AN SNP MSP has branded the Deposit Return Scheme “immoral” as arguments rage over the cost and the accessibility of the scheme. 

Fergus Ewing told Holyrood that his party’s flagship policy would see money taken from the poorest in society used to pay the “telephone number salaries” of the bosses behind the private firm tasked with running the scheme. 

The criticism came as MSPs quizzed Green minister Lorna Slater over reports that Circularity Scotland expects to rake in £57m a year from the public not returning their containers. 


In their business case, the company said unredeemed deposits are factored in as one of their revenue streams alongside money they will charge drinks producers each year and earnings from selling recycled drinks bottles.

In Holyrood on Tuesday, Tory MSP Brian Whittle said this would create a “perverse incentive” for Circularity Scotland to avoid encouraging people to recycle. 

The DRS - currently due to go live on August 16 - will see shoppers pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container.

They then get their money back when they hand the empty container over at a return point.

Ms Slater told the parliament that Circularity Scotland was a “not for profit company established by industry” and that any unredeemed deposits would be “reinvested into keeping the costs of running the scheme as low as possible for producers of all sizes across Scotland.”

She said this model was in line with the best practice seen in other schemes around the world, including the scheme currently being planned by the UK Government. 

“Under the DRS regulations, the scheme administrator is required to meet a minimum of 80% return rates in the first year and 90% in subsequent years. Failure to meet these targets would result in financial penalties, establishing a very strong incentive for Circularity Scotland to ensure high return rates,” she told MSPs. 

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Mr Ewing said he believed “much if not most of the £57m” in non-claimed deposits would be “paid out and lost by those who can't readily return bulky and heavy items, bottles, tins and cans.” 

“And these will predominantly include the poorest, those without a car, the elderly, mobility impaired and rural and island dwellers who can't access a return point,” he added.

“Their money will go to the non-disclosed but probably telephone number salaries of the bosses of Circularity Scotland. Is this transfer of money from the poorest to the richest, not simply, immoral?”

Ms Slater said Mr Ewing has mischaracterised the scheme. 

“Every person in Scotland will pay 20p deposit when they buy a drink in Scotland, when they buy a drink in the containers that are scheme articles, and they will get their 20p when they return those articles. 

“Accessibility to the scheme is critical and we're working hard with Circularity Scotland and Biffa to ensure that every person in Scotland will be able to access the scheme and will be able to get their deposits back.”

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Labour’s Colin Smyth asked the minister to explain how people who were housebound would be able to take their bottles back if they had bought them online from a small retailer. 

Initially, all online sellers were required to offer a service to collect and return drink containers, however, after criticism, the minister changed it so that only large supermarkets would be obliged to do so. 


Ms Slater told the MSP: “Nobody is required to take the scheme article back to the exact store that they bought it from. So even if you buy it online from a small retailer you can return it anywhere. 

“But the member makes a good point about people who are not physically able to get to a return point.

"So with the proposed change to the regulation, where we are phasing in the online takeback, it is of course important that everybody in Scotland including those who have accessibility and mobility issues be able to access the scheme and that work is underway to understand how many people that is and how we may best ensure that they can fully access the scheme.”

Green MSP Ross Greer hit out at Fergus Ewing, accusing him of being a Tory. 

“Even the Conservatives at Westminster understand that unredeemed deposits should be used to help cover the cost of the scheme and thus reduce costs for all, as is normal for equivalent schemes across the continent. 

“Perhaps the real reason that the Scottish Tories and their colleague Fergus Ewing seems so desperate to bring the DRS into disrepute is because they object to the fundamental principle of the scheme, that the polluter pays instead of the taxpayer.” 

He asked Ms Slater to detail the cost to local councils every year of litter caused by drinks containers. 

She told him it was £46m.  

“The Deposit Return Scheme will mean that local authorities will have less waste to handle as well as reducing litter and associated cleanup costs. This is good for residents and council budgets.”

Speaking after the question, Mr Whittle said MSPs still needed answers over Circularity Scotland. 

“Rather than giving frustrated Scottish businesses any certainty, Lorna Slater rolled out her usual prepared lines assuring us that many other schemes work in the same way, which they don’t, and that all is well, when it so obviously isn’t," he said.

“This opaque, badly designed, and potentially disastrous mess of a Deposit Return Scheme must be paused now to protect businesses and consumers.”

Earlier in the day, the minister told Holyrood's Net Zero committee retailers would need to store empty drinks cans and bottles “securely” as they “would have a value”.

“Because the shops themselves need to return those items in order to get their fees. So they do need to secure those items," Ms Slater told MSPs.