Environmental campaigners are calling on Scotland’s First Minister to “hold his nerve” and press ahead with the UK’s first deposit return scheme (DRS) – despite the row it has provoked with Westminster.
Humza Yousaf has insisted the plans for the scheme in Scotland are in “grave danger” after the UK Government ruled the environmental initiative could only go ahead without glass bottles included in it.
Mr Yousaf and members of his Cabinet are to consider whether to press ahead with the scheme when they meet on Tuesday.
Campaigners insist ditching the initiative – which would see a 20p deposit charged on drinks in cans and bottles, with the money returned when empty containers are brought back for recycling – would only benefit big business.
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting comes in the wake of the Westminster Government insisting it would only grant a limited exemption to the Scottish scheme from the UK Internal Market Act – with this needed as the scheme north of the border comes in ahead of similar plans for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Yousaf said without a full exemption – which would allow DRS to include glass bottles as well as plastic bottles and cans – the UK Government was “in danger of sinking this scheme in its entirety”.
He has called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to allow the scheme to go ahead with glass bottles in it.
Kat Jones, director of the group Action to Protect Rural Scotland, which has led the campaign for DRS north of the border, said even if the UK Government fails to “do the right thing” on glass, the Scottish DRS should still proceed.
She insisted: “If Westminster do not do the right thing, though, and it seems unlikely they will, the First Minister must hold his nerve and press on with cans and plastic bottles.
“Dropping the whole system and accepting the failing status quo would only benefit those big businesses who have always opposed deposit return. It’s obviously cheaper for them if we keep picking up the cost for their products.”
Catherine Gemmell, Scotland conservation officer for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Scottish ministers still have the power to reduce drinks-related litter, even without the inclusion of glass.
“Plastics remain the most substantial problem, with an average of 168 pieces found every hundred metres.
“Plastic bottles and cans end up on our beaches and in our seas in vast numbers. In fact, more than 80% of the drinks containers wasted are cans and plastic bottles.
“There is still the opportunity to make substantial environmental benefits from a deposit return scheme. We must still push forward with what we can.”
Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “After years of planning and preparation, Scotland’s deposit return scheme – a simple and effective way of improving our recycling rates – cannot be thrown in the bucket.
“It’s not acceptable for Westminster to play politics during a climate emergency.
“The UK Government should be looking to match the ambition of the schemes in Scotland and Wales, not forcing them down to the lowest common denominator.”
Meanwhile, waste management company Biffa – the logistics partner for the scheme – also urged the Scottish Government press ahead.
In a letter to Mr Yousaf, Biffa chief executive Michael Topham said the position of the UK Government is “no doubt unwelcome”, but added: “Any decision to cancel or significantly delay the scheme beyond March 2024 sends a seismic and detrimental signal to all those businesses that are in principle willing to commit resources into helping the Scottish Government deliver on its ambitions, completely undermining its position as a legislator that can be relied upon.
“In my view the ramifications of this will be significant.
“Not only in terms of the urgent and immediate need for many businesses, who have invested in the scheme in good faith, to protect their financial position, but also in terms of attracting long-term outside investment in Scottish green infrastructure and related schemes in the future.”