Humza Yousaf has delayed the deposit return scheme by seven months after intense pressure from businesses and opposition MSPs.

The First Minister announced the decision as he set out his policy agenda for the next three years.

Under the scheme, 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.

The scheme had already been delayed until August, but will now not go live until March next year.

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But businesses have warned that it will increase costs, reduce the number of products and put traders at risk of closure.

Mr Yousaf told MSPs that he remains “committed to this scheme as a way to increase recycling, reduce litter and help achieve our net zero ambitions”.

He added: “But we recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK Government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act. We had hoped for that decision this week – but it has not come.

“At the same time, I – and the Circular Economy Minister - have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August."

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Mr Yousaf added: “As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to March 1, 2024. This provides 10 months for businesses to get ready.

“We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.

“We have also developed a package of measures to simplify and de-risk the scheme, and to support small businesses and hospitality in particular.”

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Mr Yosuaf added that Circular Economy Minister, Lorna Slater, “will provide further details to parliament this week” on the package for businesses and the new timetable to launch the scheme.

In her statement to Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Slater will also set out the Scottish Government’s “engagement with the UK Government over the critical decisions we now need from them to allow the scheme to proceed”.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said:"I welcome the First Minister's decision to pause the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme, given the widespread concerns from businesses.

“We now have an opportunity to continue working together on solutions which deliver for consumers and businesses across the UK, while helping to realise our shared ambition to improve the environment.”

Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, Mark Kent, welcomed the announcement.

He said: “This is a very welcome announcement by the First Minister, who has listened to the concerns voiced by industry on the alcohol marketing consultation and the deposit return scheme.

“Our industry has always supported the goals of the deposit return scheme, but the Scottish DRS as currently devised would hamper the efforts of businesses across the country to reduce waste and bring about a more circular economy.

The delay until March 2024 and full review in the coming months will enable us to work with government to ensure DRS is aligned with other systems across the UK and to once again look at the exclusion of glass, which the experience of international schemes tells us will help to simplify the scheme, and reduce the cost for businesses and consumers."

But the British Soft Drinks Association has been left "disappointed" by the delay.

The organisation's director general, Gavin Partington, added: “Our members have committed to the introduction of deposit return schemes and have spent several years and millions of pounds on its planned launch in Scotland. 

"We’ve also worked closely with the Scheme Administrator (Circularity Scotland Ltd) to ensure we can meet the unique implementation challenges set out in legislation in time for the go-live date of 16 August 2023. 

"Further delay now leaves the Scottish scheme in a precarious position and we will be looking to the Scottish Government to protect the considerable industry investment to date.”