Updated Apr 30, 2024

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Deposit return schemes expected in 2027 in UK

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has published a joint policy statement on behalf of themselves, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland regarding their policy position on deposit return schemes (DRS).

A DRS is targeted at drinks containers and will see the consumer charged a small deposit for purchasing drinks in specified packaging which will be returned to them once they return the packaging to a designated drop-off point, adding a financial incentive to be more responsible with waste. Given it is estimated that UK consumers buy around 31 billion single-use drinks containers each year, it is important to address this waste and turn it into a resource.

It is hoped that such schemes will help to keep resources and materials in use for as long as possible instead of relying on new materials. It is also hoped that it will reduce the amount of litter that appears on UK streets, minimise environmental impacts of packaging and increase the contribution to Net Zero and environmental protection.

The joint policy statements indicate that the DRS will work alongside Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging, the latter of which has the aim of making businesses more responsible for the packaging they produce or place on the market. Although responsibility for waste is a devolved issue, the joint policy delivers a united intent to introduce such schemes and to tackle waste. It contains an estimated time line of DRS development, which sets out that:

  • by Spring 2025, legislation will be in place across the UK and Deposit Management Organisations (DMO) will be, initially, appointed;
  • between Spring 2025 and 2026 the DMOs will be set up as an organisation capable of running the DRS in each UK country and will begin to provide businesses with required information;
  • between Spring 2026 and Autumn 2027, businesses will be expected to make changes ready for the official roll-out of DRS;
  • in October 2027 DRS will officially launch across the UK.

Furthermore, it confirms that the DRS will focus on drinks containers, with a capacity of 150ml to 3 litres, made of PET, steel and aluminium cans, whereas glass containers will be dealt with separately. Anything out of scope for the DRS will be captured by Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging.

Regarding next steps, the policy statement set out that:

  • legislation will be made to bring the DRS into existence across the UK;
  • as Scotland already has legislation establishing a DRS, which has been delayed several times already, legislation is expected soon from the Scottish Government to amend the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations SSI 2020/154 so that it gives "effect to the policy positions set out" in the statement. This indicates that the DRS in Scotland will now not be implemented until 2027 (it was due to come into force on 1 October 2025); although only an official amendment will confirm this, so it is important to keep an eye on any developments in legislation in the near future.

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