Deposit return scheme consultation: analysis of responses

Analysis of reponses to the deposit return scheme for Scotland consultation.

8 Consumer communication and labelling (Q22)

8.1 The consultation paper discussed the importance of consumer information for the success of deposit return schemes, and the role that product labelling might play in that. It outlined the approaches taken in other countries, and some of the issues that might be encountered and need to be addressed. It sought views on the requirement to include information about the DRS on each eligible container, and the treatment of small producers / importers with regard to any labelling requirements. Questions were as follows:

Question 22: Do you agree that producers should be required to put deposit return scheme-related information on each container? [Yes / No / Don’t know]

Question 22a: If yes, should those putting small amounts of material onto the market in Scotland be exempt from this labelling requirement? [Yes / No / Don’t know]

Question 22b: If so, what do you think the limit for this should be?

Question 22c: Rather than be exempt, should small importers be required to put a label with deposit return-related information onto the existing packaging? [Yes / No / Don’t know]

Question 22d: If no, what are your reasons?

8.2 The chapter looks first at the general issue of possible labelling requirements, before looking at the application of requirements to small producers and importers.

Requirement for DRS-related information on containers (Q22)

8.3 Question 22 addressed the issue of whether producers should be required to put DRS-related information on containers, and what the implications of that might be for producers and consumers. This was a closed question with no directly linked follow-up open question. However, respondents often commented on the broad issue of labelling requirements at Questions 22b and 22d, and this material provides the basis for the analysis presented at paragraphs 8.6 to 8.14.

8.4 Table 8.1 shows that there was general consensus among respondents that producers should be required to put DRS-related information on each container – with 93% overall answering ‘yes’. Both organisational and individual respondents favoured this requirement. However, one-quarter (25%) of retailers disagreed with this view and said ‘no’.

Table 8.1: Q22 – Do you agree that producers should be required to put DRS-related information on each container?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 20 91% 1 5% 1 5% 22 100%
Food and drink producers 17 89% 1 5% 1 5% 19 100%
Charities 13 100% 0%  – 0% 13 100%
Retailers 14 70% 5 25% 1 5% 20 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 13 93% 0% 1 7% 14 100%
Packaging manufacturers 15 100% 0%  – 0% 15 100%
Community bodies 6 86% 0% 1 14% 7 100%
Environmental consultancies 7 100% 0%  – 0% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  4 80% 1 20%  – 0% 5 100%
DRS companies 3 100% 0%  – 0% 3 100%
Other organisations 6 86% 0% 1 14% 7 100%
Total organisations 118 89% 8 6% 6 5% 132 100%
Total individuals 1,416 94% 66 4% 30 2% 1,512 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 1,534 93% 74 5% 36 2% 1,644 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

8.5 Comments from respondents covered labelling requirements and label design and each of these issues are covered below.

Labelling requirements

8.6 There was widespread agreement that good information would be crucial to the success of any scheme, but differing views about the role of on-product labelling in any public information campaign. 

8.7 Those who thought that labelling should be required on each container saw this as essential to maximise recycling and / or to ensure the success of the scheme. Most commonly, respondents said that it would provide clear and unambiguous information to consumers and retail / deposit return staff about the inclusion of individual items in the scheme. Occasionally, respondents suggested it would help prevent fraud (see also Chapter 9). This group of respondents generally did not think a labelling requirement would place an unreasonable burden on producers – it was argued that producers already complied with other labelling requirements, and that any new requirement would be accommodated within normal production systems. 

8.8 There was a range of comments suggesting that there should be ‘no exceptions’ that this should be ‘a legal requirement’, and that compliance should be monitored and enforced.  

8.9 Those supporting obligatory labelling of individual containers often said this should be accompanied by other forms of information (e.g. websites, leaflets and posters at relevant locations such as shops and deposit return sites) and shelf labelling. They highlighted the limited space available on labels, the difficulties some people had in reading very small text, and the fact that labels were not always read. Indeed, some saw value in including only very limited information (e.g. a scheme logo and basic information that the container was part of the DRS) as this would not then need to be changed as the scheme itself evolved over time. 

8.10 Some thought that on-product information would be less important if all containers were included in the scheme (as it wouldn’t be necessary to highlight those that were included) and might be phased out over time as people became familiar with the scheme.  

