Deposit return scheme consultation: analysis of responses

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

6 Deposit return locations (Q14–Q16)

6.1 As outlined in the consultation paper, the choice of return location (i.e. the place(s) where people can return their containers and reclaim their deposits) will be a key element in any scheme introduced in Scotland. The consultation asked for views about the options for return location, as well as asking about the inclusion or exclusion of different types of retailer in a model based on taking back to a place that sells drinks.  

Question 14: Which option for return location do you prefer? Please choose one and explain your reasons. [Take back to a place that sells drinks / Take back to a designated drop-off point / Mixture of take back and designated drop-off] 

Question 15: In any model involving return to retail, are there any types of retailer that should be excluded? [Yes / No / Don’t know] Please explain your reasons.

Question 16: Do you agree that online retailers should be included in the scheme? [Yes / No / Don’t know]

Question 16a: What provisions do you think should be made to ensure online shopping is included successfully?

Preferred return location, and the possible exclusion of some retailers (Q14 and Q15) 

6.2 Question 14 addressed the issue of respondent return location, with respondents asked to indicate their preference relating to three options: take back to a place that sells drinks; take back to a designated drop-off point; or a combination of the two. A follow-up question (Question 15) asked respondents for views on the exclusion of any types of retailer in any model based on ‘return to retail’.

6.3 Table 6.1 shows that there was no clear consensus on the preferred return location in terms of the options offered – 43% of respondents preferred containers to be taken back to a place that sells drinks and 52% preferred a mixture of take-back and drop-off locations. Individuals were more likely than organisations to prefer containers being taken back to a place that sells drinks (45% compared to 25%) and less likely to prefer a mixture of take-back and drop-off locations (51% compared to 69%). The views of charities differed substantially from other organisations. Almost seven in ten charities (68%) preferred a scheme in which containers would be taken back to a place that sells drinks.

6.4 Note that, while there was no clear preference for one specific option, there was very little support among respondents for a scheme that involved solely a return to a designated drop-off point. By contrast, 95% of respondents wanted the scheme to allow either for a model based on take-back to a place that sells drinks, or a mixture of take-back and designated drop-off.

Table 6.1: Q14 – Which option for return location do you prefer?

  Takeback to place that sells drinks Takeback to designated drop-off Mixture of takeback and drop-off Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 4 18% 1 5% 17 77% 22 100%
Food and drink producers 1 5% 0% 19 95% 20 100%
Charities 13 68% 0% 6 32% 19 100%
Retailers 3 17% 4 22% 11 61% 18 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt. orgs 1 7% 1 7% 13 87% 15 100%
Packaging manufacturers 2 15% 0% 11 85% 13 100%
Community bodies 3 33% 0% 6 67% 9 100%
Environmental consultancies 2 29% 0% 5 71% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  –  0% 2 33% 4 67% 6 100%
DRS companies 2 67% 0% 1 33% 3 100%
Other organisations 4 50% 0% 4 50% 8 100%
Total organisations 35 25% 8 6% 97 69% 140 100%
Total individuals 860 45% 94 5% 977 51% 1,931 100%
Total (organisations and individuals 895 43% 102 5% 1,074 52% 2,071 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

6.5 Question 14 was addressed by the postcard campaign which called for containers to be taken back to a place that sells drinks.

6.6 Table 6.2 shows that six out of ten respondents (60%) said there were no types of retailer that should be excluded, two out of ten respondents that there were some types of retailer that should be excluded (22%) and two out of ten respondents that they didn’t know (18%).

6.7 The pattern of responses for organisations was markedly different to that for individuals. A majority of organisations (55%) thought there were some types of retailer who should be excluded, compared to around one-third who did not (30%). As far as individuals were concerned, the figures were 19% for those who thought some types of retailer should be excluded, compared to 62% who did not. Retailers were particularly likely to think there should be some exemptions (82% said ‘yes’). The hospitality and restaurant trade (67%), charities (64%) and packaging manufacturers (64%) were also more likely than other organisational types to be in favour of some exemptions.

