kerbside collections.

In December, the SNP-Greens Government’s key recycling scheme was delayed once again and will now not go live across Scotland until August 2023 – with the hold-ups blamed on the pandemic, Brexit and wrangling with UK ministers over VAT rules.

The scheme will lead to people paying a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium, or glass. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

But the plans, originally touted more than a decade ago, could be in need a facelift before they have been launched due to a digital element being left out of the final proposal.

A pilot including an online element in Wales last summer found that a digital scheme “potentially allows a far greater range of return points to be offered to the consumer” with feedback suggesting “a strong preference” for a system using a mobile device to be brought forward.

A digital deposit return scheme could use a unique code on a drinks container, which when scanned using a smartphone, would allow the deposit to be returned to the consumer when they place it in a kerbside waste container which is then scanned by refuse workers – although the technology has not yet been used at scale.

Research has suggest that a digital deposit return scheme could be cheaper, have a lower carbon footprint and be easier for people to take part in.

The Scottish Government came under fire last week over the use of a private company, Circulatory Scotland, instead of setting up a public body, to administer the deposit return scheme.

READ MORE: Greens minister Lorna Slater has ‘lost control’ of firm delivering deposit return scheme

Circulatory Scotland, which is not subject to freedom of information legislation which is required of public bodies, also reportedly announced the delay though a tendering process, before being confirmed by ministers.

Scottish Conservative MSP, Maurice Golden, has warned that “really ambitious schemes are being delivered throughout Europe”, adding that “Wales, Northern Ireland and Portugal are trialling digital schemes”.

He said: “The SNP-Green coalition’s deposit return scheme is becoming increasingly chaotic by the week. The Scottish Government have shrouded the scheme in secrecy and businesses are being left in the dark.

“Now as they continue to drag their heels on the finer details, it could even be out of date before it has got off the ground.”

Mr Golden added: “Given the lengthy delays it is clear that technology has moved forward and a digital scheme must be explored – this is 2022, not 1992.

“It is quickly becoming clear that Green ministers are following in the footsteps of their friends in the SNP by over-promising and under-delivering on a scheme that will only be successful if operated in the right manner.”

READ MORE: Deposit return scheme delay blamed on Covid, Brexit and UK Government

In a letter to Holyrood’s Net Zero, Transport and Energy Committee, Calum Duncan, head of conservation Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, has raised concerns with the current plans for a deposit return scheme.

He said: “Every year, our Beachwatch citizen science project has gathered evidence of thousands of drinks bottles and cans strewn on Scotland’s beaches, demonstrating why a DRS is urgently needed.

“Scotland’s seas and beaches are bearing the brunt of the delays to DRS.

“The Marine Conservation Society wants to see DRS in Scotland delivered quickly, efficiently and without further delay as the next step toward a circular economy.

“To help fight the climate emergency and nature crisis, the DRS is an essential building block, alongside the promised circular economy bill with targets for reuse and repair and other measures, that we need to get on and deliver. Time is running out.”

Under the agreed timescales, by March of this year, Circulatory Scotland will agree contracts to deliver operations and IT systems before ministers launch a public awareness campaign in August – when counting and sorting centres will begin to be constructed.

Return infrastructure such as reverse vending machines will begin being rolled out from the summer and will start being used on a voluntary basis from November, when a community-run scheme in Orkney will begin operating.

READ MORE: Greens minister Lorna Slater lobbied by industry 48 hours before delaying deposit return scheme

Greens Circular Economy Minister, Lorna Slater, who is responsible for the roll out of the deposit return scheme, has ruled out a digital scheme being part of the policy when it launches next August, but has left the door open to the policy being updated.

She said: “The digital DRS is a very interesting technology, and Circularity Scotland and the Government have looked into it.

“It is not quite yet mature enough to be implemented on the timescale for our DRS. However, we are aware of it, and Circularity Scotland intends the reverse vending machines that it advises businesses to install to be compatible with future digital schemes, so that there should not be any problem with moving to such a thing in the future.

“It is an exciting technology, and when it is mature, we will look at implementing it. I am sure that that will be the case.”

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