8.11 Those who disagreed with obligatory labelling offered two main reasons:

  • They thought providing on-product information would be impractical and costly for producers / importers, particularly those supplying multiple markets, or only bringing a small volume of products to market. The relatively small Scottish market in global terms was noted. This issue is discussed further at paragraphs 8.20 to 8.23 below.
  • They thought on-product information was not required – the use of other communication channels (e.g. posters, websites, on-shelf labelling) was seen as adequate or even more effective than on-product information. Some said that all that was required on the product itself was a barcode or other marker to allow the container to be processed correctly.

8.12 Respondents also noted a number of other points to qualify or explain their views. These included:

  • The possibility of allowing any requirements to be phased in and / or providing transitional support to producers (particularly small businesses) in meeting any new labelling requirements
  • The challenge of including labelling on very small containers, and multipack containers
  • The difficulty of enforcement given the global nature of food and drink production.

Label design

8.13 Respondents made a number of common points regarding the possible design and content of any labelling. There was, for example, broad agreement on the need for:

  • A simple, easily recognised logo and / or slogan so that DRS containers were easily identifiable, with some suggesting that was all that was required
  • Uniformity and consistency in labelling across all containers
  • Basic and / or minimal information only – respondents did not generally envisage this including information on deposit levels – with more detailed information available from other sources.

8.14 There was a call (from organisations, in particular) for label design and any accompanying information requirements to be consistent across the UK (and, in the longer term, more widely), to minimise commercial costs and maximise consumer understanding. 

Labelling requirements for small producers / importers (Q22a–Q22d)

8.15 Four follow-up questions (Questions 22a to 22d) asked about the treatment of producers / importers who put small amounts of material on to the Scottish market with regard to labelling requirements. Respondents were asked whether small producers should be exempt from any requirement and whether small importers should be able to comply by adding a DRS-label to existing packaging. 

8.16 Table 8.2 shows that there was widespread agreement (among both individuals and organisations) that producers who put small amounts of material onto the Scottish market should not be exempt from this labelling requirement. Overall, 78% indicated that they were opposed to exemptions to this requirement.

Table 8.2: Q22a – If yes, should those putting small amounts of material onto the market in Scotland be exempt from this labelling requirement?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 1 5% 13 65% 6 30% 20 100%
Food and drink producers 3 18% 13 76% 1 6% 17 100%
Charities  – 0% 11 92% 1 8% 12 100%
Retailers   – 0% 10 83% 2 17% 12 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 1 8% 12 92%   – 0% 13 100%
Packaging manufacturers 1 7% 13 87% 1 7% 15 100%
Community bodies 1 17% 4 67% 1 17% 6 100%
Environmental consultancies   – 0% 6 100%   – 0% 6 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade    – 0% 3 75% 1 25% 4 100%
DRS companies   – 0% 2 67% 1 33% 3 100%
Other organisations   – 0% 4 100%   – 0% 4 100%
Total organisations 7 6% 91 81% 14 13% 112 100%
Total individuals 99 7% 1,075 78% 204 15% 1,378 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 106 7% 1,166 78% 218 15% 1,490 100%

The figures shown related only to those respondents who answered ‘yes’ at Question 22.
Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

8.17 There was also general agreement at Question 22c that, rather than exempting small importers, such companies should be required to put a DRS-related label onto their existing packaging. Overall, 87% of respondents answered ‘yes’ to this question (Table 8.3).

Table 8.3: Q22c – Rather than be exempt, should small importers be required to put a label with DRS-related information onto the existing packaging?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 16 80% 1 5% 3 15% 20 100%
Food and drink producers 12 80% 2 13% 1 7% 15 100%
Charities 9 82% 0% 2 18% 11 100%
Retailers 11 92% 0% 1 8% 12 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 8 67% 2 17% 2 17% 12 100%
Packaging manufacturers 11 85% 1 8% 1 8% 13 100%
Community bodies 6 100% 0% –  0% 6 100%
Environmental consultancies 4 80% 1 20% –  0% 5 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  2 50% 0% 2 50% 4 100%
DRS companies 3 100% 0% –  0% 3 100%
Other organisations 3 75% 1 25% –  0% 4 100%
Total organisations 85 81% 8 8% 12 11% 105 100%
Total individuals 1,193 88% 47 3% 117 9% 1,357 100%
Total (organisations and individuals 1,278 87% 55 4% 129 9% 1,462 100%

The figures shown related only to those respondents who answered ‘yes’ at Question 22.

