THE MINISTER behind Scotland’s deposit return scheme has admitted that a damning review of the policy did not speak to a single expert operating DRS schemes in other countries.

The revelation comes as Scotland prepares to become the first country in the world to roll out a deposit return scheme while kerbside recycling continues.

The policy has been met with widespread concern from businesses amid fears producers will, by the end of the month, be liable for fines of up to £1.4m a month if the scheme is further delayed past the current August 16 rollout date.

Read more: Concerns deposit return scheme will create unlawful UK trade barrier

Under the policy, people will pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

But vast concerns have been raised over costs to businesses, reduced consumer choice, as well as expected teething problems with the scheme to go live for all producers and all types of containers on the same day.

The Scottish Government’s latest gateway review of the policy was conducted in May last year but only published in December.

It has now emerged that Greens circular economy minister, Lorna Slater, did not commission any consultation from other DRS schemes in the world.

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In correspondence, seen by The Herald, Ms Slater said: “It would not be relevant for the review process to speak to those operating DRS schemes in other countries.”

The gateway review concluded that “a fully functioning and compliant DRS cannot be in operation for the revised August 2023 schedule”.

The delivery confidence assessment was classed as ‘amber/red’ which means “successful delivery of the project is in doubt with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas”.

The review added that “a ‘softer’ approach to DRS implementation should be pursued but further urgent activity would be required to consider, assess and agree this possibility”.

Despite not discussing matters with experts in the dozens of other countries that have rolled out a deposit return scheme, the review team “met with a large number of stakeholders”, stating they are “confident” the study “represents a realistic and comprehensive status”.

Read more: SNP MSP calls for deposit return scheme to be paused

Companies that are classed as producers have until March 1 to register for the scheme ahead of its launch on August 16.

But concerns have been raised that once that deadline closes, the companies will be liable for fines from Sepa for not implementing the scheme if it is further delayed past the August roll-out date. The policy has already been delayed several times.

Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said that “when we hit March 1, we pass the point of no return”.

He added: “Drinks producers have until the end of this month to sign up for the deposit return scheme.

“Those who do so will be financially liable for any delays and will have to fork out up to £1.5 million per month. To make matters worse, they are being asked to sign up with key information still missing.

“If they do not sign up, they cannot sell their products. One leading Scottish brewer described that as ‘extortion tactics’.”

The Herald: Maurice GoldenMaurice Golden (Image: PA)

Mr Golden added that “a lot of the big producers are unhappy”.

He said: “Having spoken to some of the major retailers, they don’t know whether they will be compliant and just have to take a punt.

“They are hoping that Sepa will not enforce those regulations, or at least give them time to comply.

“If those are the regulations and you are not complying with them, it’s not Sepa’s fault that the businesses don’t know how to comply. They will know how to comply by the time it’s launched.”

It is believed that some big retailers are planning to “take the fine from Sepa” and have “budgeted for that”.

Some businesses are nervous about signing up to the producer agreement with Circularity Scotland when many issues remain unresolved.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said there was “significant uncertainty over several outlying issues”.

Read more: Greens minister Lorna Slater lobbied by industry 48 hours before delaying deposit return scheme

He added: “Businesses are being asked to make very serious commitments without being able to understand what risks that might incur.

“Retailers remain concerned If that operational guidance isn’t made available by the end of February, there must be questions raised on the desirability of launching a scheme which is likely to be costly and confusing for consumers.”

Circularity Scotland has estimated that it will take around six weeks to full process registrations, with the company expecting more than 4,5000 producers to sign up.

In correspondence to MSPs, Ms Slater has stressed that Sepa will take a “proportionate approach” to compliance.

She said: “We want businesses to be ready for the scheme going live on 16 August. However, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has agreed that, where there are clearly evidenced operational challenges, they will take a proportionate approach to compliance.

“They have committed to providing advice and guidance as the preferred route to achieving compliance for businesses who are striving to meet their obligations.”

Ms Slater has now announced that only big companies will be liable to underwrite costs if the scheme is delayed.

She said that “only the very largest producers, those making more than 10 million units per year, would be required to underwrite costs”.

However, large producers account for around 90 per cent of the market.

Despite the move, producers still remain liable for fines if the scheme is delayed.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that the delay to the scheme being rolled out has given businesses “additional time to prepare”, a move she said “was criticised by the time by the Conservatives”.

She added: “The regulations require producers to register ahead of the launch.

“Registration is now open. However, we continue to work with Circularity Scotland and businesses as they finalise their operational delivery plans.

“The scheme is industry-led, and the industry needs to work with the scheme administrator on a joined-up approach to delivering it.

“We will continue to engage with businesses on any further changes that can sensibly be made to take account of some of the issues that they raise.”

Circularity Scotland was contacted for comment.