"Realistic" go-live date for British DRS now 2027


The UK is expected to delay implementation of a deposit return system (DRS) for beverage containers yet again. Environment secretary Steve Barclay said last week that he did not think the October 2025 deadline announced last year was now "realistic". Asked when a deposit system might be operational, he said, "I suspect, if I was pushed on it, that a 2027 deadline is probably more likely."

The UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) had initially planned for a deposit system for drinks bottles and cans to be operational by 2023. The first in what is now a series of postponements came as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In remarks before the national Parliament's environment committee, the secretary of state said it was still impossible to say when enabling legislation for the DRS would be presented. He attributed the hold-up to the need to work with the devolved administrations, in this case, the governments of Scotland and Wales, to ensure "an approach that is interoperable across the UK". Environmental protection is among the areas where Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can legislate independently.

Scotland had sought to roll out its DRS in 2023 and, like Wales, had wanted to include glass bottles in the scope of its scheme. This packaging type is to be excluded from the system envisioned for England, Wales and Northern Ireland by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Concerned about potential barriers to trade within the UK, Westminster declined to issue the needed exclusion under the UK Internal Market Act unless the Scottish government aligned its system with that of England and agreed to a cap on deposit levels. Accordingly, the Scottish government decided to delay its own launch "until October 2025 at the earliest", pointing to the lack of certainty on critical elements of the scheme that would continue until the Defra system was finalised.

Asked last week whether it would "be fair to assume that the UK government will use the same mechanism to encourage the Welsh to become more interoperable", Mr Barclay answered in the affirmative.

He said it was important to business that the government work closely with the devolved administrations to have a scheme that aligns. He stressed that the adverse impact of a delay was outweighed by the "benefits of having something interoperable".

While interoperability may be a key concern for retailers, the businesses selected to set up and operate the Scottish DRS system have a decidedly different perspective on the delays. Waste management company Biffa was awarded a contract by system operator Circularity Scotland in 2022 to provide logistics and counting services for the Scottish scheme. As of last summer, the company had already invested £65m (ca. €76m) in property, vehicles and counting equipment, according to a letter from company CEO Michael Topham to Scotland's first minister Humza Yousaf. The Scottish newspaper The Sunday Mail reported this past weekend that Biffa had threated to sue the Scottish government for £100m to recover its costs.

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