About the scheme
Deposit return schemes are used across the world as a way of encouraging more people to recycle drinks containers, such as bottles and cans. They work by charging anyone who buys a drink a small deposit for the bottle or can that it comes in. They get this money back when they return the bottle or can to a collection point to be recycled.
45 countries and territories around the world have deposit return schemes. These include: the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland) Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, some states in Australia (including Queensland and New South Wales) and some American states (including California, Connecticut and Hawaii), Netherlands, Iceland and provinces of Canada.
We want to make sure we have the best possible scheme for Scotland, reflecting its needs and unique characteristics. Scotland’s scheme is the result of intensive engagement and research with scheme operators around the world.
Zero Waste Scotland advised the Scottish Government on the scheme design and will provide support and advice on its implementation.
The draft Regulations include a provisional date of 1 April 2021 for the scheme to fully come into force.
Parts of the Regulations will come into force earlier to enable various scheme actors to prepare for the operation of the scheme.
A confirmed start date will be included when the Regulations are laid before the Scottish Parliament for final decision. Ministers current aim is to implement the scheme before the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2021.
All drinks (both soft and alcoholic) that come in PET plastic, metal and glass. Containers of these material types, sized from 50ml to three litres, inclusive, are part of the scheme.
All types of drinks will be included in the scheme, but some types of containers will not. Mixed material pouches, cartons, HDPE (the plastic that most bottles milk comes in) and cups are excluded. The exclusion of HDPE means that, in practice, very few dairy items will be included in the scheme.
The exclusion of HDPE means that, in practice, very few dairy items will be included in the scheme. However, milk or milk-related products contained in PET and glass bottles or cans will be included. As deposits only apply to single use containers, reusable glass milk bottle schemes will not be included in the scheme.
As part of the 2019-20 Scottish Budget, the Scottish Government signalled its agreement in principle to the use of charging in relation to disposable drinks cups.
The Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and other Measures published its recommendations in July 2019. The Scottish Government is currently considering these recommendations, which include a “latte levy” on single-use cups.
Deposit return schemes for drinks containers have been proven to work internationally. This is because the scheme can focus on a small number of material types which capture almost an entire market segment.
Schemes have resulted in increased quality collections and have also helped to reduce litter.
As drinks containers are used by almost everyone in Scotland, they provide an important opportunity to influence the behaviour of the entire population.
There will be opportunities to improve the recycling of other types of packaging through the Extended Producer Responsibility reforms, which have recently been consulted on by the UK government.
There will also be an opportunity to look at other materials in the future.
Why is Scotland doing this?
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will improve recycling rates and reduce litter in Scotland, as well as helping to tackle climate change. It will do this by incentivising a positive behaviour change and making it easy to do the right thing.
A deposit return scheme presents opportunities for economic benefit to Scotland, through reduced impacts of litter, increased material quality and carbon savings.
Recyclable materials are worth more money if they are well separated rather than mixed together. This also creates options for recycling the materials into higher quality new products.
A broad range of social and economic benefits have been identified through Zero Waste Scotland’s work on deposit return. We are working, together with other partners such as Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Scottish Development International, to realise these benefits by providing compelling evidence to producers on why these should be adopted in Scotland.
Re-use is always the best option where possible and we would always encourage people to make use of re-use options wherever possible. There are a number of business drivers which influence the decision to adopt single use packaging. With hundreds of millions of single-use PET, glass, steel and aluminium drinks containers in circulation in Scotland, deposit return is the most effective and practical way to manage and reduce their environmental impact.
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme has been designed to:
- Increase the quantity of bottles and cans collected for recycling – With less of these going to landfill and incineration or becoming litter, Scotland’s deposit return scheme will be good for our climate and good for our communities.
- Improve the quality of material collected, to allow for higher value recycling - By improving the quality of recycled material generated in Scotland, we can maximise its economic value.
- Encourage wider behaviour change around materials – This includes reducing the quantity of single use bottles and cans that are littered by the public and encouraging drinks manufacturers to make their packaging more sustainable.
- Deliver maximum economic and societal benefits for Scotland – The scheme will contribute to Scotland’s low carbon economy and generate new jobs, while creating opportunities to raise funds for good causes.
More bottles and cans will be recycled and produce a better quality of recyclate. We currently recycle just half of all containers. By year three of operation, Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme will be capturing an estimated 1.5bn drinks containers a year for recycling. That’s 90% of all containers included in the scheme, potentially almost doubling the amount currently recycled.
The target for the first year is 70%, and the second year, 80%.
