THE Scotland director of the Society Of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has said he is “encouraged” by the approach from the Scottish Government on the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) following its delay.

SIBA represents the interests of a number of independent breweries across the UK and was among a number of organisations to express concerns about the scheme in its original form.

Originally intended to launch this August, Humza Yousaf announced the DRS will go live on March 1 2024.

What is the DRS?

The DRS will see a 20p deposit added to all single-use drinks containers made of PET plastic, metal or glass. It applies to both alcoholic and soft drinks.

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Consumers will then get this money back by returning the container to retailers that sell such single-use products to take away.

Retailers will accept items over the counter, while larger stores, shopping centres and community hubs will operate automated receiving points known as reverse vending machines.

What was the feeling before the delay?

SIBA director Jamie Delap told The National: “I think the feeling was that it was impossible and it couldn’t happen frankly. I think that’s been clear for months and months.

“We wrote to the minister back in October and set out reasons why it wasn’t achievable and if it had gone ahead we would have seen a huge reduction in consumer choice in Scotland.

“A great many of our members would have ceased supplying and producers in Scotland would have struggled to comply with the scheme.”

The National: Lorna Slater is the minister responsible for the DRSLorna Slater is the minister responsible for the DRS (Image: Julie Howden)

Many small businesses, while they supported the idea behind the scheme of reducing litter and environmental damage, expressed concern about the impact of paying deposits and administrative fees as well as pressure to produce barcodes on products for the Scottish market.  

How do SIBA feel about the delay and the new changes?

In a ministerial statement on Thursday, Slater, the minister responsible for the scheme, defended the scheme as vital to reducing “litter on our streets” and helping to meet climate targets.

However, she conceded that it must “be delivered in a way that works for businesses, especially for small drinks producers”.

The changes announced were:

  • Drinks containers of under 100ml will be excluded, removing miniatures and other smaller containers from the scheme.
  • Products that sell fewer than 5000 units per year will be excluded, which will particularly benefit craft producers.
  • All hospitality premises that sell the large majority of their drinks products for consumption on the premises will be exempt from acting as a return point.
  • The online application process for retailers to apply for an exemption from providing a return point has been simplified.

Delap said: “I think the changes went a long way. We’ve also had a meeting with the First Minister and Lorna Slater as they convened a meeting with a wide range of businesses. I think it’s made this achievable.

“We feel we’re heading toward a deliverable space although there are still details to get right. Ideally we’d have gone back to next autumn to have time to get all our labels changed.”

Initially, Delap felt that the Scottish Government’s focus was on getting the scheme in place for big business but talks have alleviated any potential conflict.

“There was never any doubt that they didn’t understand the situation. I think the deadline was so tight that all of the effort was on getting it working for the biggest producers but the rest of the supply chain was not getting the attention it needed”, he said.

“This time, with the alterations and the change in deadline we’re on the right track. We just have to stay on that. I was very encouraged by the First Minister’s approach and if that turns into action then I believe between the Scottish Government and Circularity Scotland (the body running the scheme) then we can be successful.”

What still needs to change?

Delap believes that the labelling system could potentially lead to divisions in the market.

Producers can choose to put a Scotland specific barcode on their products or continue to use their existing UK-wide barcode.

Using a Scotland-wide barcode helps to simplify the system by making it easier to track when an article is returned.

Changing barcodes means an added element of complexity and cost for producers as they may need to do separate printing on cans and so there is a 1.1p surcharge per container for those who choose to keep the UK-wide barcode.

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Delap believes this should be scrapped for smaller breweries or it could lead to potential problems.

He explained: “If I declare them as UK-wide then I’m always paying that extra 1.1p. If you’re sales to England are a small proportion of your total sales then you may decide to simply stop selling there.

"My alternative strategy is to say I’m going to make them Scotland-only and give them a new barcode but they won’t be sold into England.

“If we can get rid of the charge for the smallest producers, that dislocation in the market also vanishes."