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We have compiled a comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions about Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, to help answer as many of your questions about the scheme as possible.

About the scheme

What is a deposit return scheme?

Deposit return schemes are used across the world as a way of encouraging more people to recycle drinks containers, such as bottles and cans. They work by charging anyone who buys a drink a small deposit for the bottle or can that it comes in. They get this money back when they return the bottle or can to a collection point to be recycled.

Why is Scotland doing this?

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will improve recycling rates and reduce litter in Scotland, as well as helping to tackle climate change. It will do this by incentivising a positive behaviour change and making it easy to do the right thing.

Which drinks will be included in the scheme?

All drinks (both soft and alcoholic) that come in PET plastic, aluminium or steel cans and glass bottles. Containers of these types, sized from 50ml to three litres, inclusive, are part of the scheme.

What drinks won’t be included in the scheme?

All types of drinks will be included in the scheme, but some types of containers will not. Mixed material pouches, cartons, HDPE (the plastic that most bottles milk comes in) and cups are excluded.

How much will the deposit be?

The deposit will be 20p. A 20p deposit is easy to remember and will provide an incentive to people to return their empty drinks bottles and cans.

When will the scheme start?

The Scottish Government hopes to introduce legislation later this year. Once this is passed by the Scottish Parliament, there will then be a minimum 12-month implementation period before the scheme is operational.

Which retailers will be included in the scheme?

Consumers will be able to return their empty drinks containers to any retailer or hospitality business that sells drinks in single-use containers to take away. Online retailers will also be included in the scheme.

Businesses that sell drinks to be opened and consumed on-site, such as pubs and restaurants, will not have to charge the deposit to the public and will only be required to return the containers they sell on their own premises.

Other countries, such as Norway and Sweden, already have high-performing deposit return schemes – could Scotland not just use their model?

Schemes vary across different countries. We want to make sure we have the best possible scheme for Scotland, reflecting its needs and unique characteristics. We’ve been carrying out intensive engagement and research with scheme operators around the world and Scotland’s scheme will reflect lessons learned from their experiences. 

Does this mean milk is included in the scheme?

The exclusion of HDPE means that, in practice, very few dairy items will be included in the scheme. However, milk or milk-related products contained in PET and glass bottles or cans will be included. As deposits only apply to single-use containers, reusable glass milk bottle schemes will not be included in the scheme.

The Benefits

What are the underlying aims of the scheme?

Scotland’s deposit return scheme has been designed to:

  • Increase the quantity of bottles and cans collected for recycling – With less of these going to landfill and incineration or becoming litter, Scotland’s deposit return scheme will be good for our climate and good for our communities.
  • Improve the quality of material collected, to allow for higher value recycling - By improving the quality of recycled material generated in Scotland, we can maximise its economic value.
  • Encourage wider behaviour change around materials – This includes reducing the quantity of single use bottles and cans that are littered by the public and encouraging drinks manufacturers to make their packaging more sustainable.
  • Deliver maximum economic and societal benefits for Scotland – The scheme will contribute to Scotland’s low carbon economy and generate new jobs, while creating opportunities to raise funds for good causes. 

How will the scheme improve recycling?

More bottles and cans will be recycled and produce a better quality of recyclate. We currently recycle just half of all containers. Scotland's deposit return scheme will capture an estimated 1.5bn drinks containers each year for recycling, or 90% of all containers included in the scheme for recycling, within three years, potentially almost doubling the amount currently recycled.

It will increase the quality of recycled material collected here and make better use of our existing resources. It will also increase the number of items being recycled into items of the same use or quality – for example, bottles being recycled back into bottles. This is a particular benefit to industry, which has an increasing demand for recycled content of high quality.

How will Scotland’s deposit return scheme help tackle climate change?

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change by reducing the amount of plastic, steel, aluminium and glass that goes to landfill or incineration.

Recycling is a more energy efficient than making new aluminium, glass or plastic. Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will contribute to the fight against climate change by reducing emissions by around 4 million tonnes of CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) over 25 years.

How will Scotland’s deposit return scheme combat litter?

Bottles and cans represent a significant proportion of the litter we see on our streets and in our green spaces. By incentivising people to do the right thing with their empty bottles and cans – return them for recycling – the scheme will reduce littering.

What are the economic benefits of the scheme?

A deposit return scheme presents opportunities for economic benefit to Scotland, through reduced clean-up costs for litter, increased material quality and carbon savings.

Recyclable materials are worth more money if they are well separated rather than mixed together. This also creates options for recycling the materials into higher quality new products.

What are the benefits to communities?

Community organisations, such as schools, will have the opportunity to act as return points for empty containers.

Communities will also benefit from less litter, and the collective benefits of tackling climate change.

Consumers could choose to donate their deposit to a charity or good cause. Based on the experience of other international schemes, this may be facilitated by the scheme administrator and return points.

How the Scheme will be run

Who will operate the scheme?

