Deposit return scheme consultation: analysis of responses

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

5 Products to include in a DRS (Q7–Q13)

5.1 In addition to giving consideration to the materials to be collected in the DRS, the consultation paper also noted the importance of deciding which types of products and product categories should be included. The paper set out the issues in relation to including or excluding specific product categories (e.g. dairy, alcohol), and it also invited views on whether the scheme should target ‘on the go’ products (i.e. drinks bought and immediately consumed away from the home). There were five questions on these topics:

 Question 7: Do you think the material the container is made from or the product it contains should be the key consideration for deciding the scope of the scheme? [Material the container is made from / Product it contains / Don’t know] Please explain your reasons.

Question 8: Are there any product categories that should be excluded from the scheme? [nine options listed]

Question 9: Are there any product categories that you broadly agree with but think that certain products within them should be excluded? [Yes / No / Don’t know] Please give specific reasons for exempting anything.

Question 10: Are there any other products that broadly fall into the category of ‘drinks’ that we have not included that you think should be?

Question 11: Do you think the deposit return scheme should be limited to ‘on the go’ only? [Yes / No / Don’t know] Please explain why.

Question 11a: Do you agree with how we have defined ‘on the go’?

Scope of scheme – container material or product (Q7)

5.2 Question 7 asked for views about whether ‘the material the container is made from’ or ‘the product it contains’ should be the key consideration for deciding the scope of a DRS in Scotland. This was a closed question and respondents were invited to explain their views. Table 5.1 shows that there was no clear consensus among respondents about whether the key consideration should be the material the container is made from (53%) or the product it contains (43%). Organisations were more likely than individuals to prefer a focus on the material the container is made from (68% of organisations thought this compared to 52% of individuals). However, there were large differences between organisational types. Recycling and waste management organisations (100%) packaging manufacturers (92%), retailers (88%) and public sector organisations (83%) were strongly in favour of a focus on materials while charities (72%) and DRS companies (50%) favoured a focus on products.

Table 5.1: Q7 – Do you think the material the container is made from or the product it contains should be the key consideration for deciding the scope of the scheme?

  Material the container is made from Product it contains Don’t know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 15 83% –  0% 3 17% 18 100%
Food and drink producers 16 73% 4 18% 2 9% 22 100%
Charities 4 22% 13 72% 1 6% 18 100%
Retailers 14 88% 1 6% 1 6% 16 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 12 100%  – 0% 0% 12 100%
Packaging manufacturers 12 92% –  0% 1 8% 13 100%
Community bodies 5 56% 4 44% 0% 9 100%
Environmental consultancies 3 43% 3 43% 1 14% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  4 67% 1 17% 1 17% 6 100%
DRS companies 2 50% 2 50% 0% 4 100%
Other organisations 3 38% 5 63% 0% 8 100%
Total organisations 90 68% 33 25% 10 8% 133 100%
Total individuals 1,008 52% 865 45% 62 3% 1,935 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 1,098 53% 898 43% 72 3% 2,068 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

5.3 This question was addressed by the postcard campaign which called for the DRS to include all drinks. (Respondents in the postcard campaign were advised to choose ‘product it contains’ in response to Question 7.)

5.4 The main issues raised by respondents in their comments on this question are summarised below. There are several aspects to note:

  • Similar points were made by (i) those who indicated that the ‘material’ should be the key consideration, (ii) those who answered ‘don’t know’, and (iii) those who did not reply to the closed part of this question. 
  • Furthermore, those (especially organisations) who indicated that the ‘material’ should be the key consideration often stated explicitly that the material was not the only consideration. Indeed, some in this group argued that both the material and the product had to be considered in deciding on the scope of the scheme. Others argued that the key considerations related to other issues.
  • Those who thought the ‘product’ should be the key consideration were a distinct group, and the reasons given by this group are discussed first below.

The product as key consideration

5.5 Those who thought the ‘product’ should be the key consideration generally believed that the scheme should (and probably would) focus on all drinks containers. This group repeatedly made the point that if the DRS focuses on a subset of the materials used for drinks containers, there is a risk that manufacturers may switch to different materials to avoid being part of the scheme. On the other hand, if all drinks have a deposit – regardless of the material they are sold in – then manufacturers are more likely to use materials that can be easily recovered and recycled. Less often, this group made the following additional points:

  • A scheme focused on ‘products’ (and drinks in particular) would be easier for the public to understand than a scheme targeting certain materials.
  • If the scheme is designed to target drinks containers only, other products could be covered by a reformed EPR system. 

5.6 Finally, some in this group selected ‘product’ as the key consideration because they thought certain products should be excluded from the scheme (milk or milk-based products and alcohol were all mentioned).

The material as the key consideration

5.7 Among those who thought the ‘material’ should be the key consideration in deciding the scope of a DRS, the following points were made:

  • The DRS is part of an environmental policy which aims to increase the consistency, quality and volume of materials captured for recycling, and to reduce the inappropriate disposal of those materials. Thus, the primary consideration should be the material.
  • A focus on ‘material’ would be easier for the public to understand, as the public can easily distinguish between a plastic, metal and glass container.
  • Guidance from the European Commission states that schemes must be designed to avoid distortions in the market. Thus, a DRS which differentiates on the basis of a product could possibly breach EU law by giving an unfair advantage to producers who are exempt from the scheme.[12] It could also create a perception that the government was attempting to influence purchasing decisions for reasons other than reducing littering and increasing recycling rates.

5.8 A recurring view among this group was that, although the ‘material’ should be the key consideration, there may be reasons to exclude certain products from the scheme.

Both material and product are important to consider

5.9 It was relatively common for respondents who thought that the ‘material’ should be the key consideration, to qualify their comments, stating that the ‘product’ was also important. This group argued that the packaging material should be the initial consideration, but that certain products may need to be excluded (i) because their inclusion would make operations more complex and expensive; (ii) because they may introduce contamination, hygiene or vermin issues; or (iii) because their inclusion may undermine other policy initiatives.

Other considerations should be key

5.10 Some respondents challenged the view that either the ‘material’ or the ‘product’ had to be the key consideration in deciding the scope of the DRS. Rather, this group pointed to two other issues that should be considered as priorities: 

  • Clarity for the consumer: Some respondents noted that, to be successful, a DRS would require large-scale behaviour change. Thus, it must be easy for people to understand and participate in. There were repeated calls to make the scheme simple.
  • Cost-benefit: Others argued that the scope of the scheme should be based entirely on a full and robust cost-benefit analysis which takes into account: (i) whether there is a commercially viable end market for the material collected, and (ii) the environmental, social and economic impacts of the range of possible options. This group emphasised the importance of making use of the best available data and research evidence.

5.11 Occasionally, respondents also identified other issues which should be considered in defining the scope of the scheme. These included the size of container, where it is purchased, where it is consumed, and whether it is sold in a multipack or as a single item.

Exclusion of certain product categories (Q8)

5.12 Question 8 asked whether there were any product categories that should be excluded from a DRS in Scotland. The question included a list of nine options, and respondents were invited to tick as many as they wished.

5.13 Just 262 respondents (64 organisations and 198 individuals – or 12% of all respondents) selected one or more categories for exclusion from the DRS. Of these, 14 respondents (3 organisations and 11 individuals) selected all the options (i.e. they suggested that all product categories should be excluded from a DRS). Table 5.2 shows the detailed frequency counts for the exclusions suggested by respondents. The table shows that: 

  • The number of individuals who thought any particular product category should be excluded was low. The figure was approximately 1% for soft drinks; 2% for mixers and bottled water; 3% for fruit / vegetable juice and alcohol products; 4% for spirits and other drinks; and 7% for dairy.
  • As far as organisations were concerned, the numbers who favoured exemptions for soft drinks and bottled water was also low (2% of all organisations). However, the proportions favouring exemptions for mixers and fruit / vegetable juice were around 8%–9%; for alcohol products, 15%–16%; and for dairy, 34%.
  • There were differences among different organisation types. Around four in ten public sector organisations, food and drink producers, and packaging manufacturers; five in ten recycling / waste management organisations; and six in ten retailers wanted dairy products to be excluded from a DRS. (See Annex 4, Table A4.2 for details.)

Table 5.2: Q8 – Are there any product categories that should be excluded from the scheme?

  Organisations Individuals Total
Options n % n % n %
Ready to drink (soft) 3 2% 29 1% 32 1%
Soft mixer products 13 8% 30 1% 43 2%
Bottled water 3 2% 33 2% 36 2%
Fruit and vegetable juice 15 9% 46 2% 61 3%
Dairy 54 34% 90 4% 144 7%
All distilled spirits with ABV > 30% 24 15% 61 3% 85 4%
All fermented alcohol products (i.e. beer, cider and wine) and non-alcoholic versions of the above 25 16% 48 2% 73 3%
All other alcohol not covered by above categories with ABV < 30% 24 15% 48 2% 72 3%
All other drinks that can be purchased to drink on the go 10 6% 72 4% 82 4%
Base 159   2,008   2,167  

Percentages are based on the total number of organisations (159) and individuals (2,008), and total number of respondents (2,167). Note also that respondents were able to select more than one product category.

5.14 The reasons given by respondents for excluding dairy, alcohol, and fruit and vegetable juice from the scheme are discussed below. These reasons were broadly similar across all respondent (and organisation) types and were often (but not always) based on an assumption that a DRS in Scotland would primarily be targeted at on the go products. In relation to alcohol, individual respondents occasionally gave additional reasons to those given by organisations for excluding this product from the scheme.

Reasons for excluding dairy / milk products

5.15 Among those respondents who thought that dairy / milk products should be excluded from the DRS, three concerns were repeatedly raised:

  • Hygiene and contamination issues: Residue in milk / dairy containers would cause hygiene problems and unpleasant odours. This would be a significant problem in certain contexts (retail, NHS, cafes / restaurants). It was noted that containers with dairy residue would have the potential to contaminate other waste streams and affect the value of other recyclates. Some respondents (including those in the retail sector) challenged the statement in the consultation paper that ‘as long as any transport containers are sealed and the material is collected and processed quickly, any hygiene impacts are negligible’. Given Scotland’s geography, these respondents thought it was unlikely that materials could be collected quickly from the extensive network of small convenience stores located in remote rural and island communities.
  • Increased cost of milk: Milk is a staple food. Increasing the cost of milk by placing a deposit on the container could have an adverse impact on families on low incomes, which could then affect the health of children. While some acknowledged that the deposit paid on a container of milk would be able to be reclaimed by the consumer, respondents noted that consumer behaviours are not always ‘economically rational’. Thus, they thought, there was a risk that an increase in the price of milk could result in a decrease in demand.
  • Impacts on farmers: The introduction of a DRS would add costs to the supply chain for producing milk – and these may be passed down to farmers by the milk processors (who would be responsible for paying a charge to the scheme administrator) at a time when the Scottish dairy sector is already under severe price pressure. Some said that if milk was not excluded from the scheme, it could have ‘catastrophic’ effects on the dairy industry.
  • Increased complexity: RVM only accept containers that hold up to three litres. Thus, there would be a requirement for manual take-back of larger milk containers which would increase the complexity of the scheme.

5.16 Some respondents thought that all dairy and dairy alternatives (such as soya and coconut milk, and milk delivered to the doorstep in glass bottles) should be excluded. However, others suggested that products such as smoothies, which are often consumed on the go in smaller-sized bottles, could be included, although the issues with hygiene and contamination would still apply. 

5.17 Those wishing to exclude dairy products from the scheme noted that, if dairy is excluded, the implications of this may mean that HDPE plastics are excluded. However, these respondents noted that milk is generally consumed within the home rather than as an on the go product, and HDPE plastics are already widely recycled in kerbside schemes across Scotland. Thus, HDPE plastics do not make a significant contribution to litter in the environment. Some in this group also noted that dairy is excluded from many deposit return schemes internationally for the reasons discussed above.

Reasons for excluding alcohol products

5.18 Among those who thought alcohol products should be excluded from the scheme, concerns were raised that, if alcohol were included, there would be adverse impacts on:

  • Minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy for alcohol: A DRS which included alcohol products would place a flat deposit on any container of alcohol without regard to the product volume or its alcohol strength. The recent introduction of MUP means that lower strength alcohol drinks (i.e. beer, etc.) are cheaper to buy than high strength products (i.e. spirits). A flat rate deposit will therefore have a proportionally greater effect on the price of low strength drinks and may therefore encourage the consumption of higher strength alcohol products. This would essentially undermine the policy intent of MUP. Some individual respondents also thought that having a deposit on any alcohol product could, in fact, provide a perverse incentive for people to drink more alcohol. In addition, some organisations pointed out that this would also introduce a confounding variable into the ongoing evaluation of MUP in which the Scottish Government has invested substantially.
  • Licensed on-trade businesses: Containers for alcohol sold in on-trade premises such as pubs, restaurants and nightclubs are already recycled to a large extent. Respondents thought that if a deposit was introduced on alcohol containers sold in these premises, the scheme would be difficult to administer due to the high volume of sales. There were also questions about how returned containers would be collected from these businesses, since it would not be possible (for environmental health reasons) for the wholesaler to uplift empty bottles while they were on a delivery round, and there would be significant additional costs if wholesalers had to send out empty vans to collect returned containers.
  • Brewers and other businesses: The increased costs for separate labelling requirements for Scotland was seen as a potential barrier to trade.

5.19 A further concern raised by some individuals (which was not raised by organisations) was that it should be possible for children to actively participate in a DRS in Scotland. Having alcohol included in the scheme would complicate this.

5.20 Respondents who were opposed to alcohol being included in a DRS also argued that, in general, alcohol is not consumed on the go. Indeed, drinking alcohol in public is banned in many parts of Scotland. Most alcohol products are consumed in the home or in licensed premises, and containers (both metal and glass) are recycled through kerbside schemes or other existing recycling arrangements. Respondents argued that these arrangements are effective and alcohol containers do not contribute substantially to litter.

5.21 The point was also made that different alcohol products have different sizes and shapes of packaging (branded whiskies were mentioned) which may prevent them being recycled in an RVM. These respondents emphasised that it would be clearer for consumers if all alcohol products were excluded from the scheme. Otherwise, different arrangements would have to be made to take account of the size and format of alcohol containers. This would add complexity to the scheme, and risk confusing the public.

Reasons for excluding fruit and vegetable juice

5.22 The main reasons given for excluding fruit and vegetable juice from a DRS related to (i) hygiene and the risk of unwashed containers attracting pests in shops and other return locations; (ii) contamination of high-value recyclate; (iii) and the potential for juice containers to cause malfunctioning and breakdown of RVMs.

5.23 Some individual respondents highlighted a public health concern – i.e. the possibility that a deposit on juice containers would lead to decreased purchase of fruit and vegetable juice – thus affecting the ability of some people to achieve their ‘five-a-day’ consumption of fruit and vegetables. However, a counter-argument was that, if the scheme led to a decline in the purchase of juice, people could eat fruit or vegetables instead, which some respondents thought would be a beneficial outcome. The point was also made that products such as diluting juice have a very long shelf life and are consumed in the home over a period of weeks or months, rather than purchased on the go and consumed immediately.

Other views – there should be no product exclusions

5.24 A notable proportion of respondents made comments at Question 8 but did not select any of the product categories listed in the closed part of the question. The most common view expressed by this group (particularly among individuals) was that none of these products should be excluded from a DRS in Scotland. Among organisations, another recurring view was that the scheme should be based on the material a container is made from, rather than the product it contains.

5.25 Some of these respondents conceded that there may be an argument for excluding fresh milk from the scheme. However, if it is excluded, they called for all other milk-based products to be included.

Excluding certain products in larger (included) categories (Q9)

5.26 Question 9 further explored respondents’ views about whether certain types of products should be excluded from a DRS in Scotland. In this case, the question invited comments about excluding certain products that were part of a larger (included) product category. An example of this (mentioned in the consultation paper) was milk, which is part of a much larger category of dairy products.

5.27 A total of 75 respondents (including 15 organisations) indicated that they thought a certain product should be excluded from the scheme, although they thought the larger product category, should be included in the scheme. The reasons given largely reiterated the points made at Question 8 above.

5.28 The most common product identified for exclusion, both by organisations and individuals, was fresh milk – as discussed above at paragraph 5.15. Some respondents explicitly stated that they thought other milk-based drinks (which are often consumed on the go) should be included.

5.29 Respondents seldom suggested any other products in response to this question. Alcohol, cordials, diluting juice, baby formula, bottled water and medications were all mentioned by just two or three respondents.

5.30 Occasionally, there were comments or queries about other issues, including how imported products from small European producers would be dealt with under the scheme – there was concern about the implications (and additional costs) for wholesalers if they are required to unpack, label and re-pack the large quantity of such items that they handle. (This issue is discussed in further detail in Chapter 8 in relation to Question 22.)

Inclusion of other drink-related products (Q10)

5.31 Question 10 asked whether there were any other products (in addition to those listed in the consultation paper) that could be classed as ‘drinks’ and which should be included in the scheme. This was an open question with no initial closed question.

5.32 The most common response to this question, both among organisations and individuals, was ‘no’ or ‘none’. In addition, individuals often said ‘don’t know’. Some organisations reiterated their views that (i) a DRS in Scotland should focus on materials, not products or (ii) the broadest possible range of products should be included so that consumer behaviour is not distorted by the scheme.

5.33 Thus, only a relatively small number of respondents made suggestions in reply to this question, and these frequently referred to materials rather than products (e.g. ‘drinks pouches’, ‘foil pouches’, ‘anything else contained in ‘tetrapacks’, ‘juice cartons with straws’, etc.). These types of suggestions have been discussed in relation to Questions 4 and 5 and are not repeated here.

5.34 The suggestions which specifically related to products which could be classed as ‘drinks’ and should be included in the scheme were (i) non-dairy milk alternatives (including soya, almond, coconut, rice, or oat milk); (ii) soups; (iii) coffee and tea, both hot and iced; and (iv) ice lollies and ice cream. There were also suggestions (mainly among individuals) that (v) baby formula or baby milk and (vi) cough syrup, antacid and other ‘medical’ products should be included. However, these views contrasted with others (discussed above in relation to Question 9) that specifically called for such products to be excluded.

5.35 Some respondents (again, mainly individuals) identified a range of liquid, non-drink foodstuffs which they thought should be included (e.g. cooking oils, vinegar and other condiments, custard, etc.). There were also suggestions to include non-consumable liquid products such as shampoos, soaps, domestic cleaning products, car screen wash, etc. Some individual respondents queried why the question focused only on ‘drinks’. These individuals thought the scheme should include containers and packages of all kinds.

Limiting the DRS to ‘on the go’ products (Q11)

5.36 Question 11 invited views about whether a DRS in Scotland should be limited to ‘on the go’ products only. This was a closed question, and respondents were asked to provide further comments to explain their views. A further follow-up question asked respondents if they agreed with the way the consultation paper had defined ‘on the go’ drinks – i.e. drinks bought and immediately consumed away from the home – for instance small bottles of water and soft drinks.

5.37 Table 5.4 shows that overall, respondents were strongly of the view that the DRS should NOT be limited to ‘on the go’ only – 88% answered ‘no’ in response to this question. Individuals were more likely than organisations to answer ‘no’ (90% vs 61%, respectively). There were substantial differences in the views expressed by different organisational types. Charities (100%), DRS companies (100%), community bodies (89%) and environmental consultancies (86%) were particularly opposed to the scheme being limited to ‘on the go’ only, while a majority of respondents from the hospitality and restaurant trade (67%), recycling and waste management organisations (57%), public sector organisations (55%) and retailers (50%) were in favour of an ‘on the go’ only scheme.

Table 5.4: Q11 – Do you think that the deposit return scheme should be limited to ‘on the go’ only?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 12 55% 9 41% 1 5% 22 100%
Food and drink producers 7 30% 14 61% 2 9% 23 100%
Charities 0% 21 100% 0% 21 100%
Retailers 10 50% 8 40% 2 10% 20 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 8 57% 6 43% 0% 14 100%
Packaging manufacturers 5 33% 6 40% 4 27% 15 100%
Community bodies 0% 8 89% 1 11% 9 100%
Environmental consultancies 1 14% 6 86% 0% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  4 67% 1 17% 1 17% 6 100%
DRS companies 0% 4 100% 0% 4 100%
Other organisations 0% 8 100% 0% 8 100%
Total organisations 47 32% 91 61% 11 7% 149 100%
Total individuals 67 4% 1,721 90% 123 6% 1,911 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 114 6% 1,812 88% 134 7% 2,060 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

5.38 This question was addressed by the postcard campaign which called for the scheme to include ‘all drinks’. Respondents were therefore advised to tick ‘no’ in response to Question 11.

5.39 Respondents gave a range of reasons to explain why they supported or opposed a DRS in Scotland that targeted on the go drinks only. These are summarised below. Those who opposed an on the go focus for the scheme usually wanted the scheme to target all drinks containers (regardless of where the product was consumed). This type of DRS was referred to as an ‘all-in’ scheme. Note that both groups cited published research to support their views, and both also believed that the type of scheme they advocated would cause least confusion for members of the public.

Views in favour of an ‘on the go’ scheme

5.40 Among those who supported an on the go scheme, the following reasons were given:

  • Addresses the main source of litter: A recurring view among this group was that there are currently very low rates of recycling and high rates of littering of on the go containers. By contrast, containers for products consumed in the home have very high rates of recycling. Thus, these respondents thought that a scheme which captured on the go containers would maximise recycling and result in the greatest possible impact. 
  • Greater acceptability and less confusion for consumers and businesses: Some respondents in this group argued that an on the go scheme would minimise the costs and demands on consumers and small businesses. They also considered that an on the go scheme would be more easily understood by consumers – whereas if all types and sizes of drinks containers were in scope, consumers may begin to question why containers of other products (cooking oil, for example) were not in scope when they were of a similar size and made of the same material.
  • Avoids duplicating kerbside collection: This group suggested that Scotland’s kerbside recycling scheme was ‘among the best in the world’, and that an on the go DRS would complement this rather than competing with it. These respondents thought that an all-in scheme would result in the removal of valuable material from local authority kerbside schemes, thus putting such schemes at risk, and targeting resources where they were not needed.

5.41 This group also highlighted a range of other disadvantages of a scheme targeted at all drinks containers, including:

  • Inconvenience for consumers who would have to return a larger volume of containers to specific return points in order to reclaim their deposits, as opposed to having those containers regularly collected from their doorsteps – concerns were expressed specifically about the impacts on people with disabilities, people without private transport, and those who have young children
  • Negative financial impact on local authorities who would lose the most valuable materials from their kerbside schemes
  • Additional costs and space requirements for retailers because of the larger volume of material collected.

5.42 However, some respondents in this group acknowledged that a challenge in targeting on the go drinks containers would be in relation to setting the precise boundaries of the scheme. Some suggested that further research was needed to establish what should and should not be in scope, while others proposed specific definitions (e.g. all PET plastic drinks containers with a volume of less than 750ml, etc.). There were also suggestions that an on the go scheme may need to have some ‘common sense exemptions’ for products not typically consumed on the go (for example, milk or spirits). 

Views opposed to an ‘on the go’ scheme

5.43 Those opposed to an on the go scheme gave the following reasons:

  • Difficulty in defining ‘on the go’: These respondents thought it was not possible to clearly draw a distinction between drinks consumed on the go, and those purchased for home consumption. They noted that there are no on the go schemes in other countries, and thus no existing model for this type of scheme.
  • Efficiency and cost-effectiveness: This group argued that, to be cost-effective, a DRS must maximise the volume of material it collects. The point was made that one of the main outcomes of a DRS will be better and more efficient separation of high-value recyclates than is possible through the existing kerbside scheme. They thought that limiting the scheme solely to on the go drinks containers while allowing some high-quality materials to end up in mixed recycling ‘made no economic sense’, and that the cost of establishing a system which targeted only on the go materials could not be justified.
  • Consumer confusion: These respondents emphasised the importance for the success of the scheme of achieving large-scale behaviour change among the public. They were concerned that an on the go scheme would create complexity and lead to confusion among consumers about which containers were in scope and which were not. It was suggested that this could result in an increase in littering if people take containers to return points and find they are not accepted.
  • Market distortion: Respondents in this group objected to efforts to define on the go drinks according to the size of the container. This group argued that if the scheme only targeted containers of certain sizes, then there was a risk that producers would simply change the sizes of their bottles and cans to avoid being in the scheme as had been seen in other countries (e.g. Germany, The Netherlands). It would also create an unfair price advantage for producers who were outside the scheme compared to those selling similar products who were in the scheme.

5.44 Instead of an on the go focus for a DRS in Scotland, this group called for an ‘all-in’ scheme that would target all drinks containers – of all sizes and materials. They described the benefits of an all-in scheme as:

  • Providing maximum opportunity to recycle and reduce litter
  • Supporting clear and consistent consumer communication
  • Resulting in less confusion among members of the public about what was in scope and what was excluded
  • Leading to significant cost savings for local authorities
  • Ensuring that producers take responsibility for the material they put onto the market.

Defining ‘on the go’

5.45 The consultation paper defined ‘on the go’ drinks as ‘drinks bought and immediately consumed away from the home – for instance small bottles of water and soft drinks’. Respondents were asked if they agreed with this definition.

5.46 The three most common replies to this question, especially among individuals, were: (i) ‘yes’, (ii) ‘no’ and (iii) ‘unsure’, without any further comment or explanation being given.[13] The fourth most common response to this question was that the definition provided was ‘irrelevant’, since a DRS in Scotland should not be limited to on the go drinks. 

5.47 Among those who provided further comment about the definition of ‘on the go’, there were two main groups:

  • Those who thought the definition was unsatisfactory in some way. This included those who disagreed with the definition, and those who said that they agreed with it, but thought it was too vague to provide a basis for a DRS. These respondents were generally opposed to a scheme which was limited to on the go drinks only.
  • Those who broadly agreed with the definition, but nevertheless suggested one or more improvements to it – mainly intended to provide greater precision. These respondents generally supported an on the go drinks scheme.

5.48 The main points made by both these groups are summarised below.

Views that the definition was unsatisfactory in some way

5.49 Among this group, there was a shared view that the distinction which the consultation paper definition was trying to make was an artificial one. They argued that (i) it was impossible to predict how and when people will consume the items they purchase, (ii) there was no limit to the size of a container that someone might purchase and consume on the go, and (iii) some products that are intended to be consumed at home (e.g. multipacks of alcoholic beverages) are frequently consumed outside the home and contribute to litter.

5.50 Thus, among those in this group who agreed with the definition, there were some who nevertheless thought that the definition could not be practically operationalised, or that to operationalise it, it would require further detail.

Views that the definition was broadly correct, but required further specification

5.51 Respondents in this group thought the definition set out in the consultation paper was broadly acceptable, but that to prevent confusion among the public, it should include details of (i) the material and (ii) the size of the container. Some in this group referred to a definition developed by the environmental compliance company, Valpak, which distinguished between ‘on the go’ packaging (i.e. that disposed of in public spaces, streets, stations, airports, etc) and ‘away from home’ packaging (i.e. any packaging disposed of outside of the home). The latter would cover ‘on the go’ packaging and also any packaging disposed of in offices, events, etc. The Valpak definition also proposed a container size criterion.

Issues related to dairy products (Q12 and Q13)

5.52 Question 12 was a two-part question (comprising a closed question and space for comments) asking respondents if they thought that including dairy products in any scheme carried hygiene or related risks above those posed by other products.

5.53 Table 5.5 shows that more than half of all respondents (58%) thought that dairy did not carry additional hygiene or related risks while around one in eight (13%) said they thought there were such risks. However, almost one in three respondents (29%) answered ‘don’t know’. At the same time, there was no clear consensus among organisations in relation to this question – 43% said ‘yes’, 31% said ‘no’ and 26% said ‘don’t know’. There were also notable differences between different types of organisation – a substantial majority of retailers (75%), recycling and waste management organisations (67%) and packaging manufacturers (67%) thought that dairy products carried additional hygiene or related risks, in contrast to the majority of community bodies (86%) and public sector organisations (70%) who disagreed with this view.

Table 5.5: Q12 – Specifically on dairy products, do you think including dairy carries hygiene or related risks above those posed by other products?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 2 10% 14 70% 4 20% 20 100%
Food and drink producers 8 42% 3 16% 8 42% 19 100%
Charities 3 30% 5 50% 2 20% 10 100%
Retailers 12 75% 1 6% 3 19% 16 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 10 67% 1 7% 4 27% 15 100%
Packaging manufacturers 10 67% 1 7% 4 27% 15 100%
Community bodies 1 14% 6 86% 0% 7 100%
Environmental consultancies 2 29% 3 43% 2 29% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  2 33% 1 17% 3 50% 6 100%
DRS companies 1 33% 2 67% 0% 3 100%
Other organisations 2 40% 1 20% 2 40% 5 100%
Total organisations 53 43% 38 31% 32 26% 123 100%
Total individuals 165 11% 897 60% 437 29% 1,499 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 218 13% 469 58% 1,622 29% 1,622 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

5.54 The second part of the question asked respondents to ‘provide evidence’ in support of their answer. For the most part, however, respondents offered general comments and views or anecdotal evidence based on personal or professional experience. The sections below present the views of those who thought that including dairy carries hygiene or related risks above those posed by other products, followed by the views of those who disagreed with this premise.

Views of those who thought that including dairy carried more risks

5.55 Those who thought that including dairy packaging carried more risks than other packaging often made the following points:

  • Dairy – more so than other products – provided an environment in which bacteria thrived. 
  • Dairy residue was more difficult to clean than that of other products, and thus was more likely to be a problem in a DRS (in returned containers and in RVMs where these were used). 
  • Dairy products had a short shelf life and needed to be refrigerated. Any residue in returned containers would therefore quickly ‘go off’.
  • Dairy residue had the potential to attract vermin and insects, thus introducing further health hazards.
  • Including dairy might pose risks to people (DRS staff, retail staff and members of the public) with dairy allergies and intolerances.

5.56 Some respondents did not think the extra risks associated with dairy packaging could be easily mitigated through effective scheme design, and generally favoured the exclusion of dairy from any Scottish scheme.  

5.57 However, among those who thought that dairy carried greater risks than other products (i.e. they ticked ‘yes’ at the tick-box part of Question 12) was a distinct group who believed that this greater risk could be countered in an appropriately designed and run scheme (as suggested in the consultation paper). These respondents drew attention to:

  • The need to educate the public about washing out containers.
  • The fact that dairy containers were already included within kerbside and other recycling schemes, and returnable glass bottles were used in doorstep delivery schemes without any apparent problems.
  • The advice provided by the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS), as cited in the consultation paper (i.e. that the return and storage of such containers did not present any issues which could not be mitigated), and the inclusion of dairy in other schemes.

5.58 These respondents frequently discussed the type of scheme features required to ensure the safe handling of dairy packaging. (See paragraph 5.67.)  

Views of those who did not think including dairy carried more risks

5.59 Those who did not think dairy packaging presented more risks than other types of packaging did not necessarily think that there was ‘no risk’ involved with the inclusion of dairy or any other product but argued that the system would have to be designed to deal with the (minimal) risk presented by all products. This group made similar points to those who thought the greater dairy risk could be mitigated, and these respondents were confident that this could be done successfully.

5.60 Occasionally, respondents noted the role of pasteurisation in minimising the risk posed by dairy, or they argued that bacteria associated with dairy was not particularly harmful.        

Possible exclusion of dairy products

5.61 Question 13 went on to ask if any specific dairy products should be excluded from the proposed system. This was a two-part question: the first part was a tick-box multi-code question asking respondents to select one or more options from a list of seven dairy products for possible exclusion from the scheme, while the second part asked respondents to give reasons for their selection(s).

5.62 The first part of the question was answered by a relatively small number of respondents (a total of 166). Some of the responses suggested that respondents were not always clear how to answer. For example, some respondents selected both ‘all ready to drink milk and other dairy’ and also selected some or all of the individual categories of dairy product offered. 

5.63 For these reasons, the analysis of the closed question is not presented here. The main finding, however, was that only a small minority of respondents overall (7%) said they wanted any dairy products to be excluded from the system. Most commonly, those respondents who did wish to see restrictions on dairy products called for all dairy products to be excluded. Organisations were notably more likely than individuals (26% vs 4%) to want to see all dairy products excluded from the scheme. 