It will increase the quality of recycled material collected and make better use of our existing resources. It will also increase the number of items being recycled into items of the same use – for example, bottles being recycled back into bottles. This is a particular benefit to industry, which has an increasing demand for recycled content of high quality.
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will reduce the harmful emissions that are contributing to the climate emergency by reducing the amount of plastic, steel, aluminium and glass that goes to landfill or incineration.
Recycling is more energy efficient than making new aluminium, glass or plastic. Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will reduce emissions by around 4 million tonnes of CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) over 25 years.
Bottles and cans represent a significant proportion of the litter we see on our streets and in our green spaces. By incentivising people to do the right thing with their empty bottles and cans – return them for recycling – the scheme will reduce littering.
The decision to include glass will contribute significantly to the overall aims of Scotland’s deposit return scheme, not least by reducing our CO2e emissions by 1.3 million tonnes over 25 years. We have set out the full rationale for including glass bottles here: Why glass bottles are in
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme is being introduced under legislation relating to powers which are devolved to Scotland.
A public consultation on proposals to establish a deposit return scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland ran from February to May 2019.
The UK government has said that the specific details, including the material and drinks to be included in scope, will be developed further and presented in a second consultation in 2020, with an anticipated go live date of 2023.
The Scottish Government is open to working with the other administrations on DRS. However, the Scottish Government has stated this must be on the basis that their level of ambition matches that being shown here in Scotland. We are hopeful that the bold approach we are taking here in Scotland will provide a blueprint for future action across the UK.
How does it work?
SEPA will be the regulator for all offences under the Regulations and will have powers of investigation and enforcement to establish whether these have been complied with.
Enforcement powers will include the ability to:
- Enter onto commercial premises
- Carry out examination and investigation
- Make test purchases and returns
- Question staff of producers, return point operators, retailers or scheme administrators
- Require documents and information
A range of enforcement tools will be made available to SEPA through amendments to the Environmental Regulation (Enforcement Measures) (Scotland) Order 2015, including the power to impose fixed or variable penalties for non-compliance.
The formation of the administrator(s) is one of the areas being considered by the Implementation Advisory Group (IAG).
Anyone can apply to become a scheme administrator when the regulations have been passed. Through the IAG producers and retailers are considering different options and structures for developing a scheme administrator.
It will be for individual producers and retailers to meet their responsibilities under the scheme although it will be open to producers to appoint a scheme administrator to discharge their obligations on their behalf.
In practice, this is likely to be an industry-led, privately-owned body operating on a not-for-profit basis. Any potential administrator must apply to Scottish Ministers for approval, to ensure they meet basic requirements.
This is a similar approach to that taken by other deposit return schemes around the world. Deposit return is an example of extended producer responsibility, whereby producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.
Deposit return is a type of extended producer responsibility. Producers will be partly responsible for the costs of the scheme, which will likely be delivered through a body comprising relevant industry representatives.
Producers are companies who own any brand of drink, sold in Scotland, within containers included in the deposit return scheme. Financial contribution will be through a producer fee, charged on each container they place on the market. The level of the producer fee will be determined by the administrators of the scheme or the costs of delivering the service directly.
A privately-owned and operated scheme will give drinks producers direct control and accountability for the running of the scheme. Producers have a range of transferable skills and experience from their businesses that can help ensure the deposit return scheme is as effective and efficient as possible. This model is tried and tested across much of Europe, including Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Germany.
The scheme will be paid for through three sources of funding: unredeemed deposits, revenue from the sale of materials and a producer fee.
Importers have the same obligations under the Regulations as domestic producers.
Producers will have to make sure that they collect the deposit when selling scheme containers and then refund it once empty containers have been collected.
Producers (including importers) will also be required to collect scheme containers from retailers and other return points, to pay a reasonable handing fee to those persons if one is charged, to report on the number of scheme containers they have placed on the market and to meet collection targets. They may choose to discharge these obligations through a scheme administrator.
In all deposit return schemes that are currently operating there are some unreturned containers. The unredeemed deposits in the Scottish scheme will be used to fund the operation of the scheme.
It is unlikely every single scheme container will be returned. The target capture rate for the scheme is 90% which is significantly in excess of the current recycling rate for drinks containers . The draft Regulations commit producers to achieve this within three years.
The deposit return scheme will capture containers that are in scope. For other drinks containers, people will still be able to recycle these in kerbside and public recycling bins.
- 10 September 2019 – Regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme laid in Scottish parliament.
- February 2020 – Legislation passes. Definitions come into force and applications can be made for Scheme Administrators. Minimum of 12 months for implementation.
