‘Blatant attack on democracy’: UK government blocks glass from Scotland’s DRS

The Scottish first minister has accused the UK government of “trying to undermine devolution”, after it announced that Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) could go ahead, but only if it excludes glass.

Humza Yousaf. Source - GettyImages

After months of wrangling over Scotland’s DRS, at 9.45pm on Saturday night the UK government confirmed that the scheme will be allowed to go ahead, after it accepted a request from Holyrood for an exclusion under the UK Internal Market Act (IMA) 2020, which will enable a deposit return scheme to launch in Scotland next year.

The IMA, which was resisted by Wales and Scotland following the Brexit vote, is intended to prevent trade barriers between the UK nations by establishing the principles of ‘mutual recognition’ and non-discrimination’.

The first of these sets out that any goods, which comply with regulations permitting their sale in the part of the UK they are produced in or imported into, can be sold in other parts of the UK, without complying with equivalent regulation there. The second sets out that regulatory requirements that discriminate against goods from another part of the UK, whether directly or indirectly, cannot be enforced.

An exemption to the IMA was requested for the DRS (in good time and orderly fashion according to Holyrood), but faced multiple delays. 

READ MORE: How the Internal Market Act is leaving green laws stuck in the Brexit mud

In its policy statement, the UK government said it has agreed to a “temporary exclusion” under section 10 of the IMA to enable the Scottish government to launch its DRS next year. 

However, the document notes that “the temporary exclusion will cover PET plastic, aluminum, and steel cans only”. This means that glass will be excluded from the scheme. 

England’s DRS, which is not set to launch until October 2025, will not include glass. The statement explains that “this type of permanent divergence would be a very significant step for businesses and consumers, and there is insufficient justification for such an approach. The inclusion of glass would add cost and complexity to the schemes in particular to hospitality and retail sectors, as well as adding consumer inconvenience.”

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“The temporary exclusion is granted in good faith. Further joint work will be required to ensure the schemes operate seamlessly for businesses and consumers across the UK”, the document adds. 

First minister Humza Yousaf has responded in outrage to the news and has accused the UK government of “not just trying to scupper the DRS”, but also of “trying to undermine devolution”. 

In a Twitter thread, Yousaf said that excluding glass means “600,000,000 bottles that would have been captured by the scheme would not be collected, further littering our streets, parks and beaches. Millions of pounds has already been spent by industry who rightly believed glass was to be included in the scheme”.

“I have previously warned that we are seeing a systematic attempt, from the UK government to erode devolution. We see this from multiple breaches of the Sewel Convention, [...] Internal Market Act etc,” he wrote. Adding that: “Only with independence will the people of Scotland get true self-government. Using the Internal Market Act to ride roughshod over devolution is just the latest Westminster attack on the Scottish Parliament.”

The Scottish Greens have launched a petition urging the Prime Minister to keep glass in the scheme.

“This is a blatant attack on our environment and our democracy,” the petition page notes. 

“There are more than 50 can and bottle deposit schemes around the world, and the vast majority of them include glass. Over 550 million glass bottles are sold in Scotland every year. It makes no sense to exclude them. The case is so strong that even the Tory Party used to embrace it. They had an unequivocal commitment to a scheme that included glass as part of the 2019 manifesto that every single Tory MP was elected on”, it adds. 

A UK government spokesperson said: “The government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.

“The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish government’s deposit return scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year. 

“We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish government’s request for a UK Internal Market exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK. 

“DRS need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system. A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter - as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers.”