Regulations to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) in Scotland have been approved by Holyrood – despite some MSPs insisting the coronavirus pandemic meant “now is not the time” for the measures to be approved.
MSPs voted by 36 to 16 in favour of the regulations, with 19 abstaining.
The decision means the scheme, which will see shoppers charged a 20p refundable deposit on drinks cans and bottles, will now come in from July 2022.
While campaigners have criticised delays to the scheme, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon insisted this was the “earliest date we could be confident this would deliver a successful scheme”.
Ministers had originally planned to introduce DRS in April 2021, but Ms Gougeon said while that decision was made before coronavirus struck “when later faced with the virus we took the view that the extension would also provide the flexibility industry needs to respond to the pandemic”.
But John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which runs the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, said deposit return was “the easiest single measure any government can take to reduce litter, boost recycling, and save money for local government”.
He added: “We’ve campaigned for it for five years, but this delay to the launch date – decided before the pandemic – is utterly inexplicable.
“When the targets eventually kick in, in 2023, 14 years after the Climate Change Act was passed, we expect this to be a very effective system, one which we hope the rest of the UK will emulate.
“But a 15-month delay means more than 60 million cans and bottles littered unnecessarily, 60,000 tonnes of carbon emissions we could have saved, and local authorities picking up a £9 million bill for avoidable litter and street cleaning costs.”
However, Tory MSP Annie Wells said as businesses across the country struggle in the midst of coronavirus, politicians should not be “adding to their burden” by passing the regulations at this time.
The Scottish Conservative deputy leader insisted: “Everyone in this chamber supports a deposit return scheme, there is no dispute a deposit return scheme can increase recycling rates and protect our environment.
“The question is timing. We support the delayed implementation until July 2022 in light of the Covid outbreak.
“However the Scottish Conservatives don’t think that goes far enough. Small businesses are struggling more than ever, many of them won’t see 2021 despite the vast financial support packages provided by the UK and Scottish governments.”
She added: “The business community will be responsible for making DRS work, now is not the time to force them to scrutinise and engage with legislation, adding to their burden.”
That message was echoed by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who said: “Nobody knows what the world is going to look like in six months time or even next month, so why we are rushing these regulations now for something that is in two years time is just beyond me.”
He added: “We support these measures but just not now.”
But Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell said putting DRS off further would be “yet more dithering”.
He said: “Every delay means more carbon emissions, more littering and clean-up costs for councils.
“By the government’s own admission there are no Covid-related reasons why a deposit return scheme cannot be introduced in 18 months’ time, so the obvious conclusion is that this extra delay has as much to do with industry lobbying as public health concerns.”