OVER the last fortnight, the proposed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) has continued to perplex many readers, never mind its impact on the wholesale, retail and waste management sectors, yet the minister concerned, Lorna Slater, is adamant it’s still going ahead and has given the DRS Regulator £22 million funding to get it started. What’s the reality of it all?

First, DRS won’t make any difference to the amount of plastic in the oceans: that’s due to the two billion people on the planet who don’t get their waste collected and have to dump it as far away from their homes as possible where it then gets washed into the rivers. Secondly, DRS won’t make any perceptible impact on our litter problem: that’s a separate issue that needs different solutions.

So why is DRS being pursued again, despite it having had to be postponed previously?

Scotland’s municipal waste recycling performances, once the envy of the rest of the UK, have been stagnating during the last decade, mostly due to our councils now being allowed to use the funding (that was originally ring-fenced) for delivering other services. Councils are now also allowed to charge extra for collecting separated household garden waste, meaning many people cram garden waste into their residual waste bin to avoid it, but that in turn increases the council’s waste disposal and landfill tax costs.

Read more: Bottle Return Debate – Getting a return on all those 20 pence deposits

If this DRS works, many people could stop putting cans, glass, and plastic containers in their kerbside bins and take these for refunds instead: arguably the whole point of the exercise but it’s not really capturing "new" recyclate, simply diverting material that’s already being recycled. At least one council intends to stop its kerbside collections of glass, cans and plastic when the DRS starts. This means anybody who isn’t able to travel to a machine to get a refund will have to put these items in their residual waste bin, losing their deposit and again, increasing their council’s disposal and landfill tax costs never mind their recycling performances dropping. Where’s the sense in that?

We need to get back to the basics. The original council recycling models introduced in Scotland between 2000 and 2005 worked well and if these had been allowed to develop organically (particularly in addressing the problem of shared recycling bins in flatted property) and the ring-fence on the council funding not been pulled down in 2007, we’d be performing a lot better nowadays.

But it’s not too late. Zero Waste Scotland employs 150 staff. Surely it isn’t beyond their capabilities to come up with a feasible plan to get us back on track. We badly need a clear strategy that fits in with, consolidates and expands our existing recycling activities.

In 1900, Glasgow Corporation was incinerating the city’s waste at Govan Power Plant, using the captured heat to generate electricity to re-charge their fleet of electric-powered collection trucks overnight. Surely we can match that level of innovation today?

The author spent several decades in the Scottish waste industry