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Getting Ready for Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will go live for consumers on 16 August 2023, giving retailers an important role in tackling climate change.

Under the scheme, retailers that sell drinks will have a legal requirement to accept returns of empty drinks containers for recycling. This includes online retailers of drinks.

Drinks producers will be able to nominate the scheme administrator to fulfill these obligations on their behalf. This will make it easier for retailers, who will benefit from dealing with one centralised operator. It's common in other countries and regions which have deposit return schemes.

What you need to know

Retailers will play a vital role in the successful delivery of the scheme, acting as a crucial link between the public as users of the scheme and producers. As a retailer you will also have important responsibilities. To find out more visit SEPA’s website.

Own Brand Products

In the regulations, drinks producers are defined as the owner of the brand. If you sell own brand products, see our Information for Producers page to learn more about your responsibilities.


For every scheme container returned to your store, you will receive a reasonable handling fee from the scheme administrator. This will cover the costs associated with taking part in the scheme.

For return point operators, the fee will cover:

  • the costs of purchase, lease, maintenance and upkeep of any reverse vending machine associated with the collection and storage of scheme packaging,
  • the cost of materials used in respect of the collection and storage of scheme packaging,
  • the rental value of any floor space utilised solely for the collection and storage of scheme packaging, and
  • staff time dedicated solely to the collection and storage of scheme packaging, 

For distance sellers offering a take back service, it will cover:

  • costs of a vehicle to collect scheme packaging, 
  • the cost of materials used in respect of the collection and storage of that scheme packaging,
  • the rental value of any floor space utilised solely for the collection and storage of that scheme packaging, 
  • staff time dedicated solely to the collection and storage of that scheme packaging, and 
  • the delivery costs associated with return of that scheme packaging.


As a retailer, you will be required to:

  • Charge the deposit when selling in-scope products
  • Make it clear the container is part of the scheme
  • Display the deposit value separately from the product price
  • Clearly display information about how to redeem the deposit in-store


All drinks producers will have to register with SEPA, who will publish information on which producers are part of the scheme. Producers will have to make sure their products can be identified as part of the scheme. This could include specific labelling or a barcode.

The rules apply to all products sold in in-scope drink containers in Scotland, whether specialist or mass market and whether imported, or brewed or bottled in Scotland.

All drinks, including soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, are included in the scheme, if they come in the following materials:

  • PET plastic – e.g. most bottled water and many fizzy drinks
  • Steel and aluminium – e.g. many fizzy drinks and canned beer
  • Glass – e.g. bottles of wine or premium soft drinks

Containers between 50ml and 3 litres in size are included.

The exclusion of HDPE plastic (which is used for most milk bottles) means that 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.

Deposits only apply to single-use containers, so re-usable glass milk bottle schemes will not be included in the scheme.

Becoming a return point

All retailers must operate a return point (unless exempted). This applies to each store, not the owner. If you have multiple shops, all of them must act as a return point. All online retailers must operate a take-back service. As a return point you must: 

  • Accept scheme containers returned by consumers
  • Redeem the deposit for each container returned
  • Retain the packaging for collection by a scheme administrator
  • Provide a complaints procedure and contact details for making such a complaint, as well as contact details for SEPA

Return points will likely have to register with the scheme administrator. 

Retailers will collect all types of material/products included in the scheme - even if you don't sell them, ensuring consistency. So, if you only sell drinks in plastic and glass, you will still have to accept returns of metal cans. 

Retailers will be able to refuse to accept an empty bottle or can if:

  • It is not identifiable as scheme packaging
  • It is soiled
  • It is not empty
  • The scheme administrator has not carried out a collection in accordance with their operational plan

Handling fee

The scheme administrator will pay a reasonable handling fee per container to return point operators, reflecting the costs they have incurred. Such costs include shop space and staff time required to accept returned drinks containers.

The expectation is that the handling fee will be agreed between retailers and a scheme administrator.

handling fee

You have two options for collecting containers for the public.

