Picking up plastic bottle on a beach Triocean

Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme delayed again

2 minute read

Catherine Gemmell

Catherine Gemmell, Policy and Advocacy Manager

16 Jun 2023

Our Scotland Conservation Officer, Catherine Gemmell, reflects on a decision this week by the Scottish Government to yet again delay a Deposit Return Scheme.

Last Wednesday I went for a swim in the sea with friends after what was a pretty tough day at work. It reminded me how much I need the sea and why it's so important to give ourselves some time to recover and recharge before going back to work to give the ocean a voice.

Earlier that day, the Scottish Government announced that the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for bottles and cans is to be delayed for a fourth time and will now not be implemented until October 2025 'at the earliest'.

Plastic bottle on the shoreline Canetti

Credit: Canetti via Shutterstock

When I started working with the Marine Conservation Society over eight years ago, one of the first meetings I went to was about the environmental benefits of Deposit Return Schemes around the world. Increased recycling, decreased carbon emissions, less litter on beaches and in the countryside, to name a few.

“We used to have it here”, my Grampa told me. We used to live in a much more circular economy, before everything was ‘disposable’ or made from and packaged in plastic, and it’s what we need to get back to. We must move away from our single-use lifestyle, towards a circular economy where our choices benefit both people and the planet.

Over the past eight years, I’ve worked with so many incredible organisations, volunteers, schools, communities, politicians and businesses to bring DRS back to Scotland. Leading the charge is APRS, which has been running the ‘Have You Got The Bottle?’ campaign coalition with Scottish representatives to ensure Scotland gets the DRS it needs and deserves.

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Thanks to this tireless work, and the data that our beach cleaning volunteers have collected, we were delighted when the Scottish Government announced in 2017 that it would implement a Deposit Return Scheme. It was due to start in April 2021 and we worked hard to ensure it included metal cans and glass, and plastic bottles. The Scottish Parliament agreed and the legislation was passed!

Unfortunately, despite the start date being put into legislation, Scotland’s DRS has been hit with delay after delay, going from April 2021 to July 2022, then August 2023, March 2024 and now, October 2025. And our beaches continue to pay the price.

Last year our volunteers found drinks containers on 93% of beaches surveyed.

We are in the midst of climate and nature crises. If we cannot implement a tried and tested scheme that is already in place in over 40 countries around the world, what hope is there for the systemic change needed to save our blue planet?

This latest delay is the most concerning, as it appears that the scheme has become a political and constitutional football which is being kicked about by the governments of the UK.

And what does that mean? The ocean will continue to pay the price for our waste and these delays. Deposit return is a scheme based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle - and now the polluters have avoided responsibility once again.

We need governments to do better. We need industry to do better. Our planet needs them to.

I call on all involved to get together, put the environment first and start taking responsibility by putting the ocean back at the top of the policy making agenda.