Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme could be “on hold indefinitely,” a leading NGO has warned. 

Action to Protect Rural Scotland (APRS), who were one of the first groups to lobby for the national recycling programme, said they were worried it could now end up being scrapped altogether after Lorna Slater announced a further delay. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the Circular Economy minister said the DRS would now go live at the same time as schemes in the rest of the UK. It is the fourth delay and the fifth launch date for Scotland’s troubled scheme. 

READ MORE: Deposit Return Scheme delayed until October 2025 at the earliest

Dr Kat Jones from APRS said the UK Government’s own documents show that their October 2025 date “is at best provisional, describing it as 'a stretching target date' and that the feasibility of it is still being assessed.“

“Effectively, this puts deposit return on hold indefinitely, and as a result we will continue to see cans and bottles littered in substantial numbers across Scotland for years to come," she said.

The delay was overwhelmingly welcomed by industry, who have long called for the DRS to be UK-wide.

The Federation of Small Businesses said the announcement was the "final admission that Scotland's deposit return scheme has met its inevitable demise".

Chairman, Andrew McRae, said: "The delay until a UK-wide scheme has taken shape will give much-needed breathing space for the small producers and retailers who have spent months wrestling with the implications of DRS for their operations."

The Night Time Industry Association said the scheme as designed "was simply unworkable and both the Scottish and UK Governments must now take this opportunity to review the fundamental flaws and challenges that would have severely disadvantaged Scotland's small businesses. ”

However, Circularity Scotland (CSL), the industry body overseeing the DRS, warned that the "disappointing outcome" would "have a significant impact on investment in Scotland."

They insisted it could have gone live next March as planned. 

READ MORE: Timeline: How the Scottish deposit return scheme stand-off unfolded

In what was at times a heated debate in Holyrood, Ms Slater told MSPs the Scottish Government had been "left with no other option than to delay the launch of Scotland’s DRS, until October 2025 at the earliest” because of the UK Government’s intervention earlier this month. 

The DRS would see each single-use item carry a levy of 20p which is then refunded when the empty container is returned to retailers.

Earlier this month, the UK Government made clear the Scottish Government would only be given the necessary exemption to the UK Internal Market Act if they made a number of substantial changes.

As well as removing the glass, they included a demand that ministers in Edinburgh agree to standardise the deposit charge and labelling with the other UK schemes.

Ms Slater said the lack of detail around conditions laid down by Whitehall, including not knowing what the deposit charge would need to be, meant the scheme could not go ahead as planned.

The minister told MSPs: "While Circularity Scotland has been optimistic that the scheme could go ahead without glass, the overwhelming feedback from producers, retailers and hospitality is that they cannot prepare for a March launch based on the changes being required by the UK Government without any certainty even about what those changes would be.

"And since the delivery of DRS is an industry-led project, these views are critical. Today the First Minister and I heard that industry, in turn, recognises the enormous amount of work carried out by their body Circularity Scotland on their behalf and acknowledges the case for sustaining a delivery vehicle for the DRS to come."

Ms Slater continued: "I told Parliament yesterday that our scheme cannot proceed as planned. The refusal of the UK Government alone to budge on glass makes that obvious

"As of today, it is now clear that we have been left with no other option than to delay the launch of Scotland’s DRS, until October 2025 at the earliest based on the UK Government’s current stated aspirations."

Ms Slater insisted Scotland "will have a deposit return scheme."

"It will come later than need be. It will be more limited than it should be," she added.

“More limited than parliament voted for. More limited than I want, that other devolved nations wanted and that even the Tories in the last election wanted.

“And these delays and dilutions lie squarely in the hands of UK Government that has sadly seemed so far more intent on sabotaging this parliament than protecting our environment.”

Responding to the statement, Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said it was welcome that the Scottish scheme would now start at the same time as the schemes in the rest of the UK.

“Deposit Return Schemes need to be consistent across the whole of the UK, to provide a simple and effective system for businesses and consumers.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, on a UK-wide deposit return solution.

“The UK Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.”

CSL's CEO, David Harris said: “This is clearly a disappointing outcome, which will have a significant impact on investment in Scotland.

"We have made it clear that industry was prepared for the Deposit Return Scheme to go live in March 2024, and that a scheme without glass is both economically viable and is an opportunity for Scotland to provide a platform for a UK-wide DRS.

"Regrettably, further delaying the introduction of DRS will hinder Scotland’s progress towards net zero and mean that billions of drinks containers continue to end up as waste."

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Calling the UK Government's bluff on glass has spectacularly failed

In Parliament, Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said the scheme "had already failed long before any intervention from the UK Government."

He added: "The statement today reflects the key concern of businesses, having a scheme that works across the United Kingdom. I believe we could have saved a great deal of time and energy if the SNP and Greens had listened to those businesses in the first place.

"Nevertheless, this is an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of a disaster of a scheme. Just days ago, the minister and First Minister were indulging in reckless scare-mongering, threatening to scrap the scheme if glass wasn't included.

"They tried the old Nationalist trick of picking a fight with the UK Government, but it backfired.

"They were rumbled misrepresenting one of Scotland's leading drinks producers, then Circularity Scotland and the logistics partner Biffa. Both confirmed the scheme can go ahead without glass."

Ms Slater suggested Mr Golden did not understand the situation: "Scotland's deposit return scheme, as I have set it out, we will look forward to a date of October 2025, which is the earliest possible date that the UK Government has committed to delivering their scheme.

"The main conditions that have been applied to the scheme, through the use of the internal market act, placed us in an impossible position.

"So that going ahead of the UK means that we would be asking businesses to comply with regulations that we haven't seen yet."

Labour's Sarah Boyack said Scotland was "paying the price for two bad governments, both of whom seem more interested in a constitutional fight."

Her backbench colleague, Mercedes Villalba said Ms Slater needed to "be honest with the public and take some responsibility for the fact the SNP and the First Minister himself sabotaged this scheme by repeatedly talking it down during their bitter leadership contest."

There was support for the government's position from SNP members, who said the conditions imposed on the DRS were an attack on devolution. 

Clare Haughey, the MSP for Rutherglen said: "Scotland had its Parliament restored to afford this country a measure of self government and Westminster has blocked Scotland at every turn on equalities issues and now on environmental issues.

"The UK government are making a mockery of devolution by trying to hollow out the powers of our Parliament and the Scottish Tories are happy to be complicit in this."