1. Manual return

People hand over empty containers at the counter and you issue a cash refund. You store the empty containers, most likely in bags provided by the scheme administrator, until they are collected.

2. Reverse Vending Machines

Works like a vending machine, in reverse. People put their empty bottle or can in, and get their 20p deposit back. RVMs give out vouchers rather than cash. All deposits you pay will be reimbursed by the scheme administrator. If you decide to get an RVM, there are a range of manufacturers. Financing of an RVM will be included in the handling fee.

The Scottish Government is working with the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland to develop guidance to support retailers, particularly smaller businesses, in implementing DRS in a way that is consistent with your legal obligations relating to issues such as food safety.

Key issues which will be decided by the scheme administrator include:

  • Ways to store the returned containers e.g. bags or boxes
  • Collection frequency 
  • Handling fee
  • Frequency of payment 
Bottles graphic


Retailers can apply to Scottish Ministers for an exemption from acting as a return point. Exemptions are available for on-site consumption and for duty free shops.

There are two criteria which must be satisfied for any retailer to be granted an exemption. This is to ensure the core principle of accessibility in all local areas is maintained:

  1. There is an alternative return point located within reasonable proximity, and the operator of that return point has agreed to accept the returns on behalf of the exempted retailer;
  2. If the exemption is granted, consumers will still have reasonable access to a return point locally.

In addition, you can apply for an exemption if you can satisfy Ministers that there is no reasonable way for you to operate a return point on your premises without risking being in breach of relevant legal obligations such as food safety.

Applications will open in January 2021.

Preventing fraud

The administrators of the scheme will be responsible for deciding on the most efficient and effective measures for minimising fraud. This could include the adoption of specific on-pack labelling and/or a Scottish specific barcode.

If accepting returns manually, you will be expected to check that containers are part of the scheme before refunding a deposit.

Collections from your store

The scheme administrator will be responsible for collecting empty containers from stores for recycling. This will be done free of charge, and will result in a saving to those retailers who currently pay for the removal of these containers.

Old stock

During the initial period of the scheme, it is anticipated that shops will have stock that was purchased before the go-live date. So if you still have stock of non-deposit bearing products, purchased before the scheme goes live, you will be able to sell these as normal.

However, it must be clearly communicated at point of purchase that these are not part of the scheme and cannot be exchanged for a deposit.

It will be your responsibility to display the deposit clearly, highlighting which items that you sell are part of the scheme. You will also need to you display the deposit value separately from the product price.

Cash flow

The flow of deposits is cost neutral. However, the timing of sales and deposit refunds may have an impact on cash flow.

  • You will pay the 20p deposit on every item of stock you buy from a wholesaler or drinks producer
  • You will receive 20p from shoppers when they buy a drink in your store
  • You will pay 20p to people when they return an empty container to your store – please note, this might not have been purchased in your store
  • You will receive 20p from the scheme administrator for every bottle or can you collect

More Information

How does it work for online retailers?

Retailers who sell products by distance sales (e.g. through an online delivery service) will be required to offer a takeback service from the site of delivery to consumers who have purchased those items.

This is to ensure the scheme is accessible for all, including those who rely on home deliveries.

The takeback service must be free of charge, but there is flexibility as to what form this may take.

Online sellers only have to accept returns of containers they have sold directly to the customer.

You will be able to levy a temporary charge for using a takeback service, to cover the value of materials used in facilitating the collection e.g. cost of bags and tags.

Once you have received the containers, you will have to reimburse the deposit and any temporary charge imposed for facilitating the collection.

Please note – customers will still be able to return their empty containers to any other return point. As such, it is anticipated that the vast majority of customers will make use of a local return point, rather than a takeback service.

For more information, visit SEPA’s website.

What about vending machine operators?

Vending machines can only sell in-scope drinks with a deposit which is clearly displayed separately from the price. However, businesses that have vending machines only do NOT have to act as a return point for containers.