- 1 January 2021 – Producers can register with SEPA
- 1 April 2021 - All drinks containers sold in Scotland must bear a deposit and retailers must start acting as a return point. It is at this point that the scheme would be considered fully operational.
The timetable for implementation of the scheme is the subject of ongoing discussion with stakeholders, supported through the Scottish Government’s DRS Implementation Advisory Group. The various dates included in the draft regulations may be subject to change.
The bottles and cans collected by the scheme will be recycled. Deposit return won’t just increase the volume of materials recycled, it will also increase the quality of recycled material available in Scotland. Materials will be collected separately, which enables more of them to be recycled into items of the same use or quality. Deposit return promotes a circular economy for drinks containers, where the plastic, metal and glass collected can be used again in making new bottles and cans. This uses fewer natural resources and less energy.
The capture rate is the percentage of target containers captured by the deposit return scheme. The draft regulations set a target of capturing 90% of the items placed on the market in Scotland by year three.
There is a demand for the high-quality plastic and metal that come outs of deposit return schemes from reprocessors in Europe and we are working to explore economic opportunities for Scotland.
There is a strong domestic demand for more glass, as glass has a large manufacturing base in Scotland.
Members of the Implementation Advisory Group are providing industry expertise and advice on practical issues related to the operation of the scheme and how it interacts with production, retail and hospitality industries.
Scotland’s deposit return scheme is a chance to dramatically increase the recycling rate for the 1.7 billion drinks containers included in the scheme. Making that happen will require the support and expertise of the people that produce and sell those drinks, and we’re pleased to have the involvement of representatives from across a range of sectors.
Deposit return schemes have already proven very successful abroad, and some of the organisations represented on this group have experience of operating in those markets. With so much evidence and expertise to draw on, we can make Scotland’s deposit return scheme truly world leading.
The membership is designed to represent those groups that will have a legal obligation under the scheme.
Money & cashflow
The Scottish Government is clear that the deposit should not be subject to VAT. Discussions are ongoing with the UK Government to reach a final position on this matter.
The deposit is passed on at each point of purchase.
- Anyone who buys a drink in a scheme container destined for the Scottish market should be charged a 20p deposit
- When you sell that drink to another business or to the public then you will be required to include the 20p deposit in the sale price, meaning you will get that 20p back
- Retailers who accept the return of a scheme container will be required to pay 20p to the person returning that container
- These retailers will be reimbursed that 20p when the scheme container is collected for recycling
There is a slight difference for pubs, bars and other hospitality businesses selling drinks in scheme containers to be consumed on the premises. They will not have to charge the deposit to consumers. The businesses will be refunded deposits if they retain the scheme containers for drinks they have sold, when those containers are collected from them for recycling.
Where a wholesale or retail business has unsold stock, they will be able to return the (empty) scheme containers directly to a producer or scheme administrator and will be refunded the 20p deposit.
It’s important that the deposit is set at a level which is easy to remember and will incentivise people to do the right thing, if the scheme is to capture 90% of materials. 20p has been chosen for these reasons.
20p is a similar value to the level of deposit in successful schemes abroad and is in keeping with what people have told us they want to see – 20p was the mean level suggested by responses to the Scottish Government’s public consultation.
Not only will 20p give us the best chance of delivering our environmental goals, it will also make life easier for consumers.
The Scottish Government has published an Equality Impact Assessment and a Fairer Scotland Impact Assessment, which ensure potential impacts of the deposit have been considered as part of scheme design.
Producers, or a scheme administrator on their behalf, will be required to pay a reasonable handling fee charged by return point operators, reflecting the costs they have incurred.
The expectation is that the handling fee will be agreed by retailers and producers, likely through a scheme administrator.
From cutting our carbon emissions, to reducing the amount of litter on our streets, we want Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme to deliver the maximum possible environmental benefits.
To make that happen, we need to give people a clear incentive to return all of their empty bottles and cans, regardless of their size.
A variable deposit would run the risk of giving the message that it’s more important to return some items than others.
Scotland is targeting a capture rate of 90% for all the materials included in the scheme. A deposit of 20p has been chosen because it will be most effective at making this happen.
Setting a single deposit is supported by best practice from international schemes and 20p is consistent with deposit levels set abroad.
It is also in keeping with what people have told us they want to see – 20p was the mean level suggested by responses to the Scottish Government’s public consultation.
Not only will 20p give us the best chance of delivering our environmental goals, it will also make life easier for consumers.
A producer is a drinks brand owner or importer into the UK market, or the website operator, for online sales.