Table 6.2: Q15 – In any model involving return to retail, are there any types of retailer that should be excluded?

  Yes No Don’t know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 13 59% 6 27% 3 14% 22 100%
Food and drink producers 9 45% 9 45% 2 10% 20 100%
Charities 7 64% 2 18% 2 18% 11 100%
Retailers 14 82% 2 12% 1 6% 17 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 6 43% 2 14% 6 43% 14 100%
Packaging manufacturers 9 64% 2 14% 3 21% 14 100%
Community bodies 1 14% 6 86%  – 0% 7 100%
Environmental consultancies 2 33% 3 50% 1 17% 6 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  4 67% 1 17% 1 17% 6 100%
DRS companies 1 33% 2 67%  – 0% 3 100%
Other organisations 3 50% 3 50%  – 0% 6 100%
Total organisations 69 55% 38 30% 19 15% 126 100%
Total individuals 285 19% 939 62% 281 19% 1,505 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 354 22% 977 60% 300 18% 1,631 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

Comments on preferred drop-off locations and retailer exclusions

6.8 Note that the analysis of comments revealed issues with the way the tick-box questions had been answered. In relation to Question 14, many of those who selected ‘take back to a place that sells drinks’ also said in their comments that other drop-off locations should be available (this was suggested by the HYGTB campaign), thus suggesting higher support for a model based on a mixture of ‘take back and drop off’ than is shown in Table 6.1. As far as Question 15 was concerned many of those who said there should be no exemptions went on to propose exempting some retailers and gave reasons why. Thus the 60% figure for ‘no exemptions’ show in Table 6.2 also appears to be an overestimate.


6.9 Both individual and organisational respondents were in general agreement that the most important feature of a DRS – and the determining factor in whether it would be successful in achieving the aims of the scheme – was that it should be ‘easy’, ‘accessible’, ‘simple’ and, ‘convenient’ for consumers. Respondents thought these qualities were best achieved by a system which allowed exclusions for a few key types of location only.

6.10 Paragraphs 6.11 to 6.29 below set out the main issues which respondents discussed, in terms of (i) number and types of drop-off locations that they would like to see included in the DRS, (ii) views in relation to exclusions, and (iii) other relevant issues.

Number and types of drop-off locations

6.11 The predominant view, expressed by most respondents was that as many retail outlets as possible, as well as a range of other designated drop-off locations should be included in the scheme. Respondents argued that ‘good coverage’ of both urban and rural areas was required in order to encourage consumers to develop good habits in relation to recycling. If the system was not convenient for consumers in relation to (i) the accessibility of the locations and (ii) the ease of reclaiming the deposit then it would not be used and the objectives of the scheme would not be achieved.

6.12 As discussed below (paragraph 6.16), respondents generally wanted as many retail outlets as possible to participate in the scheme. In addition, respondents suggested a wide range of places which they thought could operate as ‘designated drop-off locations’. These covered existing waste cycling facilities but also community and social enterprise facilities, shopping centres, offices, parks, transport hubs, recreational centres, schools, churches, car parks, and so on.  

6.13 In discussing the types of drop-off locations they would like to see, respondents focused their comments on (i) the positive aspects of returning items to a ‘local shop’, which would not require an additional journey or access to a car, could easily be incorporated into daily life, and was particularly suited to the return of single items[14] (ii) the positive aspects of a centralised, larger, efficient, well-maintained location with round-the-clock access and infrastructure (including on-site staff) to accept a wide range of types of container and (iii) the importance of having access to both types of drop-off location. 

6.14 A range of respondents (both organisations and individuals) emphasised that the decision about drop-off locations was not one which should be taken by legislators. Rather, it should be for the scheme administrator to decide, since they would have responsibility for the accreditation and maintenance of such locations. A strategy would need to be developed for each area, and decisions would involve considering the distribution of the population, the existing infrastructure, and the potential for ‘shared’ or ‘partnership’ arrangements in certain specific locations so that good coverage could be achieved.  