It’s intended to be run by a scheme administrator. The administrator would be industry-led, privately owned and operated on a not-for-profit basis. This is a similar approach to that taken by most other deposit return schemes around the world. Deposit return is an example of extended producer responsibility, whereby producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

What is the role of drinks producers in the scheme?

Deposit return is a type of extended producer responsibility. Producers will be partly responsible for the costs of the scheme, which will likely be delivered through a scheme administrator comprising relevant industry representatives.

Producers will be companies who own any brand of drink, sold in Scotland, within containers included in the Deposit Return Scheme. Financial contribution will be through a producer fee, charged on each container they place on the market. The level of the producer fee will be determined by whoever is administrating the scheme.

What are the benefits of putting producers in charge of the scheme?

A privately-owned and operated scheme will give drinks producers direct control and accountability for the running of the scheme. Producers have a range of transferable skills and experience from their businesses that can help ensure the Deposit Return Scheme is as effective and efficient as possible. This model is tried and tested across much of Europe, including Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Germany.

How will the scheme be funded?

The scheme will be paid for through three sources of funding: unredeemed deposits, revenue from the sale of materials and a producer fee.

How is this going to be regulated?

The Scottish Government hopes to lay regulations in the Scottish Parliament later this year. Once passed, a scheme administrator could be set up to manage the provision of Scotland’s deposit return scheme.

In the scheme design, a capture rate of 90% of containers for recycling has been recommended to be included within the regulations.

How do you ensure that deposits are only paid out on eligible materials?

It’s likely that a scheme administrator will be responsible for establishing practical and effective anti-fraud measures. 

How will imported products be treated/captured?

Regardless of whether a drink is imported or manufactured in Scotland, the rules will be the same. Where a bottle or can, which is covered by the scheme, is going to be sold in Scotland, it will need to be registered with the scheme and the deposit and producer fee paid.

What happens to any unredeemed deposits?

In all deposit return schemes that are currently operating there are always some unreturned containers. The unredeemed deposits in the Scottish scheme will be used to fund the operation of the scheme.


What is meant by capture rate?

The capture rate is the percentage of target material captured by the deposit return scheme. The target capture rate is 90%. This means 90% of deposit bearing bottles and cans placed on the market are targeted for return.

Why aren't single-use cups included?

As part of the 2019-20 Scottish Budget, the Scottish Government signalled its agreement in principle to the use of charging in relation to disposable drinks cups.

The Government will consider the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and other Measures – which are due later this year – and bring forward proposals in 2019-20 for legislation and other measures to implement the Panel’s recommendations.

What are the benefits of including glass?

Glass is included because this material contributes to the overall aims and underlying principles of Scotland’s deposit return scheme.  Based on the success of other schemes, it is estimated that glass bottle capture rates will increase from more than 60% to above 85%, equivalent to an additional 1.4 million tonnes over 25 years.

Adopting best practice methods for collecting glass will increase the supply of high-quality feedstock to the market. This will improve the viability of closed loop recycling in Scotland resulting in significant energy savings and benefiting society through boosting CO2e emission reductions by 1.2 million tonnes over 25 years.

Finally, as glass is estimated to make up 17% of drinks containers, its inclusion will play an important role in normalising behaviour and increasing capture rates. It should also minimise the risk of market distortion by material switching as PET plastic, aluminium and glass are all within the scheme. Including glass will also help reduce litter rates of glass, which can present a hazard to the public and wildlife.  

What will happen to the bottles and cans that are returned?

The bottles and cans collected by the scheme will be recycled.  Deposit return won’t just increase the volume of materials recycled, it will also increase the quality of recycled material available in Scotland.

Will you get all the bottles and cans back?

It is unlikely all bottles and cans sold will be returned. The target capture rate for the scheme is 90%. The legislation is expected to commit producers to achieve this within three years.

Will I need to introduce new labels for drinks on sale in Scotland?

A scheme administrator would be responsible for deciding on the most efficient and effective measures for minimising fraud and informing the consumer that containers are part of the deposit return scheme. This could include the adoption of specific on-pack labelling and/or a Scottish specific barcode.


Will all retailers be included in the scheme?

All retailers that sell drinks will be part of the scheme. This will make sure that all consumers, wherever they live, are able to access a local return point, which will make it easy for people to return their empty containers and ensure a high capture rate.

There will be flexibility in how this obligation is discharged, for example a retailer could apply for an exemption to taking back containers directly because agreement has been reached to provide an alternative return point with equal convenience. However, that will be for consideration by any scheme administrator.

Will all return points have to collect all materials?

Yes. Every return location will have to collect all the types of material that are included in the scheme. This will ensure consistency across return locations.

How do return points take back the bottles and cans?

The drinks containers can be collected manually or through a reverse vending machine (RVM).

An RVM is a machine that scans containers when they are returned and enables the customer to get their deposit back. The returned materials are stored in the machine and are collected by a scheme administrator for recycling.

‘Manual return’ works by collecting containers in plastics bags or similar, which will then be collected by a scheme administrator.

