Drinks litter in Scotland

Delays in Scotland could increase the risk of ocean pollution

2 minute read

Catherine Gemmell

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer

15 Nov 2021

After two weeks of volunteering at COP26, our Scotland Conservation Officer Catherine Gemmell describes her dismay at hearing that potential delays could be announced by Scottish Government this week, delays that our ocean can't afford.

On Thursday I walked out of the Green Zone at COP26 for the last time as an official volunteer with Glasgow City Council.

I've spent the past two weeks welcoming the world to Glasgow to highlight what climate change is doing to our planet and society, while putting pressure on world leaders in the Blue Zone to take real action to combat the climate emergency.

Returning to my "day" job on Friday - I work as a Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society - one of the first updates I heard was that the promised deposit return scheme, the scheme that so many of you have helped me campaign for, is potentially going to be delayed.

If my experience at COP26 taught me anything it is that the world cannot afford any more broken promises, it needs action!

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer

*estimated by Eunomia, on behalf of Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS)

Twelve years of delays

We've already had the start date on this pushed back from 2021 to 2022 – but our seas cannot afford another delay.

Scottish Government has had the power to bring in a scheme to tackle littering since 2009, politicians announced their commitment to do so in 2017, and yet we're still waiting for the long-promised deposit return scheme.

As an organisation, we're so concerned that Scottish Government is going to announce another set back that, for the first time in 28 years, we have made the decision to reveal critical data which shows the full scale of the problem; ahead of our Great British Beach Clean results embargoed launch (see below).

DRS Delay - Twitter.jpg

If my experience at COP26 taught me anything it was the world cannot afford any more broken promises, it needs action!

I hope when Minister for Circular Economy Lorna Slater MSP updates the Scottish Parliament on Circular Economy plans this week that I am proven wrong, and that the Scottish Government and the industry with the power to implement it have done their job.

What’s it going to be? Action to combat the Climate and Ocean Emergency or another broken promise or, in the words of Greta Thunberg, more "Blah, blah, blah"...

How big is the drinks' litter problem in Scotland?

  • 92% of beaches surveyed in Scotland are littered with glass bottles, cans and single-use plastic drinks containers*  
  • 140,000 additional cans and bottles littering Scotland's streets, parks and beaches every single day that a Deposit Return System is delayed**
  • Drinks-related litter can be found, on average, for every 3 metres on beaches surveyed in Scotland***
  • 12 years: how long politicians have been promising a scheme to tackle litter pollution

*Found by volunteers during this years’ Great British Beach Clean

**Figure estimated by Eunomia on behalf of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS)

***An average of 28.8 drinks related litter items (plastic and glass bottles, cans and caps & lids) were recorded per 100m during our 2021 surveys

Why is a deposit return scheme so important?

The scheme will include PET plastic bottles, glass bottles and steel/aluminium drinks cans. People will pay a 20p deposit on top of the price of a drink, which is then refunded when the bottle or can is returned for recycling.

The Scottish Government aims to have a 90% return rate within the first three years, which is a big step towards Scotland having a circular economy

Litter on Scottish Beaches

It's estimated that a deposit return scheme would prevent more than 100,000 items of drink litter polluting Scotland every day

Credit: Catherine Gemmell