The administrators of the scheme will be responsible for deciding on the most efficient and effective measures for minimising fraud and informing the consumer that containers are part of the deposit return scheme. This could include the adoption of specific on-pack labelling and/or a Scottish specific barcode.
The draft Regulations state that producers will be able to register with SEPA from 1 January 2021.
The draft Regulations have been published for comment and this date will be finalised before the Regulations are laid before parliament for decision.
All producers will need to be registered by the time the scheme is fully operational for their products to be saleable in Scotland.
Yes - including online retailers will make sure that the scheme is inclusive and accessible to all. This will be especially important for people that have restricted mobility, or anyone who relies on online grocers for their food shopping.
Online retailers will not act as a return point - they will have to offer a takeback service.
They will charge the 20p deposit on drinks in scheme containers and consumers will have the option to have scheme containers purchased online collected by or on behalf of the seller from the place they were delivered.
The retailer must provide this takeback service for free but may charge temporary fees. These temporary charges must not exceed the value of materials used in facilitating the collection e.g. cost of bags and tags.
Online, or other distance sellers, who wish to sell drinks in scheme containers to consumers in Scotland will have to comply with the scheme, regardless of where they are situated.
Producers will then be obliged to collect the scheme containers returned to those retailers, reimburse them the deposit and pay any reasonable handling fee charged for each container.
Bottles and cans should be empty. The bottle or can should be whole and the product barcode should be eligible.
It will be an offence to sell a drink in a scheme container in Scotland if the producer of that drink is not registered with SEPA.
Retailers will require to check that the producer of that drink is registered with SEPA and will only be required to accept the return of scheme containers which can be identified as such. It is likely that producers will compile a register of these products to support the operation of the scheme.
Deposit return schemes incentivise maximising the quality of material, by using the income from selling that material to reduce the cost incurred by producers.
The correct collection approach will need to be decided for each material. For glass, the value is maximised by keeping different colours separate and allowing glass bottles to be recycled into new glass bottles. This also has the largest environmental benefits.
Yes – if you sell any of the materials covered by the scheme, then you must accept all materials included in the scheme when they are returned.
Retailers selling drinks in scheme containers to take away from their premises will automatically be required to operate a return point. There will be no registration requirement for these retailers.
Persons or bodies that would like to operate a return point from somewhere other than retail premises will need to apply to Scottish Ministers to be registered as a 'voluntary return point operator'.
Producers will be responsible for arranging collection of scheme containers from retailers acting as a return point and from voluntary return point operators. Producers may appoint a scheme administrator to collect material on their behalf.
All retailers that sell drinks in scheme containers to take away will be required to operate a return point. This will make sure that all consumers, wherever they live, are able to access a local return point, which will make it easy for people to return their empty scheme containers and ensure a high capture rate.
There will be flexibility in how this obligation is discharged. For example, a retailer could be granted an exemption from having to operate a return point from their premises if there is an alternative return point of equal convenience available nearby that has agreed to accept scheme containers on their behalf.
Applications for exemptions will be considered by Scottish Ministers.
Retailers offering distance (e.g. online) sales of scheme containers will have to offer free takeback services allowing the purchaser to return any scheme containers they have purchased from that retailer.
The drinks containers can be collected manually or through a reverse vending machine (RVM).
An RVM is a machine that scans containers when they are returned and enables the customer to get their deposit back. The returned materials are stored in the machine and are collected by the administrators of the scheme for recycling.
‘Manual return’ works by collecting containers in plastics bags or similar, which will then be collected by the scheme administrators.
It will be up to individual retailers to decide whether they wish to install a reverse vending machine or accept returns manually. However, there is no need to take any action at this stage – guidance will be provided by the administrators of the scheme.
With a reverse vending machine, the consumer puts their empty container into the machine. It will then verify that the container is deposit-bearing. It will redeem the consumer’s deposit, for example with a voucher, or a digital credit, for the correct deposit amount. The consumer can then use the voucher against their shopping bill or request their money back from the till.
For a manual return, a member of store staff has to check the container is eligible before refunding the consumer their deposit.
Producers will be responsible for arranging collection of containers from retailers who have acted as a return point.
It is expected they will fulfil this collectively, as a Scheme Administrator, and will register return points so that they can arrange an appropriate collection schedule.
This may be via dedicated collections or by utilising backhauling. Collection frequency will vary by return location depending on the storage space they have available.
The obligation to operate a return point will not be imposed until the regulations fully come into force. However, the draft Regulations state that retailers will be able to apply for an exemption the day after the Regulations are made.
Any requests for exemptions will be considered by Scottish Ministers.
