In day four of our series, bar and restaurant owners explain why the deposit return scheme is unnecessary in the hospitality sector


Scotland’s deposit return scheme is generating increasing frustration across the country’s hospitality industry with operators saying they have been drawn into it to address problems that don’t exist within their sector.

They also highlight the poor timing of the scheme’s introduction, which as it stands will come into effect at the height of the tourist season in August. Furthermore, the timescale is “alarmingly tight” when so many questions about its operation remain unanswered.

“Hospitality businesses in Scotland are recycling glass, plastic and cans commercially, and from the side of the road glass, plastic and cans are largely recycled domestically through existing services that don’t cost hundreds of millions,” said Iain Jurgensen, managing director of the Portavadie marina resort on Loch Fyne.

“If this is about recycling, then recycling already exists to a high degree. Most other countries that have DRS don’t have the same amount of recycling that we have in business and on the kerbside.

Read more: Business owner speaks out on bottle return scheme: 'We are flailing'

“If DRS is a solution to litter, then it seems to me the most heavy-handed intervention to solve litter, and litter is a societal problem, not the responsibility of hospitality operators.”

Bar and restaurants that do not sell drinks to take away are what’s known as a “closed loop”. While they will pay their suppliers the 20p deposit on every bottle and can purchased, the cost of this will not be passed directly to their customers.

This means that venue operators will be solely responsible for gathering and storing containers until they are handed over to Biffa, the private waste management company that has been contracted to handle all collections and processing of materials passing through the Scottish DRS. Deposits will only be returned on bottles and cans where the manufacturer’s barcode remains legible, leaving venue operators out of pocket for broken, damaged or missing containers.

Among the industry’s biggest bones of contention is how and where to store empty containers that can’t be crushed to save space. This is of particular concern to smaller venues situated in crowded locations.

HeraldScotland: Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the SLTAColin Wilkinson, managing director of the SLTA (Image: SLTA)

“We may have a little bit more space than others, but imagine this is the same for every single pub along the Grassmarket or Sauchiehall Street or whichever town you are in,” said the manager of one high-profile city venue who wished to remain anonymous. “Every single premises has to look after those products, which they call ‘articles’.

“So I sell 5,000 articles – bottles or cans – in an evening, but I have then got to store those 5,000 articles as well. If it’s a can and we have crushed that can to save space, then we won’t get our 20p back because the can has to be pristine. A crushed PET bottle, you don’t get your money back.

“A broken glass bottle where the glass is less than a centimetre in size, they are not guaranteeing you get your money back. They said you don’t get it back when it’s crushed glass, you do if it’s broken. What’s the difference? When does broken glass become crushed?”

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

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said yesterday that circular economy minister Lorna Slater “quite clearly” doesn’t understand the industry’s concerns.

“The timescale is alarmingly tight to have the DRS go live on August 16 when there is still so much ambiguity,” he warned.

“Registration for retailers and hospitality operators kicked in yesterday yet countless issues remain unresolved – collection times, storage and security, hybrid hospitality venues where some off-sales transactions take place.

“When will we be provided with the definitive exemption criteria for licensed hospitality – closed loop – businesses that provide food takeaway [and] deliveries and include wine, beer, et cetera? We need answers and we need those answers now.”

HeraldScotland: The Portavadie marina resort on Loch FyneThe Portavadie marina resort on Loch Fyne (Image: Portavadie)

Mr Jurgensen at Portavadie, who also serves as chair of the Argyll and Isles Tourism Cooperative, said the small marina shop on Loch Fyne is unlikely to receive an exemption and will be classified as a container return point because there are no alternatives within miles.

“We have a marina, so we have got transient boats coming in that have done all of their shopping at Morrisons in Inverkip, brought all of their cans and bottles to drink on their boats as they have toured their way up to the marina, and then they’ve got all of their empties, and we need to take them because our shop would have to be a [return point],” he explained.

“And what about the extra storage areas? How often are there going to be uplifts, because they won’t be every day in rural locations.”

Noting that 80 per cent or more of containers in the on-trade are already recycled, Mr Jurgensen added: “The question from hospitality businesses is what is DRS there to solve, and how does that improve what exists there already?

“Because any government legislation should seek to improve on what’s already there.”

The retailers: "The more I think about it the more I get agitated"