THE drinks and retail industries have been accused of deploying “dirty tricks” in an attempt to derail Scottish

Government plans to introduce a deposit scheme for drinks containers.

Environmental campaigners have attacked soft drink manufacturers and accused big supermarkets of “squealing like mad” about a scheme they say would cut litter, reduce waste and create jobs.

The industry, however, has hit back, insisting that it would be “pointless” and “expensive” to superimpose a deposit scheme on Scotland, which already has a nationwide kerbside recycling system.

The Scottish Environment Minister, Richard Lochhead, is considering introducing 10p or 20p deposits on plastic, glass and metal containers for soft drinks, water and alcohol. People would get their money back when they returned the containers to retailers.

Like charging for plastic bags, Lochhead believes that a deposit scheme “has the potential to be very beneficial for the environment”. Though he is strongly backed by environmental groups, he has run into fierce opposition from industry.

Lobbyists set up the Packaging Recycling Group Scotland in 2014 to fight against the scheme. It has 34 members, including Coca-Cola, AG Barr, Red Bull, Britvic, Tennant Caledonian, the Scottish Retail Consortium, Tetrapak and other packaging companies.

The group says that introducing deposits would undermine existing kerbside recycling, fail to tackle litter, and cost money. But campaigners say that these arguments have been rejected in other countries.

According to Clarissa Morawski, director of Reloop, a Brussels-based anti-waste group, beverage producers and retailers spend “millions” worldwide on consumer campaigns trying to get across their message that deposits are an inconvenient new tax.

Now they have turned their attention to Scotland, she warned.

“Coca-Cola, other drinks companies and big retailers are seeking the Scottish Government to back down on its plans for a deposit scheme,” she claimed.

“They’ve used the same strategies in other countries and eventually lost because their arguments are self-serving, deeply flawed and misleading.”

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, urged the Scottish Government to stand up to the “nonsense” from big business. “The big retailers and drinks industry are squealing like mad about a measure that will not only be good for the environment but will create jobs,” he said.

“They did it before on plastic bags and they’ve done it before in other European countries on deposit-return systems, but after these schemes come into being they have the remarkable gall to try to claim credit for introducing them.”

Campaigners accuse the industry of promising to invest heavily in litter prevention and awareness projects if ministers abandon plans for a deposit scheme. They point out that it has funded litter studies to argue against deposit schemes, and downplayed the number of containers that would be returned.

Critics also blame drinks and packaging companies for persuading the anti-litter charity, Keep Scotland Beautiful, to come out against a deposit scheme. Its position contrasts with that of its sister organisation, Keep Wales Tidy, which has backed the introduction of a scheme in Wales.

Last week the campaign for a deposit scheme in Scotland, Have You Got the Bottle?, took environmentalists, retailers and the Sunday Herald to Oslo to see how the scheme worked there. The campaign is funded by the Norwegian waste collection firm, Tomra, which makes “reverse vending machines” to take drinks containers for recycling in shops.

Norwegian consumers are charged deposits of 10p on drinks containers up to half a litre, and 26p on containers over half a litre. Over 90 per cent of containers are returned to shops, and littering has been virtually eliminated, according to Tomra.

The company vice-president, Thomas Morgenstern, said that drinks companies had strongly opposed deposit schemes in several countries, with over 7,000 lawsuits in Germany. He called on Scotland to resist them.

“A deposit return system in Scotland would be a major step toward becoming a more circular economy,” he argued. “Scotland is in the perfect position to lead the way in the UK.”

He pointed out that 14 countries, including Canada, the Unites States, Australia, Norway and Sweden, had different types of deposit systems, and many had return rates of greater than 80 or 90 per cent and strong public support.

But Jane Bickerstaffe, director of the industry packaging group INCPEN and spokeswoman for Packaging Recycling Group Scotland, argued that a deposit scheme “would be expensive and inconvenient for consumers, undermine local authorities’ recycling services, and disadvantage small shopkeepers”.

She said: “We believe that the right way forward is to build on and strengthen existing recycling and anti-litter initiatives. Our members are enthusiastic about engaging constructively with all stakeholders in Scotland on the best ways to achieve the shared objective of boosting recycling, including pointing out the negative unintended consequences of deposit schemes.”

The minister, Richard Lochhead, has asked the Government agency, Zero Waste Scotland, to “undertake further work” on a deposit scheme for Scotland. “Such schemes attach a value to items that can otherwise be viewed as waste, and have proven successful in other countries at reducing litter and increasing recycling,” he said.

Rob Edwards visited Oslo last week as a guest of Tomra.