Zero Waste Scotland does not sell or provide advice on reverse vending machines. There are several commercial manufacturers. Advice will be provided by the administrators of the scheme.
Businesses that sell any drinks at all to be opened and consumed on-site, such as pubs, bars and restaurants, will not have to charge the deposit to the public and will only be required to return the containers they sell on their own premises.
As a result, while pubs, bars and restaurants are included in the scheme, their interaction with their customers will remain largely unchanged.
When buying stock, for example from a wholesaler, these businesses will pay the 20p deposit on those items in the same way that shops will. These deposits will be refunded after the containers are picked up, free of charge, for recycling.
Vending machines will have to sell items that are deposit bearing and have the deposit clearly displayed, separate from the sale price.
Organisations and businesses that have a vending machine only and don’t have a shop selling singe use drinks to take away, do not have to act as a return point for containers.
Hospitality businesses, such as takeaway cafes or restaurants, act in the same way as any other retail point of sale in Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. When someone buys a sealed drink to take away, businesses will charge the 20p deposit to the consumer, as the container is likely leaving their premises. The consumer then gets the 20p deposit back when they return the empty container, whether that’s the location they bought the container from, or another one.
We have produced infographics to help illustrate the differences for the two types of hospitality businesses. Download here
Charities and community groups
Decisions on which charities or community groups will be registered to receive donations will be a matter for consideration by the administrators of the scheme. One of the main ways we have seen charities and community groups benefiting abroad is by donations.
We would encourage interested charities and community groups to engage with the scheme once the regulations have passed.
Community organisations, such as schools, will have the opportunity to act as return points for empty containers.
Communities will also benefit from less litter, and the collective benefits of tackling climate change.
Consumers could choose to donate their deposit to a charity or good cause. Based on the experience of other international schemes, this may be facilitated by the administrators of the scheme and return points.
- 10 September 2019 – Regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme pre-laid in Scottish parliament and published on the Scottish Government website for comment.
- 10 December 2019 – Closing date for comments to be submitted on the Regulations. The Regulations, including a final timetable for implementation, will then be laid before parliament.
- Spring 2020 – Legislation passes with final implementation date included.
Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will mean that local authorities will have less waste to handle, as well as reducing risk of contamination in collections, due to single-use drinks containers being collected through retailers.
The scheme will also mean less litter, which is good for residents and council budgets.
Local authorities stand to make savings from reduced litter clean-up costs for which they are currently responsible for in many of our public areas. There will be further benefit to local areas in terms of reducing the indirect costs associated with litter, such as negative impact on house prices, community well-being and tourism.
If a local authority-run facility, such as a school, sell drinks to take away, they will be considered a return point.
The scheme has been designed to be as accessible as possible. That’s why all places that sell drinks to take away, including online retailers, are included. If you buy your food shop online, the retailer will collect your empty containers and return your deposit.
The scheme has been designed to be inclusive to people in all communities, by ensuring it is as easy to return a scheme drinks container as it is to buy one.
Consumers will be able to return their empty scheme containers to wherever they purchased them from (or an equally accessible equivalent), and online retailers will be obliged to offer a takeback service.
This means that people living on Scotland’s islands and in remote communities will be able to participate in the scheme easily and will be able to get their deposit back however they get their shopping.
The Scottish Government is completing an Islands Impact Assessment to ensure that any significant unique impacts on island communities are captured and mitigated against.
Before the launch of the public consultation on 27th June 2018, Zero Waste Scotland undertook a full programme of engagement with key stakeholder and representative bodies for trade, industry, manufacturers, retailers, and local authority groups. These activities included a one-day stakeholder event, key stakeholder groups, 1-1 interviews, gathering of written evidence, and a programme of communications including a stakeholder newsletter.
During the consultation phase, we heavily promoted the opportunity to input to all stakeholders, via all our communications channels and nationwide programme of engagement, with events in all 32 local authorities.
We continue to engage with all of the key groups and parties interested in a deposit return scheme. We also provide regular updates through our online hub, www.depositreturn.scot, and our newsletter, which you can sign up to below.
The Scottish Government has established an Implementation Advisory Group to provide expertise and advice on the implementation of the scheme.
Members of the Implementation Advisory Group will provide industry expertise and advice on practical issues related to the operation of the scheme and how it interacts with production, retail and hospitality industries.
You may be represented through your membership of one of the bodies listed below - if so, it's best to put your questions through them.
Zero Waste Scotland’s online content hub will be updated in the coming weeks and months with relevant news and information.
You can also sign up to our newsletter below to receive updates on the deposit return scheme..