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

8.18 There was a great deal of overlap in the responses at Questions 22b and 22d which asked for further comments on how any labelling requirements might apply to small producers / importers. Respondents also did not always distinguish between small producers and importers in their responses. As such, the responses to these two questions have been analysed and reported on together in the following sections which cover views for and against exemptions from labelling requirements, as well as views on a possible alternative to labelling requirements. 

8.19 It should be noted that there appeared to be a degree of misunderstanding about the questions, with comments from some respondents suggesting that they thought the questions were asking about exemption of small producers from the scheme as a whole, rather than from the labelling requirement. These respondents raised issues about fairness, competition, the need to maximise recycling, the need to minimise ‘loopholes’, and the cumulative effect of excluding multiple small producers. In some cases, the brief nature of the comments provided meant it was not clear how respondents had interpreted these questions. 

View in favour of exemptions from labelling requirements

8.20 Those who favoured exemptions for small producers (whether local or importing to the Scottish market from overseas) were mainly concerned about the impact on small businesses in terms of the cost and practicality of including additional information on packaging. Some specifically noted that this concern applied both to the option of additional labels, and to the option of integrating information into existing packaging (see paragraphs 8.26 to 8.27 below). There was a related concern – expressed by retailers and drinks producers in particular – that, ultimately, the impact on businesses might result in reduced choice for consumers in Scotland. For this reason, some thought the exemption should apply to the scheme as a whole, rather than just the labelling requirement.

8.21 Respondents suggested a range of criteria for establishing a labelling exemption. These included:

  • Type of business / product: start-ups, locally focused community businesses, ‘artisan’ or ‘craft’ producers, ‘exclusive’ products
  • Route to market: those selling straight to customers, those only selling to ‘specialist’ shops (whereas it was suggested that those selling to supermarkets should not be exempt), those selling on an occasional or seasonal basis
  • Level of sales: measured by volume (100 to 100,000 units, 20,000 litres), value (£5,000 to £10,000), market share, or proportion of sales exported to Scotland.

8.22 There was, however, no clear consensus on this issue. Occasionally, respondents suggested this should be discussed and agreed with producers or piloted. There was also a suggestion that the criteria should be in line with that used for PRN.

8.23 Occasionally, respondents argued against compulsion, but suggested that (i) small producers might include information on a voluntary basis and should be encouraged to do so; (ii) small business were sometimes more able than large businesses to respond to new requirements in an innovative way; and (iii) that over time many may choose to comply.

Views opposed to exemptions from labelling requirements

8.24 Those who did not wish small producers / importers to be exempt from labelling requirements emphasised the importance of all eligible containers carrying relevant information. They also argued that all those producing for the Scottish market should comply with all local legislation. In explaining their views further, respondents suggested that not allowing exemptions would:

  • Maximise the success of the scheme by assisting consumer understanding
  • Ensure a simple scheme for all parties – the difficulty of defining a small producer was noted by some
  • Be fair to all producers, and not distort competition
  • Have minimal cost implications for producers
  • Be in line with approaches adopted in schemes elsewhere.

8.25 However, some in this group did acknowledge a need to avoid placing onerous burdens on small producers while also ensuring a successful, comprehensive scheme. 

8.26 By and large, those who commented on the issue thought that the option of additional labels or stickers offered a reasonable cost-effective solution for small importers, with some noting that these should be of consistent design and size, should be non-removable and should not obscure other information on the packaging. Some saw a role for importers, wholesalers, retailers or the scheme administrator (e.g. in producing, supplying or applying labels) if this option were to be available.

8.27 There was, however, some concern about the waste implications of additional labels or stickers, with some voicing a preference for information to be integrated into existing labelling.

An alternative to labelling requirements

8.28 Across both groups (i.e. those in favour of exemptions and those against), there were occasional suggestions that rather than being required to include scheme information on packaging, small producers might pay a levy or fee towards the cost of centrally produced scheme information. (This argument was also made by some respondents with regard to labelling in general, not just in respect of small producers.)


Email: Tim Chant

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