It will be up to individual retailers to decide whether they wish to install a reverse vending machine or accept returns manually. However, there is no need to take any action at this stage – guidance will be provided by a scheme administrator.

What is the difference between automated collections via a reverse vending machine and manual collections?

With a reverse vending machine, the consumer puts their empty container into the machine. It will then verify that the container is deposit-bearing. It will redeem the consumer’s deposit, for example with a voucher, or a digital credit, for the correct deposit amount. The consumer can then use the voucher against their shopping bill or request their money back from the till.

For a manual return, a member of store staff has to check the container for the deposit mark before refunding the consumer their deposit.

Do all return locations have to collect materials and products they don’t sell?

Yes – if you sell any of the materials covered by the scheme, then you must accept all materials included in the scheme when they are returned.

Do all return locations have to act as a return point? If so, how?

Yes, you must register as a return location so that a scheme administrator can pay you the retail handling fee for all the drinks containers that you process. However, there is no need to take action on this now - details will be communicated closer to the launch of the scheme.

Who picks up the empty materials? How often?

It will be the responsibility of any scheme administrator to collect containers from the return location. This may be via dedicated collections or by utilising backhauling. Collection frequency is still to be determined, but should be frequent enough to avoid creating too much of a storage burden on return locations.

Including online retailers - how would that work in practice?

Including online retailers will make sure that the scheme is inclusive and accessible to all. This will be especially important for people that have restricted mobility, or anyone who relies on online grocers for their food shopping.

Local authorities

What are the benefits for local authorities?

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will mean that local authorities will have less waste to handle, as well as reducing risk of contamination in collections, due to single-use drinks containers being collected through retailers. This presents the opportunity for financial savings for local authorities in reduced collections.

The scheme will also mean less litter, which is good for residents and council budgets.

Local authorities stand to make savings from reduced litter clean-up costs for which they are currently responsible for in many of our public areas. There will be further benefit to local areas in terms of reducing the indirect costs associated with litter, such as negative impact on house prices, community well-being and tourism.

In addition, local authority-run facilities such as schools, may be able to register as return locations.


Why is the deposit set at 20p?

The scheme has been designed to be inclusive for everyone in Scotland, by making returning drinks as easy as they are to buy. Consumers will be able to return their empty bottles and cans to wherever they purchased them from, including online retailers. It’s important that the deposit is set at a level which will incentivise people to do the right thing.

How will people with mobility issues be able to get their deposit back?

The scheme has been designed to be as accessible as possible. That’s why all places that sell drinks to take away, including online retailers, are included. If you buy your food shop online, the retailer will collect your empty containers and return your deposit.

How will this work for island and remote rural communities?

The scheme has been designed to be inclusive to people in all communities, by making returning drinks as easy as they are to buy. Consumers will be able to return their empty bottles and cans to wherever they purchased them from, including online retailers. This means that people living on Scotland’s islands and in remote communities will be able to participate in the scheme easily and will be able to get their deposit however they get their shopping.

What's next?

How long will I have to prepare?

Once the legislation process is complete, businesses will have a minimum of 12 months to get ready before the scheme becomes operational.

Is any other part of the UK considering a Deposit Return Scheme?

Scotland’s deposit return scheme is being introduced under legislation relating to powers which are devolved to Scotland. Zero Waste Scotland has been conducting evidence-gathering work relating to a potential deposit return scheme for Scotland since 2015, when we published a feasibility study.

In 2017, Scotland became the first UK nation to commit to the introduction of a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers. Following the extensive preparatory work undertaken over the last 18 months, including a public consultation, Scotland’s plans for a deposit return scheme are at an advanced stage.

A public consultation on proposals to establish a deposit return scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland commenced in February 2019:  https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environment/introducing-a-deposit-return-scheme/

The Scottish Government is open to working with the other administrations on DRS.  However, the Government states this must be on the basis that their level of ambition matches that being shown here in Scotland. We are hopeful that the bold approach we are taking here in Scotland will provide a blueprint for future action across the UK.

Further information

I have a question – where do I go for information?

The Scottish Government has established an Implementation Advisory Group to provide expertise and advice on the implementation of the scheme.

Members of the Implementation Advisory Group will provide industry expertise and advice on practical issues related to the operation of the scheme and how it interacts with production, retail and hospitality industries.

You may be represented through your membership of one of the bodies listed below - if so, it's best to put your questions through them.

Group members include:

  • British Soft Drinks Association
  • Federation of Small Businesses
  • Natural Hydration Council
  • Scotch Whisky Association
  • Scottish Beer & Pub Association
  • Scottish Grocer’s Federation
  • Federation of Independent Retailers
  • Scottish Wholesale Association
  • Scottish Licensed Trade Association
  • Scottish Retail Consortium
  • UK Hospitality

Zero Waste Scotland’s online content hub will be updated in the coming weeks and months with relevant news and information.

You can also sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on DRS.


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