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UK Deposit Return Scheme – delay to implementation but further details provided

  • United Kingdom
  • Environment
  • Food and drink
  • Retail


Background: Deposit return scheme

The UK government had intended to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme (“DRS”) from 2023 on the back of a public consultation in 2019 which indicated strong support for such a scheme. However in view of the COVID pandemic the Government has issued a second consultation to explore whether there is still support for a DRS and if so how best to design it.

The Government acknowledges that there will need to be a delay in the implementation of such a scheme and accordingly it would only be introduced (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in late 2024 at the earliest.

Across the UK, consumers go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles a year and it is clear the current recycling rates could be increased.

Deposit return scheme: key proposals

Some of the key proposals for the scheme include:

  • a Deposit Management Organisation (“DMO”) will be responsible for running the DRS;
  • producers (those placing branded beverage products in in-scope drinks containers on the market) will:
    • sign up to the DMO
    • have new reporting obligations
    • pay a registration fee to the DMO
    • place a redeemable deposit on all in-scope containers they place on the market
    • pay that deposit value to the DMO – this will be passed on to retailers to reimburse consumers returning relevant containers
  • retailers will:
    • ensure the deposit price is added to the price of an in-scope drink at the point of sale
    • ensure that price information makes clear the price of the drink and the deposit price attached to the drink container
    • accept all DRS returns and pay the deposit to the customer returning the container
    • receive a handling fee for providing a return point
    • be producers in relation to own-branded products
  • the DRS is based on the material the container is made from, not what is in it – it is proposed to cover PET plastic bottles, glass bottles, steel and aluminium cans
  • the Welsh government is keen for an “all in” scheme i.e. including bottles up to 3 litres, whereas England and Northern Ireland are open to further views as to whether the scheme should be limited to smaller “on the go” size bottles – a decision on scope should be made during the Summer 2021
  • the DMO will have a collection target of 90% after 3 years, but no recycling targets
  • the DMO will have flexibility to set deposit levels – secondary legislation will set a minimum deposit level and also potentially a maximum level within which the DMO would operate
  • possibility of voluntary return points
  • mandatory labelling requirements
  • consideration of the impact on Local Authorities given the acknowledgement that despite the DRS a proportion of these items will still end up in the municipal waste stream
  • the use of unredeemed deposits

Time to act

Now is the time for those in the food and drink sectors and retailers more generally to consider the consultation in detail and decide whether to respond. In particular to consider the extent to which they may wish to be involved in putting together a bid to act as DMO.

The consultation is open until 4th June 2021 and can be accessed here.