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Three Green Bottles: UK plans to introduce up to three Deposit Return Schemes

28 April 2023

Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) was set to go live on 16 August 2023 and has now been delayed until 1 March 2024, with the rest of the UK introducing plans to implement similar schemes.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), along with the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, published a response to their second consultation on the proposed introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme earlier this year. This announced an expected start date for a DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of 1 October 2025. 

The Regulations for the rest of the UK are intended to come into force by the end of 2023. It is worth noting that England and Northern Ireland will have separate regulations to Wales. The Scottish regulations were enacted in 2020 and gradually came into force by 1 January 2022.

There are a number of similarities and differences between the proposed DRS for England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and the DRS for Scotland.

For example, the size of containers in scope was set to be the same (50ml to 3 litres) but Scotland has announced on 20 April 2023 that containers under 100ml will be excluded from the scheme. This includes multipacks, but the type of materials included will differ. Scotland and Wales will include glass, whereas England and Northern Ireland will not.  

There will also be mandatory labelling requirements outside Scotland including a DRS marker to identify in-scope containers.  In Scotland, this is what the scheme administrator (Circularity Scotland) wants to see happen to limit fraud in the system, yet it is not required by the regulations.

The Scottish DRS cannot go live without Westminster agreeing to an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act 2020. This establishes market access principles to preserve the ability to trade unhindered in every part of the UK. A recent exemption granted from this was the Single Plastics ban enacted by the Scottish Parliament last summer. The exemption required to enact the DRS in Scotland has been delayed by Westminster, pending a review of the DRS by the new First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

There are also regulatory challenges regarding European law on retail pricing and other Scottish Government policies such as minimum pricing for alcohol and high fat, salt and sugar.

All in all, the introduction of differing arrangements under devolved regulatory powers and across regulatory borders is fraught with difficulty for business and regulators alike. It will be interesting to see how many green bottles will be sitting on the wall once all of the schemes are implemented.

If you have any questions about the schemes and how they may affect your business, please get in touch with Caroline Colliston (below) or your usual DWF contact.

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