Westminster’s plans to block Scotland’s bottle-bond scheme is ‘a parody’ | Recycling

Blocking Scotland’s bottle deposit scheme would be an environmental travesty, campaigners said, in a growing reaction to UK government plans to undermine the scheme.

The charity City to Sea, which has pushed for a deposit-return scheme (DRS) to tackle plastic pollution, said the UK government could have avoided a clash with Scotland by working with devolved countries to deliver a unified deposit system many years ago . Instead, Westminster has repeatedly delayed its own escrow scheme, which was not due to take effect until 2025 – seven years after ministers first promised it.

“Westminster is at risk of reducing devolved nations to the lowest environmental standards as they sit back and forth as the plastic crisis deepens around them,” said Steve Hynd, City to Sea policy manager.

“We have deposit refund programs operating in more than 50 locations around the world… they are making a huge contribution to reducing waste, increasing recycling rates and helping to fight the climate crisis.

“If Westminster blocks the Scottish plan, it will be not only a constitutional crisis but an environmental parody.”

There is a fury among environmental groups after Alister Jack, Scotland’s secretary, made it clear he intended to reject the SNP government’s application for a trade exemption for its flagship recycling scheme, which experts say could fatally undermine the plans.

Scottish ministers have been planning the DRS for years, with Lorna Slater, the minister for green affairs, calling it a “massive national endeavor” involving 4,000 manufacturers, 10,000 vending machines and 2 billion drink containers.

The DRS is due to start in Scotland in August and is a key part of the SNP-Scottish Green coalition deal, which is already in jeopardy following the departure of Nicola Sturgeon as first minister.

Megan Randles, a political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “The UK Government, unhappy with thwarting its own attempts at effective DRS, is trying to reject Scotland’s more ambitious plan.

“Westminster Government often claims to be a world leader in the fight against plastic waste, but these actions show once again that they do not live up to this mantra.”

Jack also seemed to be trying to reopen the DRS debate by suggesting it would be bad for business and consumers. However, the UK government supports the DRS, which will work in a similar way to the Scottish scheme: retailers would add 20p to the price of single-use bottles and cans, which consumers could then reclaim by returning them for recycling.

The last 2021 consultation on DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed broad support with 83% of respondents in favour.

The scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland was promised by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove in 2018. But there were five years of delays, at least two consultations, a long period of silence, and then this year the government announced that it would not be comprehensive and would not come into force until 2025.

Unlike the Scottish DRS, the UK government has withdrawn its commitment in the 2019 manifesto and does not include glass in its deposit scheme. However, the Welsh Government is introducing a comprehensive glass bottle scheme, as in Scotland.

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The Westminster Government has always known that Scotland is independently pursuing a DRS that is unlikely to be improved with its own. In January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Scotland is moving forward with its own supply of DRS. We will continue to work in all four countries on the interaction between the programs.”

Izzy Ross, campaign manager for the charity Surfers Against Sewage, said: “The government has had years to raise concerns, but instead is intervening so late, causing chaos after years of planning and investment. The longer you wait for the deposit refund program, the more plastic will end up in the ocean.”

A coalition of 15 environmental groups has warned that there will be “environmental, economic and legal repercussions” if the UK government blocks the introduction of the Scottish scheme.

“Any attempt to disrupt or undermine this would have serious negative consequences for programs in the rest of the UK and for the wider ambitions of the circular economy,” the Rural Scotland Association tweeted.

It is estimated that consumers in the UK consume around 13 billion plastic beverage bottles each year. Only 7.5 billion are recycled. The remaining 5.5 billion is landfilled, littered or incinerated. Every day, consumers in the UK consume 38.5 million plastic bottles.

Other countries have successfully introduced deposit systems. In January last year, Slovakia became the 11th country in Europe to introduce a deposit system, leading to the return of 100 million plastic bottles and metal cans in the first five months of its operation.

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