6.15 The alternative view, expressed only occasionally, was that fewer drop-off locations were required; these respondents (i) highlighted the trade-off between the costs of running the scheme and the number of drop-off locations or (ii) suggested that there were reasons to exclude a wide range of retailers from the scheme or (iii) argued that designated drop-off points only would mean the scheme was better organised and more accepted by the public. 

Views on retailer exclusions from DRS

6.16 As can be seen from Table 6.2, the majority of respondents thought that no retailers should be excluded from a DRS. Respondents who said they were against exclusions of any kind made one or more of the following arguments:

  • It is important to create a ‘level playing field’ which does not result in any ‘market distortion’. This argument was made particularly by retailers.
  • By including ALL retailers, responsibility for the scheme is spread and any (administrative and financial) burden is shared as widely as possible.
  • It is too confusing to have exemptions. Keeping the scheme very simple will help with administration and compliance. 
  • If you make a profit from selling the food and drink included in the scheme, you should contribute to the costs of recycling.
  • Including all retailers is consistent with the principle that ‘the polluter pays’.
  • If extending producer responsibility is the goal, it is unfair to have any exemptions.

6.17 However, other respondents argued that some types of retailer should be excluded from the scheme, and suggested that there were four main groups for which a case might be made: (i) retailers who did not sell food and drink; (ii) ‘small’ retailers (including ‘corner shops’, ‘small convenience stores’, kiosks, food stands, ice cream vans, petrol stations, etc.); (iii) (some) retailers who provide ‘food to go’; and (iv) hospitality premises which sell items covered by the DRS for consumption on the premises. ‘Small retailers’ was the group most commonly mentioned by respondents (especially individual respondents) as meriting exemption. The reasons for each of these exclusions are set out below.

6.18 Individual respondents in particular emphasised that the DRS should only cover those retail businesses which sold the types of food and drink (and the types of containers) covered by the scheme. 

6.19 As far as ‘small’ retailers were concerned, respondents argued that participation in the scheme would be too costly for them to implement, and might place too heavy a burden on these businesses. Specifically, it was argued that a range of ‘small’ retailers:

  • Did not have adequate space in-store either to install an RVM or to operate a manual collection and storage system
  • Would not be able to afford the capital costs of an RVM, and would be unable to afford the staff time and training required to participate in a scheme
  • Would be disadvantaged by the disruption to customers who would have to queue for longer
  • Would find it difficult to arrange the transport back to the central recycling point
  • Would not have the resources to mitigate the health and safety issues arising from staff handling dirty containers.

6.20 While some respondents offered a definition of ‘small’ based on the floor space of the retail outlet, others simply said that a definition would have to be developed and agreed. Organisational respondents sometimes referred specifically to the definition used in Estonia (where outlets with floor space of less than 50 square metres can opt out and those with floor space in the range 50 to 200 square metres can opt out with the local authority’s approval), or used a figure of around 200 square metres. The Association of Convenience Stores suggested a figure of 280 square metres. Occasionally respondents suggested a definition based on turnover or staffing levels.

6.21 Whilst respondents thought this group should be allowed to be exempt from the DRS, they often also said that small retailers should be able to join the scheme on a voluntary basis if they wished. 

6.22 A small number of respondents mentioned the question of ‘footfall’ for these small retailers in the context of the scheme. They argued that small retailers who did not act as DRS return points might experience a drop in business if consumers opted to use retail outlets where they could also return their containers. Some cited evidence for this. 

6.23 As far as retailers who dispense ‘food to go’ were concerned, respondents argued that using the same physical space for both serving food and accepting returns was not compatible with current food hygiene and health and safety regulations. Food handlers should not handle (potentially contaminated) returns, retaining bags of returned containers was a health and safety risk for staff, and customers would not tolerate the smell and generally unpleasant environment that would result. (Note that this exemption was mentioned in the context of small retailers serving fresh food.)  

