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About deposit return schemes

Scotland was the first part of the UK to announce that it is bringing in a deposit return scheme for drinks packaging. 

This approach to dealing with empty drinks containers aims to bring an increase in recycling, improve the quality of material collected for recycling, help combat littering, and prevent plastic and other materials polluting our rivers, oceans and countryside.

What is a deposit return scheme?

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

There are different types of deposit return schemes in operation around the world.  In some countries you can take your bottles and cans back to shops, and in others you can take them back to dedicated drop-off points.

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing a deposit return scheme to Scotland. 

Why is it being introduced to Scotland?

Deposit return schemes have been found to increase recycling of drinks containers to much higher levels than we have in Scotland at the moment.

This will be good for our environment. Recycling saves energy, natural resources, greenhouse gases and pollution. 

It could also benefit our economy. Recyclable materials are worth more money if they are well separated rather than mixed together. This also creates possibilities for recycling the materials into higher quality new products. This is a key part of Scotland’s goal to move to a circular economy. This is where we make materials last as long as possible to get the most value out of them.

What are the benefits?

A deposit return scheme will improve both the quantity and the quality of materials for recycling from drinks containers.

Deposit return schemes have also been shown to reduce litter. A deposit return scheme can play a significant role in stopping plastic and other materials from ending up in our rivers, oceans and countryside and causing harm to wildlife. Reducing litter also makes our towns and cities nicer places to live and work.

What are the aims of Scotland’s scheme?

There are four key principles which guide the design of Scotland’s DRS:

  1. Increase the quantity of target materials collected for recycling;
  2. Improve the quality of material collected, to allow for higher value recycling;
  3. Encourage wider behaviour change around material;
  4. Deliver maximum economic and societal benefits for Scotland.

Why is this being introduced now?

Bringing in a deposit return scheme is part of Scotland’s ambitious plans to develop a circular economy. This means creating a country where all materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and items are re-used and recycled as much as possible. A deposit return scheme is a way to change day-to-day behaviour that creates a less throwaway society, similar to Scotland’s carrier bag charge.  The charge has successfully reduced use of plastic bags by over 80% since coming into force in 2014. 

Frequently asked questions

How will it work?

After looking at different deposit return schemes around the world, Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland have identified a number of different factors that play an important role. These are:

  • What materials will be collected;
  • What types of products will have a deposit on them;
  • How we measure success and effectiveness;
  • Where you will be able to get the deposit back;
  • How the scheme will be paid for;
  • How the scheme is communicated so everyone understands it;
  • How to prevent fraud in the scheme;
  • How much the deposit should be;
  • What infrastructure to put in place, and the logistics involved;
  • How to create additional benefits from the scheme;
  • Who owns the scheme;
  • How the scheme is regulated.

What stage is scheme design at? What’s happening next?

The public consultation on a Deposit Return Scheme closed on 25 September. The Scottish Government is currently analysing responses to the consultation, a response to which will be published in the coming months.

The responses are currently being analysed by the Scottish Government, with the preferred final scheme design to be published in 2019.

Zero Waste Scotland is also working on in-depth evidence to support the preferred scheme design, including: Full Business Case; full Equality Impact Assessment; Business Regulatory Impact Assessment; Strategic Environmental Assessment, 

The Scottish Government will then bring forward legislation for the introduction of a scheme.

How will the scheme be run?

The scheme will be managed by a Scheme Administrator, the composition of which is as yet undecided.  A recommendation for what this could look like is currently being assessed as part of work on the scheme design, and evidence is being gathered relating to the best available options, including public sector-led, industry-led, or a hybrid.

What is the role of Zero Waste Scotland?

Zero Waste Scotland have been tasked by the Scottish Government with designing a preferred scheme for Scotland providing support and advice on its implementation.

You can read more about our role in Scotland's deposit return scheme.

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