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About deposit return schemes

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

This new 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 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 and Zero Waste Scotland has been asked to consider a range of design examples to determine what kind of scheme would work best for Scotland.  A number of scheme design examples have been developed – each with important differences, such as the type of material that could be collected and where return of containers could take place.  These scheme design examples have been based on extensive research and engagement with hundreds of stakeholders, and are intended to show different possibilities for what a Scottish scheme could look like.

Now we’re looking for your views in response to the Scottish Government’s public consultation.  We want to know what kind of scheme you think would work best in 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.

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.

To enable people responding to the consultation to get a feel for how these factors could combine to create different deposit return scheme options for Scotland, the Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland have developed 4 examples featuring different approaches to these factors.

What are the 4 examples?

The consultation sets out four different examples of how a deposit return scheme could work in Scotland. In all four examples, a deposit return scheme will apply to some types of plastic bottles, aluminium and steel cans, and glass bottles, though some examples suggest the collection of more types of drinks containers than others. In all cases a small charge will be added to the price of a drink, which you can get back when you return the bottle or can for recycling.

Example 1 - Take back to dedicated drop-off points

Bottles and cans could be taken back to local drop-off points. This example would place a 20p deposit on PET plastic bottles (the type of plastic used for fizzy drinks and bottled water), glass bottles and cans. Schemes like this tend to capture around 60% of drinks containers for recycling.

Example 2 - Take back to dedicated drop-off points and some shops (with cartons and cups)

This would be similar to Example 1, but bigger shops selling drinks in disposable containers would need to make sure there was somewhere within a set distance where you could get your deposit back. If there wasn’t a dedicated drop-off point within a set distance, the shop would need to provide one in their store. This example would place a 20p deposit on drinks containers and collect all the same materials as in Example 1, as well as HDPE plastic (often used for milk containers), drinks cartons and takeaway coffee cups. Schemes like this tend to capture about 70% of drinks containers for recycling.

Example 3 - Take back to any place of purchase

This example would allow you to take bottles and cans back to any place that sells them to get your deposit back. In this example the deposit would be 10p. All places selling drinks in bottles and cans would need to make sure they had a way to collect returned containers and return people’s deposits. This example would place a deposit on PET plastic bottles (the type of plastic used for fizzy drinks and bottled water), glass bottles and cans. Schemes like this tend to capture about 80% of drinks containers for recycling.

Example 4 - Take back to any place of purchase (with cartons and cups)

Like Example 3, this example would also allow you to take bottles and cans back to any place that sells them to get your 10p deposit back. All place selling drinks would need to make sure they had a way to collect returned containers and return people’s deposits. It would cover PET and HDPE plastic, glass, cans, drinks and juice cartons and takeaway coffee cups. There isn’t a direct equivalent to this scheme anywhere else, but it would capture more material than similar schemes in Scandinavia and the Baltic states, which capture over 80%.

Who would manage the Deposit Return Scheme?

In examples 1, 2, and 3, the suggestion is an independent, not-for-profit, scheme administrator would set up and run the scheme.  This scheme administrator would be made up of representatives from companies responsible for drinks packaging.

In Example 4, it is suggested that a public body could have a role in managing the scheme as well.  Having a public sector organisation involved would be a possible way to run the deposit return scheme so that it has a wider benefit to local people. This could be through providing job opportunities for people who may otherwise find it hard to get work, or creating new jobs in Scotland to recycle the materials.  

How do I have my say on this?

There are a range of ways you can have your say and tell us what you think. 

A public consultation will be launched later this year to make sure everybody gets a chance to have their say on which deposit return scheme example will work best for Scotland. This will be hosted on the Scottish Government’s website at www.consult.gov.scot

A range of activities are planned during the consultation period, delivered by Zero Waste Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.  These will include local promotion, social media activity and an events programme in a range of locations across the length and breadth of Scotland. These will raise awareness of Scotland’s commitment to introducing a deposit return scheme, make sure people understand what that means and have an opportunity to have their say. 

What is the role of Zero Waste Scotland?

Zero Waste Scotland has been at the heart of facilitating advice, research, and expert stakeholder opinion to inform policy decisions in this area.

In May 2015, we published a feasibility study looking at the benefits and challenges of a deposit return scheme in Scotland, and in the same year carried out a call for evidence on the issue from stakeholders.

Tasked by the Scottish Government, we are now leading on the design options for a scheme that will be effective for Scotland.  Specifically, we are looking at the different options via modelling to identify what might be the best approach for Scotland. In 2017, Zero Waste Scotland published a further summary report in response to issues raised from the evidence submitted.

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