Edinburgh breweries including Barney's Beer speak out about Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland

Nine months until previously paused scheme goes live
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Edinburgh breweries have spoken of their frustration and fears ahead of the planned introduction of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Scotland next year.

The scheme is due to go live on August 16, 2023, after the previous go-live date of July 2022 was deemed no longer practical due to the Covid pandemic. Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will see people pay a deposit of 20p when they buy a drink in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium, or glass and then get the deposit back when they return the empty bottle or can. The target of achieving 90 per cent collection rates by 2024 will be maintained.

Breweries’ frustrations

The scheme is due to start next August.The scheme is due to start next August.
The scheme is due to start next August.
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Local breweries are calling for the scheme to be paused again, pointing to a lack of clarity over how the scheme will work in practice, with some seeing an impact on their business already.

Andrew Barnett, founder and director of Barney’s Beer in Newington, revealed that although he supports the scheme in principle, he has real concerns regarding its implication in just nine months time.

He said: “We were supportive of the introduction when it was first mooted. In principle I’m a supporter of the scheme.

"My concerns are two fold. One is that it is already costing money and there is a real lack of leadership over what the plan is going to be.

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"When we buy labels we normally do so in bulk to save money, but now we are buying them in smaller batches, as we are still awaiting clarity on what is to go on the labels for the scheme. And we have got some beers that last longer and have a best before date of 18 months so they are going out already, which is costing us money as they don’t have whatever will be required on the labels.

"There is a real lack of clarity to how this scheme is going to work. It seems to me that the organisation set-up to manage this is still trying to work out how to do it. There are lots of things still to be determined. Like, how to breweries outside of Scotland sell to Scotland after this? It’s placing them at a disadvantage. There is still ambiguity, like if we sell to England, how does the labeling work?

"The big companies will find a way to deal with it. We are just a tiny team of four people and yet we have to commit the same resources to it as say Heineken.

"My final point is the format of the scheme. I don’t understand why it’s a packaging issue which affects aluminium and glass, when plastic is the real problem. It looks like an easy win, rather than tackling the big issue of packaging generally.

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"In theory the scheme is a really good idea. But the contribution has gone up and up. As soon as it starts getting higher it puts us at a disadvantage to other businesses in the UK. So I think the scheme should be paused. It’s unrealistic that they will have it ready for August and I would like the scope of it to be refined.

"Everybody in our industry is thinking about it, and everyone is thinking it will be putting us at a disadvantage.”

Jo Stewart, who co-founded Loanhead-based Stewart Brewing in 2004 with her husband Steve, has been at a two day conference in Glasgow hosted by the DRS scheme administrators Circularity Scotland this week. But she still has more answers than questions.

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She said: “It’s just a lot of unanswered questions, which is really frustrating. It’s fundamental stuff like what’s our producers fee? As a producer we don’t know what the fee will be per unit.

"There are lots of issues. The complexity of the scheme is one of the main things. If we waited for a UK-wide scheme it would be easier. We sell primarily in Scotland but we do sell down south as well. I’m going to have some stock with a barcode for Scotland and other stock with a different barcode for England. We have got a soft border. So that's a concern.

"If we choose not to change our labels we will have fees up front. So as a small producer that’s a worry. Obviously I would invoice those fees onto the retailer, but we are paid 60 days after the month, yet we are required to pay on day 12 the month after. So the cashflow element is a massive concern.

"The increases going through the industry in recent years is something we have never known in our 18 years. This scheme just adds to the administration, which is going to be terrible.

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"This scheme has been coming for years, and we’ve been trying to get clarity, which I hoped I would get at the conference but we didn’t receive any. We are told it is still going ahead in August so we need answers as soon as possible.

"In an ideal world I would say wait until the UK-wide scheme comes, which would make it so much more simple. I can’t understand why the producers are involved in this overally complex scheme. I would ask for small producers like ourselves to have a window of 12-18 months as there are bound to be teething problems.

"We are all behind more recycling and doing our bit for the planet. We want this scheme to work but we need much more detail at this stage.”

Environmental benefits

Official estimates state that implementing a deposit return scheme in Scotland will reduce carbon emissions by 160,000 tonnes each year, the equivalent to taking 85,000 cars off the road. Environmental organisations including Marine Conservation Society, Spokes and Protection of Rural Scotland, have reaffirmed their support for Scotland’s upcoming deposit return scheme, saying that it must begin on time and work for all producers in order to start cutting our emissions.

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Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The environmental benefits of a Scottish deposit return scheme are clear for everyone to see, with millions of tonnes of climate-changing emissions saved over the coming decades, plus a huge reduction in littering and better recycling facilities for all.

“A strong scheme will incentivise industry to make more environmentally friendly products and force them to pay for clean-up costs. But industry wants to kick the can down the road with calls for more delays on timescales they have already committed to. This would severely damage the creation of a circular economy in Scotland.”

Speaking after this week’s conference, David Harris, Circularity Scotland CEO said: “This week, more than 600 of Scotland’s drinks producers, retailers and hospitality businesses have been in Glasgow to prepare for the introduction of the Deposit Return Scheme from August 2023. Those in attendance will have heard Lorna Slater, the Minister responsible, stress her commitment to taking a pragmatic approach and supporting and working with businesses – and small producers and retailers in particular.

“This pragmatism has already been seen the introduction of a streamlined exemption process for retailers who don’t want to act as a return point and the indication that a revised approach on online takeback is in the offing. Reducing the number of likely return points required to deliver a scheme that is still fully inclusive will reduce costs for producers, while we have already announced a return handling fee that is the highest of any comparable scheme in the world. If they haven’t already, we would urge producers to contact us so that we can support them in preparing for the scheme and ensure this exciting initiative has a positive impact on their business.

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“We don’t underestimate the scale of the challenges and know that industry, government and all involved in delivering the scheme will need to continue to work together to overcome them. But we also can’t lose sight of the opportunity DRS provides – to transform how we recycle in Scotland and protect our environment for generations to come. DRS is coming and we’re ready to make sure it’s a success.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme will recycle billions of bottles and cans a year and forms a vital part of our plans to create a circular economy. By including plastic, metal and glass, we will maximise the benefits to the environment, which include reduced climate emissions and littering.

“Similar schemes have already proven successful in many European countries and we are confident that ours will deliver similar results. Just like many of those schemes, Scotland’s deposit return scheme is being delivered by industry. Circularity Scotland is responsible for operating the scheme and details on producer fees and guidance on labelling is available on their website circularityscotland.com.

“We know this is a big change for many businesses and we are committed to working closely with Circularity Scotland and businesses to ensure that there are pragmatic approaches to implementation. For example, we recently issued new guidance on the return point exemptions process following engagement and feedback from business, which will make the scheme more efficient and should allow Circularity Scotland to reduce the producer fees. We will continue to work in this way with industry as we move towards the go live date in August 2023.”