6.24 As far as hospitality premises were concerned, organisational respondents argued that – in line with other schemes around the world – bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes which sell items for consumption on the premises should be excluded from the DRS. It would be too difficult, and impractical, to run a DRS in these locations as the high volume of sales would create a significant financial and administrative burden. Instead, these venues should simply ‘manage’ the cans and bottles sold through existing recycling systems (referred to by some respondents as ‘closed loop recycling’).

6.25 In addition to the three groups identified above, a small number of organisational respondents said that retail stores in transport hubs (including airports) should be excluded from a DRS. It was thought that it was more appropriate for these types of venues to be covered by (existing) municipal systems. In addition, a case for exclusion was made by just a few respondents in relation to (i) NHS sites because of the increased pressure on NHS waste management services which was not thought to be appropriate (ii) all retail outlets or all small outlets (because backhauling is very challenging and expensive) and (iii) off licences (because children should not be returning bottles there).

Other relevant issues

6.26 A range of both organisational and individual respondents described schemes that were in operation elsewhere, especially in Norway, Germany, Canada, US and Estonia. In general, they said that these schemes worked well. Returns to supermarkets which had efficient machines installed were particularly highlighted as being successful. 

6.27 A range of respondents emphasised that any retail outlet included in the scheme should not be required to take back an item which it did not itself offer for sale. This was mentioned particularly in relation to ‘small retailers’. Respondents also said that retailers (especially small retailers) should be allowed to refuse to accept large quantities of returns, or returns which were in a particularly unhygienic state. 

6.28 There was a strong focus in respondent comments about the particular issues related to rurality and isolation. It was suggested that this should be factored into the handling fee paid by the scheme administrator to retailers in isolated communities. More generally the issues faced in rural settings needed to be explicitly recognised in the scheme design.  

6.29 Respondents also suggested that funding would have to be made available to cover the costs of installing RVM machines (or equivalent) in retail stores; arrangements for drinks sold via vending machines would need to be considered; and that special arrangements would need to be developed for historic sites.

Involvement of online retailers in the scheme (Q16)

6.30 Question 16 focused on whether and how online sales and online retailers might be accommodated within the scheme.

6.31 Table 6.3 shows that a large majority of respondents (76%) agreed that online retailers should be included in the scheme. Less than one in ten (9%) thought that they should not. The remaining 15% said they ‘didn’t know’. Organisations were slightly more likely than individuals (85% vs 75%) to agree that online retailers should be included. Hospitality and restaurant trade respondents, recycling and waste management organisations and retailers were slightly less likely than other organisational respondents to think online retailers should be included. However, even for these groups, over two-thirds were in favour of including online retailers.

Table 6.3: Q16 – Do you agree that online retailers should be included in the scheme?

  Yes No Don't know Total
Respondent type n % n % n % n %
Public sector organisations 19 86% 0% 3 14% 22 100%
Food and drink producers 18 95% 1 5% 0% 19 100%
Charities 17 100% 0% 0% 17 100%
Retailers 10 71% 2 14% 2 14% 14 100%
Recycling / waste mgmt orgs 11 73% 3 20% 1 7% 15 100%
Packaging manufacturers 12 86% 0% 2 14% 14 100%
Community bodies 7 78% 1 11% 1 11% 9 100%
Environmental consultancies 6 86% 0% 1 14% 7 100%
Hospitality and restaurant trade  4 67% 0% 2 33% 6 100%
DRS companies 3 100% 0% 0% 3 100%
Other organisations 7 88% 0% 1 13% 8 100%
Total organisations 114 85% 7 5% 13 10% 134 100%
Total individuals 1,243 75% 155 9% 252 15% 1,650 100%
Total (organisations and individuals) 1,357 76% 162 9% 265 15% 1,784 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

6.32 This question was addressed by the postcard campaign which called for online retailers to accept returns.

6.33 In their comments at Question 16 respondents explained their reasons for agreeing or disagreeing that online retailers should be included in the DRS. They also discussed legal, practical, environmental and social aspects which had a bearing on the way online retailers were – or were not – included in the scheme. These issues are discussed below.

Arguments in favour of including online retailers in a DRS 

6.34 Both individual and organisational respondents set out a wide range of arguments for including online retailers in the scheme. These overlapped substantially with the arguments set out earlier (paragraph 6.16) in favour of not excluding any retailers from a DRS. The main reasons cited were that:

  • The online food and drink business should take responsibility for the waste it produces. This argument was often linked to comments about (i) the high volume of waste produced by the online retail sector (ii) the current lack of an incentive for online retailers to reduce the amount of waste they produce and (iii) there being no distinction in terms of environmental harm between waste produced by an online retailer and waste produced by a high street retailer. 
  • There needs to be a ‘level playing field’ (including regulatory consistency) for the online and high street retail sectors. This argument was often linked to a view that the online sector already enjoyed a range of competitive advantages. Any further special treatment would act as an incentive to shop online and thereby exacerbate these differences and contribute to a diminution of the high street retail sector.
  • Online sales of food and drink are growing rapidly. Excluding online retailers would mean excluding a large – and growing – share of the food and drink market and would therefore reduce the overall benefits of the DRS substantially.
  • Many consumers shop online because they can’t get to the shops for social and economic reasons (e.g. disability, time pressures, lack of transport); these consumers need to be able to access the DRS.
  • It would be both confusing and inconvenient for consumers if online retailers were outside the scheme. 
  • Other countries (Norway and Germany were often specifically mentioned) have already successfully introduced a DRS for online retail, so there is no reason why this should not also be possible in Scotland. Indeed, online retailers in Scotland are already included in the requirement to charge for single use plastic bags.

6.35 In addition, a range of respondents said that online retailers should be included in the DRS if this ‘could be made to work’. Suggestions about this are discussed further below. 

Arguments for not including online retailers in a DRS

6.36 In general, those who said either that online retailers should not be included in a DRS or that they ‘didn’t know’ whether they should be were unclear how such a scheme would work. These respondents (i) did not think it was realistic or practical for consumers to return their empty containers to an online retailer or (ii) suggested that empty containers could be returned to a designated drop-off point or high street retail outlet (which for them meant that the online retailers were outwith the DRS). 

6.37 In addition, occasionally, respondents made each of the following arguments:

  • The inclusion of online retailers was ‘too complex’ and so ‘people wouldn’t do it’. Moreover, it would ‘greatly complicate the supply chain’ (e.g. it would be difficult to determine the take-back arrangements for businesses such as UberEats). 
  • The inclusion of online retailers would introduce hygiene and food safety risks (because of the need to use the same vehicles to both deliver fresh food and collect empty – contaminated – containers).
  • The inclusion of online retailers did not make financial sense, and would not be viable, as the costs of returning products would be too high and was not environmentally sustainable.
  • There was no need for online retailers to be included if the DRS was restricted to ‘on the go’ foods only. 
  • There was no need for online retailers to be included if there were sufficient coverage in terms of participating retail outlets and designated drop-off points. 
  • Online retailers could participate on a voluntary basis in the first instance and / or should not be required to be part of the initial scheme but might be added in later.

Provisions for a DRS involving online retailers

6.38 Both organisational and individual respondents raised a wide range of issues for consideration in relation to a DRS involving online retailers. In general, respondents focused on questions about what kind of returns system would work in the context of online retailers. However, other aspects were also raised, as discussed below.

6.39 It should be noted that it was common for individual respondents to say that they ‘didn’t know’, had ‘no idea’, were ‘not sure’ or ‘could not comment’ on what provisions should be made for online shopping to ensure its successful inclusion in the scheme. These issues were thought to be for others (in particular the scheme administrator) to address. In addition, there was a widespread view among individual respondents that returning empty containers to an online retailer ‘would not work’. These views are discussed further in paragraph 6.51 below.

