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24 May 2017

Ditch the nostalgia, is a bottle deposit scheme practical?

To many, returning glass bottles in exchange for pennies seems like a relic of a bygone era. Empty Bottles

Recycling of bottles and other household waste is now mainly done through Scotland’s extensive kerbside recycling system.

However, a campaign has been mounted to introduce a new deposit and return scheme for bottles and cans in Scotland.  

The scheme would operate for the consumer much like the old Barr’s one, only it would be much more extensive. Every bottle and can purchased would come with a deposit attached to it. This would then be returned to the customer when the bottles or cans were taken back to a shop. So far so good, right?

Well not really.

While the idea provokes nostalgia in many, the suggested introduction of such a scheme has raised concerns for many small businesses, particularly those running small independent convenience stores across the country. These business owners are worried about the practical implications a well- intended scheme like deposit and return could have on small firms.

In a sector where stores are small and the limited storage space is used for stock, the issue of where returned bottles would be stored looms large. Would backroom stock have to go in order to fit in bottles? Or would an expensive waste contract have to be signed to ensure the returned bottles were picked up multiple times a week?

And it’s not just storage that is an issue. The use of staff time to process bottles, when they could instead be tidying the shop, serving customers or refilling stock, raises capacity issues for already-stretched businesses. 

RecyclingAlongside this, questions have been raised about how this would fit in with the current non-domestic and domestic waste systems, specifically kerbside recycling.

Lastly, the operation of the scheme could raise questions about footfall in town centres. Reverse Vending Machines (machines that you put your bottles/cans into) are most likely to be located in out of town stores – which offer space for such machines. It’s likely that consumers will opt to use their cars to transport large quantities of bottles they saved up to such stores, with the added bonus of free parking. This is unhelpful when we’re trying to encourage healthy high streets, by encouraging footfall.

These concerns and more were all raised at a recent workshop on Deposit and Return run by Zero Waste Scotland. This event was focused on smaller retailers and representative bodies, including FSB, and business owners turned up to air their reservations and discuss the implications of the introduction of such a scheme in Scotland. The lively debate covered the practicalities and pressures deposit and return might have on small retailers.

No firm decision has yet been made on Deposit and Return in Scotland but there are certainly many questions from the business community that need to be answered before the go ahead can be given.

Do you sell bottles or cans? What do you think about the idea of such a scheme? We’d welcome your views. E-


Laura McKelvie is FSB's Policy and Public Affairs Assistant in Scotland 

Lobbying & Campaigning from FSB

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