About seven or eight weeks ago I was headed into my local Aldi where a big part of the car park was cordoned off for diggers and other equipment pouring the concrete foundation for what looked like a small outbuilding. Wondering aloud what it might be, a man on his way out overheard me and stopped to say that staff in the shop had told him it would be a recycling machine that would “give out tokens” that could be spent in the store.

“Ah”, I replied, “that would be the Deposit Return Scheme,” and then went on to explain that yes, it would give him 20p for every container returned, but only after he had paid an extra 20p deposit on each bottle when buying it in the first place.

“Oh,” he said as his face fell into a frown, “that’s not so good, eh?”

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A few hours later I was at the nearby Tesco convenience store where I know the staff and we tend to have a wee chat over the till when checking out. The young assistant behind the counter could tell me the date in a few months’ time when bananas will start being wrapped in paper, not plastic. She also knew when chocolate will be banned from discount Clubcard offers.

I mentioned the Deposit Return Scheme, and the work going on at Aldi. Her face was a complete blank. Charging an extra 20p on every bottle and can? The shop taking back all the empty containers and refunding those 20 pences? She knew nothing about it.

Like Aldi, Tesco is a founding member of Circularity Scotland which was set up two years ago to help the retail and drinks manufacturing industries prepare for the introduction of Scotland’s DRS in August.

Executives at Tesco are undoubtedly well-versed in the implications of the scheme for their business, but that information had not filtered down to the rank-and-file of staff. In the case of Aldi, the message was getting distorted in translation somewhere along the way.


I had for many months been receiving press releases from various industry bodies warning of higher prices, less choice, and horrid operational complications to come with the launch of DRS. This is a pretty standard response when industry is faced with any new regulatory regime.

But what became clear is that businesses and government had for the most part been talking amongst themselves. Many ordinary members of the public were unaware of the massive changes coming in just a few months’ time – at best they were misinformed, at worst they were oblivious.

Thus The Herald’s investigation into the bottle return scheme was born.

We spoke to Circularity Scotland about the costs of running the scheme, and how this will be funded. An expert from Germany, where DRS has been in operation for 20 years, explained why it makes “no sense” to apply a mandatory charge to bottles of high-end spirits and wine.

READ MORE: Cost fears as 'supposedly enlightened' bottle return scheme approaches

Producers detailed their costs for complying with DRS, and hospitality operators voiced fears about launching during the height of the tourist season. And finally, retailers explained the knock-on impact for prices on the shelves.

DRS has come strongly to the fore in the last few weeks, with the flames fanned by the SNP leadership contest to replace First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It may be that DRS is postponed yet again, but having now laid out the various issues, let the next round of discussions be fully informed.