Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development

Scotland’s 20p recycling scheme will change the recycling habits of a nation

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, the design for which was launched last month, is a blueprint for a world-leading recycling system for drinks cans and bottles.

Zero Waste Scotland advised the Scottish Government on the scheme design, which will save 160,000 tonnes of carbon each year, the equivalent emissions of 85,000 cars.

Deposit return schemes are already used across the world to encourage people to recycle drinks containers, such as bottles and cans.

At its heart is a simple idea. When you buy a drink, whether that’s a soft drink or a bottle of wine, you pay a small deposit for the bottle or can. You then get the money back when you return the container to a collection point to be recycled. The deposit – in Scotland’s case 20p – acts as a powerful incentive for people to do something good for the environment.

It’s an example of Scotland’s determination to up its game on the quantity and quality of our recycling, as well as striking another blow against harmful single-use culture.

The benefits are clear. That 20p incentive will push up recycling of target materials to 90%, far beyond current levels. With materials separated at source, it will also increase the quality of recycled materials, creating a steady stream for use by businesses in Scotland. It’s little wonder that so many of our European neighbours have already embraced the idea.

Zero Waste Scotland undertook public engagement events in each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas during the consultation. It became pretty clear that, as far as the public is concerned, we were pushing against an open door.

Whether it’s Blue Planet or Greta Thunberg, more and more people want to see action to tackle the climate emergency we now face.

We recently held an event at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens to set out more detail on the scheme and answer stakeholders’ questions. The broad range of attendees helped to put Scotland’s deposit return scheme and the wider circular economy we are developing in perspective. To see representatives of local authorities and waste management, brewers and distillers, supermarkets and newsagents, airports and environmental charities all gathered in one room shows how many people have a stake in this.

Zero Waste Scotland has involved stakeholders throughout this process. Now there’s a sense of excitement at being able to talk with them about the details of the scheme that we’ve been working on for so long.

Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, addressed attendees. She was clear that she was “under no illusions” that delivering an ambitious scheme will require extensive planning and the contribution of industry partners.

Local authorities will interact with this new scheme in lots of different ways. Premises such as schools and leisure centres, who sell drinks in containers within scope, will be required to charge the deposit, accept containers for return and refund the deposit for these returned containers. Therefore, it is important that all departments are engaged in the process.

It’s also important to remember that deposit return on its own cannot achieve the transformation to a circular economy that Scotland is looking to achieve. We can’t forget the role of kerbside recycling. Well-functioning kerbside recycling will be essential to meeting our wider ambitions for recycling in Scotland. Deposit return isn’t the only policy change on the horizon – the Scottish Government has also been clear that the forthcoming extended producer responsibility (EPR) reforms and deposit return will need to work hand in glove.

There are opportunities for local authorities. Deposit return will mean that councils will have less waste to handle and it will reduce the risk of contamination in collections. This presents the opportunity to think about how existing resources could be used to increase the role of kerbside collections in the transformation to a circular economy in Scotland. When you factor in the potential reductions to litter and the costs associated with clean-up, the potential benefits increase.

We know that this will mean big changes for local authorities in Scotland. We will be working closely with all local authorities in Scotland to help them align their services with the changing landscape posed by deposit return and EPR and to help them meet their recycling targets.

Ultimately, we have to all keep our eyes on the prize. The 2014 carrier bag charge changed the shopping habits of a nation. Pretty soon, Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will do the same thing for single-use drinks containers. And that’s good news for all of us in the fight against climate change.

For more information on Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, including FAQs, please visit: