THE UK Government has effectively killed off the Scottish Government’s design for a Deposit Return Scheme, with Whitehall telling ministers in Edinburgh that it can only go ahead with a number of substantial changes.

Those include removing glass from the list of recyclable containers and agreeing to standardise both the deposit charge and labelling with their own scheme, due to launch in 2025,

First Minister Humza Yousaf described the conditions as a “democratic outrage.”

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The UK Government said the adaptations were the only way they would agree to an exemption under the UK Internal Market Act, the legislation brought in after Brexit to try and ensure frictionless trade across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Without it, the Scottish scheme would be confined to drinks containers produced north of the border.

There has been a long-running row over when the exemption was first asked for. Lorna Slater, the Circular Economy minister, said the Scottish Government had sought it as far back as July 2021.

However, the UK Government said she only made what they deemed a formal request in March.

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A letter confirming the exemption was sent to the Scottish Government late on Friday night. However, as well as the "critical business and consumer safeguards" they were told it would only last "until planned schemes are in place in the rest of the UK, at which point there will need to be maximum alignment and interoperability as a safeguard for businesses and consumers."

They also said that all schemes across the UK "will need to align on which containers are in scope."

The temporary exclusion would only cover PET plastic, aluminium, and steel cans.

A UK government spokesperson said:“The Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.

“The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their Scheme earlier this year. 

“We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government’s request for a UK Internal Market exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK.

“Deposit Return Schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system.

"A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter - as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers."

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Scotland's DRS was supposed to launch in August but has already been put back until next year. It would see each single-use item carry a levy of 20p, which is then refunded when the empty container was returned to retailers.

Mr Yousaf took to Twitter on Saturday to say the UK Government had "refused the Scottish scheme."

"It's their way or the highway, that's not respecting devolution," he added.

In a statement, the Scottish Government's Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said the UK Government had "shown utter disregard for devolution."

She added: "Scottish ministers received the UK Government’s decision letter at 10pm on a Friday night, more than 12 hours after its contents being briefed to press. This is treating the Scottish Parliament with contempt.

“Despite discussions over the last two years this is an eleventh hour attempt by the UK Government to sabotage Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme by forcing us to remove glass bottles. 

"This is at odds with all the evidence that says the biggest benefits, economically, financially and environmentally, are from including glass.  

"We are now going to have to look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme and talk to businesses, delivery partners and other organisations over the coming days and weeks.  

“Removing glass also means taking out around six hundred million bottles that would have been collected by the scheme, despite businesses in Scotland having invested millions of pounds in preparation to include them. Many of these bottles will unnecessarily end up as broken glass on our streets, our parks and our beaches.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association welcomed the UK Government’s move, but said the sector needed more certainty.

Managing director, Colin Wilkinson, said: “Five years ago, the Scottish hospitality and retail sectors pushed for a UK-wide scheme with glass out of scope – we always said that any DRS should be UK-wide and without glass and include a standardised deposit charge, bar codes and labelling across the UK.

“This is another twist in the ongoing DRS farce where producers, suppliers, and the retail and hospitality sectors are the collateral damage, left in limbo as to what a scheme will finally look like or if it even goes ahead at all.

“What we need now is a clear path forward and it is imperative that we get clarity on what is happening as soon as possible.

“We have always said that we will support a DRS that is workable and practicable for both businesses and consumers – that hasn’t changed but the whole debacle needs to be sorted out as a matter of urgency.”

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The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said the "level of political uncertainty currently surrounding DRS Scotland" meant the "only viable option now is for all stakeholders to commit to launching DRS across the UK on the same timeframe, October 2025.”

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Meanwhile, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which has led the campaign to introduce DRS, said removing glass from it would be a “Westminster attempt to put a spanner in the works” of the initiative.

Director Kat Jones said the move “should send a chill down the spine of anyone hoping for environmental progress through devolution”.

She added: “Removing glass from the Scottish system would leave a costly and dangerous burden on councils, climate and our countryside.

“We remain confident that the Scottish Government can make this work, given the importance of what remains.

“But this would be an attempt at sabotage, nothing more, nothing less.”