5.64 Comments made at Question 13 are presented below. The views of those who did not select any products for exclusion are presented first, followed by the views of those who selected particular products for exclusion.

5.65 Note that in a substantial proportion of cases, individual respondents simply stated ‘no’, ‘none’ or ‘nothing should be excluded’ or offered similar brief comments to make it clear that they did not want to see any dairy products excluded. These respondents did not provide any further explanation of their views.

Views opposed to excluding dairy products

5.66 In their comments, respondents made the following main points (often restating points made in response to Question 12).

  • It was important that any scheme maximised collection and recycling and this would be achieved by focusing on the material and not the product.
  • Dairy packaging relied heavily on plastic and contributed to the problem of plastic pollution and should therefore be included in any scheme.   
  • Exclusions would complicate the system for both consumers and retailers, and should only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
  • There was no hygiene justification for excluding dairy – the health risks were no more significant than for other products, and / or any health risks could be countered via appropriate scheme design.
  • Excluding dairy (or any other product type) might distort competition and influence consumer choices or, alternatively, might create loopholes which might be exploited by food producers and manufacturers. 

5.67 There was a widespread view that any issues (hygiene, smell, etc.) related to the inclusion of dairy or any other products could be mitigated by (i) educating the public about the importance of washing out containers prior to return (possibly requiring this as a condition of deposit return), and (ii) designing a ‘best practice’ scheme which dealt effectively with the issue (via appropriate storage arrangements, frequent collections, adequate cleaning and sterilising, or including a separate channel for collecting dairy containers).    

5.68 Very occasionally, respondents offered qualified support for the inclusion of dairy, arguing this should happen only if the hygiene issues were resolved, or suggesting that a lower deposit might be considered on this category of products.  

Views in favour of excluding dairy products

5.69 Those who wished to see dairy products excluded from the scheme generally reiterated the hygiene-related concerns noted at Question 12 (above). That is, they thought that dairy packaging carried an increased risk to health because of the increased likelihood of the presence of bacteria and other pathogens; the prevalence of allergies and intolerances; and the risk of attracting vermin and insects. Additionally, they argued that dairy packaging would create an odour and that the handling of such materials would be unpleasant for staff. It was also suggested that these problems would be compounded by warm weather.

5.70 Many of the issues raised by respondents were seen as posing particular problems for (i) small outlets with limited space for safe (i.e. hygienic) storage away from food and pharmacy items and (ii) locations in rural areas or with low turnover where collections might be less frequent.  

5.71 For some, their objection to the inclusion of dairy was linked in part to the expectation that consumers would not wash out containers, or would not clean them sufficiently well, or the view that washing out was not practical if the scheme accepted (or was focused on) on the go products.

5.72 Less often, respondents in this group argued that:

  • Existing schemes in other countries generally excluded dairy; respondents also referred to reported difficulties caused by the inclusion of dairy in some schemes (e.g. residue problems in machines designed to accommodate dairy packaging; the reformulation of products by manufacturers to avoid inclusion in the scheme).
  • Including dairy and mitigating the hygiene risks adequately would make the scheme more complicated and more expensive.

5.73 Within this group, there were some who thought all dairy should be excluded until it was proved that there was no risk to health. There were also suggestions that an alternative to including dairy packaging in a deposit return scheme would be to establish an extended producer responsibility scheme and / or encourage the development and use of less environmentally damaging packaging options (including greater use of reusable glass). 

5.74 Some of those arguing for the exclusion of dairy products did so for reasons other than hygiene. Such respondents noted the following:

  • Dairy products were mainly consumed in the home (rather than on the go), and could, thus, be recycled via kerbside recycling schemes. Indeed, it was pointed out that the recycling rate for dairy packaging through this channel was already high, and that to introduce another option could undermine this.
  • Dairy packaging was not a major contributor to littering.
  • Milk (and to a lesser extent milk products) should be regarded as a basic foodstuff, and treated differently from other products (soft drinks, alcohol etc.). 
  • Any price rise which led to reduced sales could have a significant impact on the dairy industry which operated on very tight margins. 
  • Inclusion of dairy would have an effect throughout the food manufacturing and catering industry, given its widespread use in the supply chain. 
  • Any problems caused by the inclusion of dairy (e.g. for retailers) may attract negative publicity and affect public support for the scheme as a whole.

Specific inclusions or exclusions

5.75 Although most respondents offered general views only, a few respondents focused on particular products in their comments, arguing for or against the inclusion of fresh milk, dairy alternatives, probiotic drinks, tea and coffee, and milk shakes / flavoured milk.


Email: Tim Chant

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