Science

Deposit return scheme: Plastics set to be exported for processing

PLASTIC bottles collected in Scotland’s ambitious deposit return scheme are likely to “be exported for reprocessing” in the north of England – raising fears the SNP-Greens Government will fail to take advantage of the economic and jobs benefits of the flagship recycling policy.

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will lead to people paying a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium, or glass. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

Green’s Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater announced in November that the start of the scheme is being delayed again and will now begin rolling out in August next year.

Two days before Slater told MSPs the policy was being held up, she was lobbied by the Scottish Grocer’s Federation, who urged the minister to revise the timetable for the scheme being rolled out.

READ MORE: Greens minister Lorna Slater lobbied by industry 48 hours before delaying deposit return scheme

The Herald on Sunday can now reveal that 24 hours before the announcement was made, Slater was lobbied by Coca Cola, who also attempted “to convince the minister of our view that a delay to the implementation date for a deposit return scheme was necessary”.

A private company, Circularity Scotland, has been set up to roll out the deposit return scheme, instead of a public body being set up.

But concerns have been raised that the details of the key environmental scheme are avoiding scrutiny by dodging freedom of information legislation.

It has been suggested that Circularity Scotland, set up in February 2021 by the industry, announced a 2023 start date for the scheme through a contract tender process, before Slater had officially announced a delay.

Green’s Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater

READ MORE: Greens minister Lorna Slater has ‘lost control’ of firm delivering deposit return scheme

But it can also now be exposed that recycling giant Viridor met with Slater in December and warned her about “the likelihood that deposit return scheme materials will be exported for reprocessing” in the north of England “under the current contract”.

The company added that “there is no incentive for investment in a Scottish reprocessing facility” to be set up.

The Scottish Conservatives have warned that materials being shipped out of Scotland for processing means the Scottish Government is set to “offshore the profits” from the scheme and fail to deliver Scottish jobs alongside the environmental benefits.

The party has called for ministers to “sharpen up its act” before the deposit return scheme is launched next year.

The Scottish Government said that work is underway to “make the case” for a reprocessing facility to be built in Scotland.

READ MORE: Deposit return scheme delay blamed on Covid, Brexit and UK Government

The Scottish Tories have called for a new plastic recycling plant to be established in Scotland with the latest statistics showing that just two per cent of the 75,361 tonnes of plastic waste collected in Scotland annually is recycled in Scotland.

The latest annual statistics show that of the 75,361 tonnes of plastic waste recycled, only 1,393 tonnes were recycled in Scotland and a whopping 73,968 tonnes was recycled outwith Scotland.

The majority of Scotland’s plastic waste exports go to the rest of the UK at 65,597 tonnes, followed by the rest of the world outside Europe 4,467 tonnes and 3,904 tonnes to Europe.

Conservative MSP Maurice Golden has previously called for the creation of a new Scottish plastic recycling facility in order to keep resources in Scotland – a policy welcome by environmental campaigners, Friends of the Earth Scotland.

READ MORE: ‘Ill-thought out’: Nicola Sturgeon insists deposit return scheme ‘most ambitious’ in Europe

At the time, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon, suggested a dedicated plan “could work in tandem” with the deposit return scheme and “inject fresh impetus into Scotland’s drive towards a circular economy”.

He added: “Having dedicated recycling facilities in Scotland will cut down on emissions and costs of transporting materials as well as providing jobs and clear signal of intent on reducing waste.”

Mr Golden has also called for micro-plastic recycling facilities as well as localized waste hubs to be set up in rural and island communities – meaning waste would need to be transported over shorter distances, reducing costs and emissions.

Scotland’s deposit return scheme risks being out of date before it had even begun operating because ministers have failed to include a digital element which would allow bottles to be returned in kerbside collections instead of the need for a reverse vending machine.

READ MORE: Warning SNP-Greens’ deposit return scheme ‘out of date before it has started’

Mr Golden said: “The degree to which the Scottish Government has managed to botch this scheme is incredible, and it’s not even off the ground yet.

“Now it seems determined to offshore the profits that could be made from it too.

“While DRS is predominantly an environmental measure, there are significant economic gains to be made from it too.”

He added: “It’s essential that the hardworking Scottish consumers and businesses are the ones who reap the benefits of this.

“The SNP-Green coalition needs to sharpen up its act and ensure this scheme is one that is simple, effective and of benefit to all those who are taking part.”

A business impact assessment, drawn up by Scottish Government officials, shows the “final, and best, estimate of the costs and benefits” associated with a deposit return scheme being launched in Scotland.

The assumptions suggests that there will be a net benefit of £583 million overall but also reveals that businesses are set to lose out by £394 million.

But Slater has been forced to apologise, after the Scottish Grocers’ Federation pointed out “an error in the sensitivity analysis”.

Slater said: “I am grateful to the SGF for highlighting this error and to you for bringing it to my attention.

“It is important to note that the error does not affect the overall findings of the BRIA (business and regulatory impact assessment) nor does it change the overall net present value.”

Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s deposit return remains on track.

She said: “We are taking forward a scheme that will be the most environmentally ambitious and the most accessible scheme anywhere in Europe. We are working on the detail of delivery of that right now.

“Over the course of this year, we are going to see significant progress. We are going to see the contract signed and the infrastructure start to take shape.”

Pressed over the lack of a dedicated plastic recycling facility in Scotland, the First Minister said her Government “want to take a range of actions to ensure that we reduce waste and increase recycling”.

Herald Scotland: Nicola SturgeonNicholas Sturgeon

She added: “We will continue to consider suggestions wherever they come from, so that we fully play our part in reducing and appropriately dealing with waste in Scotland. That is an important part of fulfilling our environmental imperative.”

Announcing her delay to the scheme, Slater warned businesses “were and still are badly affected by the pandemic and the mismanagement of Brexit”.

She added that “there have also been unresolved issues” including “a lack of clarity from the UK Government on the VAT treatment of deposits”, which she warned “adds unnecessary cost, time delay and risk to the project”.

Under the agreed timescales, by March of this year, Circulatory Scotland will agree contracts to deliver operations and IT systems before ministers launch a public awareness campaign in August – when counting and sorting centers will begin to be constructed.

Return infrastructure such as reverse vending machines will begin being rolled out from the summer and will start being used on a voluntary basis from November, when a community-run scheme in Orkney will begin operating.

READ MORE: Deposit return scheme? We need a global plastic waste treaty

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme will be the first scheme of its kind in the UK and one of the most environmentally ambitious and accessible in Europe. One of the key benefits of the scheme will be increasing the quantity and quality of plastic recyclate, creating a high-quality feedstock for reprocessing.

“There is interest from industry in investing in plastics reprocessing infrastructure in Scotland to realize this significant economic opportunity. Our enterprise agencies are working with interested businesses to make the case for a reprocessing facility to come to Scotland.”

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