In order to ensure that Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) can go into effect next year, Rishi Sunak is being urged to take immediate action.
Several organizations, including Greenpeace UK, Keep Britain Tidy, and the Marine Conservation Society, have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister requesting that the UK Government exempt DRS in Scotland from the Internal Market Act, which will govern trade between the UK’s various regions after Brexit.
The scheme in Scotland is scheduled to launch in March 2024, ahead of comparable initiatives in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, hence the exemption is required.
Scottish circular economy minister Lorna Slater has issued a warning that the Scottish Government will have to “proactively decide” whether or not its program is “viable” if no exemption has been obtained by the end of May.
Charities and environmental organizations have urged Mr. Sunak to take action because they are concerned that the UK Government won’t have made a decision in that time limit.
Additionally urging the PM to include glass bottles in the DRS programs planned for England and Northern Ireland, the letter is also signed by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, and Keep Wales Tidy.
Following the appointment of Humza Yousaf as First Minister in Scotland, the DRS was delayed.
Customers north of the border will be required to pay a 20p deposit each time they purchase a beverage in a can, glass, or plastic bottle, and will receive their money back when the empty containers are returned for recycling.
Originally scheduled to take effect in August, it has now been delayed until March 2024 due to concerns from businesses about its potential effects.
The charities referred to DRS as “the single most effective policy tool available to reduce litter in our towns and countryside” in their letter to the prime minister.
They informed Mr. Sunak that businesses in Scotland had “already invested hundreds of millions of pounds” prior to the introduction of the program and that a further delay would leave them “significantly out of pocket.”
The letter continued: “The rollout of deposit return in Scotland in March 2024 will require an Internal Market Act exemption which we know is under discussion across Whitehall.
“Such an exemption will protect the substantial investment industry has already made in Scotland and ensure we start to see the environmental benefits as soon as possible.”
The organisations claimed that England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where the initiative is not scheduled to take effect until 2025, may benefit “actively” from Scotland implementing a DRS first.
But they added: “There remains one key obstacle to a truly UK-wide approach to the litter problem. While Wales and Scotland intend to include glass drinks bottles, as things stand glass is excluded for England and Northern Ireland.
“If this remains the case, it would either undermine the long-term interoperability of the various systems, or cost English businesses more, unnecessarily, when glass is subsequently brought in, as happened in Finland in 2011 and elsewhere.
“We would therefore urge you to intervene and bring forward a straightforward solution to this problem by including glass on the same basis as Scotland and Wales, alongside the Internal Market Act exemption for the Scottish system.”
The letter was written after Ms. Slater stated that “absolutely essential to the successful delivery of the scheme” is obtaining an exemption from the Internal Market Act by the end of this month.
The Scottish Green MSP said: “We have engaged with the UK Government in good faith on the exclusion for Scotland’s deposit return scheme for nearly two years now.
“Despite following the mutually agreed process, we have still to be given necessary assurances that this will be provided in good time.
“This is creating uncertainty and confusion for all the businesses that have worked so hard to prepare for the scheme going live.
“I urge the UK Government to agree the exclusion by the end of May at the latest.
“Doing so is absolutely essential to the successful delivery of the scheme.”
Maurice Golden, a Scottish Conservative, called Ms. Slater’s assertions a “red herring” and said the Scottish Government would be to blame if the program didn’t work.
Insisting that an exemption from the Internal Market Act “is not encroached upon,” he charged Ms. Slater and the Scottish Government with “attempting to stoke constitutional grievance” with Westminster.
When questioned about the UK Government’s delay in approving the exception, Mr. Golden responded that not enough information is now available to make a decision.
He said: “It’s reasonable that we want to know what the scheme is before anyone can make a decision over whether an exemption could be granted.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “UK Government ministers received a formal request for a UKIM Act exclusion for the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme on March 6, 2023.
“The Scottish Government has since been reviewing and paused the scheme until March 2024 to allow it more time to address concerns raised by businesses. It therefore hasn’t been possible yet for us to fully assess the impacts of the exclusion request on cross-UK trade, firms and consumers.
“We will continue to engage with the Scottish Government to realise our shared ambition to improve the environment while meeting the needs of consumers and businesses across the UK.”