In day two of our series, we look at why glass has become a sticking point in the row over Scotland's DRS


A sustainability expert operating within the world’s largest deposit return scheme has said it makes “no sense” to apply a mandatory charge to bottles of high-end spirits and wine because of the length of time it takes for them to be returned.

Tobias Bielenstein of the GDB, the trade body representing Germany’s multi-billion bottled water industry, said DRS systems are effective if they are “simple”. In the case of Germany, a €0.25 deposit is applied to all containers of beer, soft drinks and mineral water regardless of size, whereas milk, spirits and wine are exempt.

“The important difference here is how fast are these goods moving,” Mr Bielenstein said. “So if you take a bottle of good whisky, if it is with me it could stay for at least half a year or even longer before it is finished.

“In this case it makes no sense to have a [deposit] because re-usable packaging systems are meant to have a high circulation rate.

Read more: Lorna Slater rules out delaying deposit return scheme

“It’s the same with good wine. If I have a good bottle of French wine I will keep it maybe for years in my cellar. But if we talk about beverages like beer, mineral water, soft drinks, the circle is very fast.”

Scotland’s DRS which is due to come into effect on August 16 will encompass all aluminium, plastic and glass singe-use containers from a size of 50ml up to three litres, and those glass bottles containing premium spirits and wine are among the many concerns that have led the industry to vigorously push back against the controversial scheme.

This has led to a number of policy changes in recent days, ranging from the announcement on February 24 of a £22 million support package to help cover producers’ upfront expenses through to this past weekend’s news that circular economy minister Lorna Slater is “seriously considering” a 12-month grace period for small producers.

“What we are getting is piecemeal solutions as noise when feedback has been given to them that there is a problem,” says Steve Annand, director of sales at Scottish wine and spirit merchant Inverarity Morton.

HeraldScotland: Steve Annand of Inverarity MortonSteve Annand of Inverarity Morton (Image: Inverarity Morton)

“It’s plugging a leak right round about them and they move on to the next thing and then the water just finds somewhere else to come out. The whole process hasn’t been fully thought through from people who understand the way that things work.”

He added: “It’s just all these extra processes to catch all of the anomalies rather than excluding [premium wine and spirits from the scheme]. A premium Bordeaux is not what ends up at the side of the road causing litter and damage.”

In addition to exemptions for certain products, there are other significant differences between the markets in Scotland and Germany, which will this year mark the 20th anniversary of its deposit return scheme.

Germany has a long tradition of re-using beer and milk bottles that stretches back many decades prior to the introduction of DRS. Under this, all producers across a specific industry such as brewing use a standardised bottle which they collect, clean and refill up to 50 times before it is melted down.

Read more: Deposit Return Scheme executive warns of higher prices for consumers

Mr Bielenstein said this is cheaper to run and “of course” more sustainable.

“We say if it comes to glass you should always go for re-use systems because there is no way to operate a glass system in an environmentally sound way if it is single use,” he explains.

Glass accounts for a far smaller proportion of Scottish drink containers than in Germany, where there are also no kerbside recycling collections. And while Scotland’s DRS will require manufacturers to barcode and track each individual container, Germany’s scheme does not.

DRS in England and Northern Ireland, which will not come into effect until 2025 at the earliest, will not include glass containers though Wales has joined Scotland by taking glass within the scope of its scheme. This has raised concerns about increased complexity from different schemes operating side-by-side.

“British Glass has long called upon the Scottish Government to remove glass from the scheme’s scope as we believe it will be detrimental to glass recycling; our preferred route to reaching higher glass recycling rates is via Extended Producer Responsibility and enhanced kerbside collections,” said Phillip Fenton, the group’s lead packaging and recycling adviser.

HeraldScotland: Colin Smith of Scottish Wholesale AssociationColin Smith of Scottish Wholesale Association (Image: SWA)

Colin Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association, said his group is still working proactively with the Scottish Government and Lorna Slater in particular to simplify the scheme and make it “less of a car crash than it is currently going to be”.

The UK has a “very complex” supply chain relative to other countries, he said, with more than 80 wholesalers operating in Scotland alone and about 660 throughout the UK. He too would like to see glass taken out of the Scottish DRS in a bid to make the system more workable.

“What we are implementing here is Venice looking for a new transport system, saying look we can do better than our canals, so let’s invest in a new transport system – actually let’s take Edinburgh’s road, tram and rail network and put that in Venice,” he said.

“It doesn’t work, and that’s the problem we’ve got with taking a 40-year-old European scheme that has been implemented way before any kerbside recycling – in these countries [that have DRS], they don’t have kerbside recycling – and implementing it in a digital age where we already have kerbside collection.

“That is why we have got the disaster that we have.”

The Producers: "We are flailing about – the information keeps changing"