‘Through a Glass Darkly’ – Is Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme Scuppered?

Scotland’s drinks deposit return scheme has hit another pothole on its never ending road towards implementation. This latest one coming courtesy of the UK Government is a doozie – and a baffling one at that. What is going on?

It was way back in May 2020 that Scotland’s Parliament passed The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020.

The Environmental Regulation (Enforcement Measures) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020 was also passed, giving additional powers to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to enforce the scheme.

Most of us were in lockdown at the time and since then there have been delays and changes to try and get the scheme to work. The problem for the UK Government in London is that their scheme  covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025. The rUK scheme is for  plastic bottles and drink cans. This excludes glass from the deposit return.


Over the last three years, since the DRS was passed in Scotland and agreed to by all its political parties , the Scottish Government has been in negotiations with the UK Government over excluding the scheme from what is called ‘The UK Internal Market’. This is yet another implication of leaving the EU, the world’s largest free trade area. The UK has set up regulations to apply within its own borders now it is a ‘Third Country’. The UK Internal Market Act, also passed in 2020, however, is a bit different for Northern Ireland because it has a trading advantage over rUK all related back to The Good Friday Agreement. Most recently we have the Windsor Framework, a Joint Declaration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Union. So exceptions can and are being made to the UK Internal Market regulations.

Overview of Northern Ireland Trade 2021 2022

You can find a full account of how Northern Ireland continues to benefit from its different trading arrangements here: Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics

Back to The Deposit Return Scheme where the UK Internal Market is scuppering attempts to get this going in Scotland. A few days ago on May 27th a UK government spokesperson said:

“The Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.

“The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their Scheme earlier this year. 

“We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government’s request for a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK.

“Deposit Return Schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system. A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter – as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers.”

What this means in plain speak is – you can have your DRS Scotland but it has to be the same as rUK and not include glass.

“The temporary exclusion will enable the Scottish Government’s existing scheme to go ahead next year, covering PET plastic, aluminium, and steel cans only.”

“The UK Government took into account strong representations made by relevant businesses, including distillers and the hospitality sector, about the impact on trade and consumers created by permanently different arrangements on glass within the UK.”

The Scottish Greens have launched an e-campaign to have glass remain in the Scottish scheme. Mark Ruskell MSP said:

“There are more than 50 can and bottle deposit schemes around the world, and the vast majority of them include glass. Over 550 million glass bottles are sold in Scotland every year. It makes no sense to exclude them.

“The case is so strong that even the Tory Party used to embrace it. They had an unequivocal commitment to a scheme that included glass as part of the 2019 manifesto that every single Tory MP was elected on.”

Lorna Slater, the Scottish Green MSP and Minister in charge of the scheme in Scotland had already made changes after listening to the concerns of smaller businesses.

  • drinks containers of under 100ml will be excluded, removing miniatures and other smaller containers from the scheme
  • products that sell fewer than 5,000 units per year will be excluded, which will particularly benefit craft producers
  • all hospitality premises that sell the large majority of their drinks products for consumption on the premises will be exempt from acting as a return point
  • the online application process for retailers to apply for an exemption from providing a return point has been simplified

The scheme in Scotland has been delayed until 1st March 2024. 95% of companies in Scotland responsible for producing single use drinks containers have already signed up – many of these will be glass.

And here is what makes the decision by the UK Government the complete doozie that it is by not permitting glass to be in the Scottish scheme –

Wales will be introducing a Deposit Return Scheme by 2025 . The materials captured in the deposit return scheme in Wales will be drinks containers made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, steel, glass, and aluminium. Glass drinks bottles will not be captured by DRS in England and Northern Ireland.  – Welsh Government

Introducing a scheme like this when businesses were struggling with the impact of the pandemic was perhaps rather unwise. This latest interjection by the UK Government, however, is petty politics interfering with decisions democratically reached in our Scottish Parliament and creating yet more uncertainty amongst the businesses affected. And questions need to be asked of the UK Government and why its scheme for England (and Northern Ireland) does not include glass bringing it inline with that of both the Welsh and Scottish schemes. Or is it always the other way round?

Some notes on glass recycling:

Many countries include glass in their deposit return schemes – including Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Germany.

Currently, much of glass collected in Scotland is not suitable for closed loop recycling – where bottles are turned back into bottles. This is because of the way glass is currently collected and processed, including the mixing of colours and crushing during transportation. 

The separated collection methods required as part of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will make closed loop recycling much more viable.  This will result in significant energy savings and reduced carbon impact. 

Including glass within the same scheme as PET plastic and aluminium is also expected to minimise the risk of market distortion by material switching. 

Glass drinks bottles that are included in Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme represent an estimated 560 million containers that reach the Scottish market each year. This is more than a quarter of all the containers due to be included in the scheme.  

Glass is one of the most common items to pollute our beaches. It’s also one of the litter items that causes most concern – particularly among parents and pet owners – because of its potential to cause injury. 

Broken glass poses a real hazard to local authority, private sector and voluntary clean-up crews and can contribute disproportionately to other litter-related damage, such as punctures.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.- Corinthians 13:12

glass bottles dumped at the side of the beach
Image credit Bell

Fiona Grahame

7 replies »

  1. It’s a strange nation that claims to love its country and at the same time is more than happy to trash it because it can’t be bothered to take its rubbish home.

  2. Your fourth paragraph is incorrect. Wales still has glass in its proposal. England changed their mind on glass after lobbying. The Conservative party received a donation of £ 20.000 shortly afterwards.

  3. Good balanced report, Fiona, You’ve highlighted where the real blame lies for the delayed implementation.

  4. As someone who grew up on the continent, it really baffles me that other countries had such schemes in place for decades (without any heated discussion when they were introduced) whilst here in the UK we are still argueing about the introduction… the design… and so forth.

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