6.40 As far as how the scheme for online retailers could best be arranged, the main suggestions were that:

  • Empty containers should be returned via online delivery vans. (This was the suggestion offered in the HYGTB campaign text.) 
  • Empty containers should be returned to existing (i) high street retailers (ii) designated drop-off points or (iii) a combination of both.
  • Online retailers should develop partnerships with ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers to arrange for a system of returns and / or fund new / additional drop-off points.
  • Empty containers should be posted back to the online retailer.

6.41 Note that the suggestions covered both systems which involved returning the item(s) to the online retailer from whom they were purchased and systems which did not.

6.42 The main issues discussed by respondents in relation to these suggestions covered (i) the importance of developing a system for online returns which was suitable for those unable to go to the shops (ii) the practical and financial challenges of returning empty containers via online delivery vans (iii) considerations in relation to using the existing recycling infrastructure (iv) differentiating the arrangements for online retailers who also have a presence in the high street from those who do not (v) how to organise a system which involves empty containers being posted back to the online retailer and (vi) what measures would need to be put in place to dissuade consumers from using existing kerbside recycling options for products purchased online. 

6.43 In all scenarios, respondents emphasised that however the scheme was designed, consumers would have to be able to get their deposit back quickly and efficiently. 

6.44 Both individual and organisational respondents highlighted the importance of any system developed for the return of online purchases being suitable for those consumers who buy products online. Online purchasers are often unable to get to the shops themselves (because of disability, lack of transport, lack of time etc.), and returning items via online delivery vans was therefore the best solution for them.

6.45 Both individual and organisational respondents recognised the practical and financial challenges of returning empty containers via online delivery vans. These included (i) the hygiene and food safety related issues of combining the delivery of fresh food with the collection of waste and the potential costs associated with acquiring and fitting new vehicles for this purpose (ii) ensuring that there was enough space in the delivery vans to collect empty containers (iii) developing a fair system in relation to how much waste / how many returns a consumer is allowed to make and the extent to which a particular online retailer has to collect empty containers of a kind it does not sell (iv) ensuring that the quality of the returned items was adequate (v) keeping handling times and the associated disruption to a minimum and (vi) providing alternative arrangements for consumers who are not at home when their online delivery arrives.

6.46 Organisational respondents particularly highlighted the potential need to review existing regulations (e.g. Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations 2011).[15]

6.47 As far as using the existing recycling infrastructure was concerned, respondents focused on the importance of ensuring that online retailers paid their ‘fair share’ in relation to the use and maintenance of these locations. 

6.48 Respondents often commented that the scheme requirements were different depending on whether or not the online retailer had a ‘bricks and mortar’ presence. There was support for the idea of online retailers with no physical infrastructure (i) building partnerships with retailers who had an outlet or simply (ii) paying a handling fee to existing outlets for accepting their returns. Whichever option was chosen, the financial arrangements for any such agreement would need to be fair. 

6.49 A small number of respondents – mostly individuals – discussed issues related to posting empty containers back to online retailers. These respondents suggested that return labels, a free return postage bag and free uplift should all form part of the DRS

6.50 Finally, a few of respondents discussed how to dissuade consumers from using existing kerbside recycling for these returns. It was suggested that removing more valuable material from kerbside recycling might not make economic sense without financial investment (e.g. online retailers might need to be paid a higher handling fee).

6.51 Those who were unsure how a system including online retailers would work raised the following points:

  • It was not feasible or practical or cost effective to return items to online retailers; in particular, installing RVMs in delivery vehicles was not realistic.
  • Increasing the number of couriers who collect empty containers would increase the carbon footprint of the DRS and should be avoided.
  • A different system would be required for one-off rather than regular online purchases.

6.52 A range of other issues were raised by respondents covering (i) the importance of online retailers advertising details of the scheme on their website (so that consumers would be informed about how they were involved with recycling) (ii) the development of a compulsory registration scheme (backed up by legislation) with rigorous compliance monitoring and powers to fine or stop a non-compliant online retailer from trading (iii) the need for any DRS to cover imported items or items from an online retailer based outwith Scotland and (iv) the imposition of a ‘tax’ on any retailers who did not join the DRS.


Email: Tim Chant

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