Deposit Return Scheme: letter to UK Government

Letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater about concerns over Deposit Return Scheme delays.  

To: Stephen Barclay Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lorna Slater Circular Economy Minister

Dear Stephen

I am writing to you to express my deep concerns at your comments about the future of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Tuesday 26 March. Despite our continued requests for Defra to set out its plans for DRS, and my recent correspondence dated 8 March on such matters, it is extremely frustrating to hear about details of a further significant delay to the DRS launch from media reports.

Your Government committed to develop and consult on a DRS in England for metal, plastic and glass drinks containers in 2018, a commitment also set out in your 2019 manifesto. We are now five years on from that commitment, which has been significantly weakened following your Government’s decision to remove glass from the scheme in 2023. It is clear now that it will be further delayed.

As you know, Scotland would now have an operational DRS if the UK Government had not prevented it from moving forward as planned. This would have provided a launchpad for wider DRS across the UK meaning we would all be experiencing the environmental and economic benefits much sooner.

Instead, the UK Government’s refusal to provide that IMA exclusion created enormous uncertainty for businesses on what a scheme across the UK would look like and on how it would be delivered, and severely undermined confidence. Even though the main premise for undermining Scotland’s scheme was the need for a UK-wide approach, almost one year on, there is no further clarity on the details of your Regulations. We, the other devolved governments, and businesses now find ourselves facing even greater uncertainty as a result of these latest comments.

It is also now clear from your comments that the UK Government won’t hesitate to continue to use the IMA to undermine, override and re-write devolved legislation, disregarding four-nation agreements and good-faith engagement in Common Frameworks to so do.

Despite the continued shifting of goal posts and delays by the UK Government, which we have set out in an annex to this letter, officials across the four nations have been working closely since May last year to design and agree interoperable schemes. Minister Moore’s letter to devolved Ministers on 1 March particularly emphasised the valuable input from Scottish officials, and that the preparations we had already put in place to deliver DRS in Scotland has helped inform the four nations approach, including the amendments to our regulations in May and September last year, based on significant feedback from business.

We have said from day one that we we’re committed to all schemes across the UK to work together. We designed our scheme in good faith so it would be interoperable with the proposals agreed and consulted upon by all UK nations. I would ask that you focus on working with all devolved nations to finalise an interoperable DRS, which still recognises the devolved nature of this policy, to provide businesses with the certainty they need to make the scheme a success. This includes setting out a realistic timescale for delivery which is agreed across the four nations, rather than creating speculation without consultation.

I am copying this letter to Robbie Moore MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Huw Irranca-Davies AS/MS Minister for Climate Change and Andrew Muir MLA, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. I have also copied to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Secretary of State for Wales, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Permanent Secretary for Defra and the Defra Director for Resources & Waste for their information.

Kind regards



UK Government timelines for DRS Launch


Stated position 

December 2018:

UK Government Resources and Waste Strategy commits to consulting on proposals for a Deposit Return Scheme covering plastic, metal and glass drinks containers, to launch in 2023

‘We will introduce a DRS in England for single-use drinks containers, subject to consultation.’

Roll-out of a deposit return scheme (2023)

‘Waste and recycling policy is a devolved matter but we will continue to work closely with the Devolved Administrations on this policy area’

February 2019:

Consultation on introducing a Deposit Return Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

‘This consultation proposes that the materials included in a DRS could be PET and HDPE plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans, and glass bottles…to be implemented in 2023’

November 2019:

Conservative manifesto commits to DRS covering plastic and glass

‘We will… introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass.’

May 2020:

Scottish Deposit Return Scheme Regulations passed by Scottish Parliament

DRS Regulations in Scotland debated and passed by Scottish Parliament within context of commitments to DRS elsewhere in the UK.

March 2021:

Publication of Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

‘We consider that the scope of a deposit return scheme should be determined based on material rather than product, and propose the scheme captures PET plastic bottles, glass

bottles, and steel and aluminium cans.’

‘As waste management policy is devolved to the Senedd the design of any deposit return scheme needs to fit with the policy needs of Wales and therefore work within the devolved framework of the UK.’

Sets out that the net present value of an ‘All-in’ DRS is £5.9bn compared to £3,6bn for a ‘no glass’ DRS

26 Oct 2020

UK Internal Market Bill. House of Lords debate.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Hansard - UK Parliament

‘…on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the Scottish deposit return scheme, if that legislation comes into force after 30 January 2021, it will indeed be covered by the market access principles. However, we are confident that the deposit return scheme can be brought into effect in full compliance with the market access principles that we have set out in this legislation.’

January 2023: 

Publication of UKG Response to Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Material Scope:

‘Materials in scope of DRS – England and Northern Ireland: Polyethylene

terephthalate (PET) bottles; steel and aluminium cans.  Materials in scope of DRS – Wales: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles; steel

and aluminium cans; and glass bottles.’

Commencement date: ‘We propose to include in the regulations a commencement date for DRS of 1st October 2025.’

Geographic extent:

Since waste management is a devolved policy area, it is the responsibility of each nation of the UK to decide on the approach to a DRS that fits its policy needs……. Scotland is moving forward with its own DRS delivery. We will continue to work across all four nations on how the schemes interact.

February 2023:

Reply letter of 10 February from HM Treasury to Deputy First Minister

‘Indeed, the Department

for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has consulted twice on the introduction of

equivalent schemes across the rest of the UK with an expected start date of 1 October


March 2023:

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow MP written answer

‘The Deposit Return Scheme will launch in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland from 1 October 2025.’

June 2023:

Correspondence from The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow MP, The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack MP and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, Michael Gove MP to First Minister Humza Yousaf.

‘As you know, the schemes planned for introduction in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are due to rollout from October 2025.’

26 March 2024:

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Barclay MP, will appear before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Statement on DRS commencement date:

‘Given this balance between the benefits of the scheme versus the benefits of having something interoperable, I don’t think 2025 is now realistic, and certainly I don’t think business would view it as a realistic deadline.’

‘It is an issue that is still an ongoing area of discussion within Government, but I suspect, if I was pushed on it, that a 2027 deadline is probably more likely.’

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