Publication - Consultation paper

Deposit return scheme for Scotland: summary

Summary of the Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland consultation paper.

Deposit return scheme for Scotland: summary
Why are we introducing a Deposit Return System in Scotland?

Why are we introducing a Deposit Return System in Scotland?

Our ambition is to create in Scotland a society that values the materials that we use, and throws away as little as possible. This will create a variety of opportunities, from making goods that last longer and are ready to be upgraded and repaired, to reducing our need for raw materials and helping us get smarter at recycling. This is called the Circular Economy and is about the environment, the economy, and people. We think that a deposit return system will:

  • Improve the quantity and quality of materials available for recycling
  • Help improve the environment
  • Help change our behaviours and approaches to materials
  • Provide economic opportunities for Scotland

Quantity and Quality of Materials

More than two billion drinks are sold in Scotland in single-use containers every year. The recycling rates for drinks containers are not as high as we would like, estimated at around 50% depending on the container. Other systems in Europe are achieving recycling rates of up to 95%. By providing an incentive for people to return their containers, we will ensure that they are recycled, becoming a high value resource rather than being lost through landfill or littering.

This value of recycling is reduced through 'contamination', in other words by materials of lower value being mixed with more valuable ones. Deposit return schemes offer a good opportunity to minimise contamination and maximise the value of the collected material. This is because items will only be accepted into the system if they are the right kind of material.


There are significant environmental benefits to a more circular economy: from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, relieving pressure on water resources, virgin materials and habitats, and limiting pollution of air, soils and watercourses. The Strategic Environmental Assessment accompanying this document suggests that over the next 25 years a deposit return scheme could save between 2.7 and 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Changing Behaviours

Drinks containers are very visible litter. As we are becoming increasingly aware, plastic bottles are particularly problematic in our rivers and seas, potentially causing harm around the world. This is not to say that glass and metal items are not a problem when littered. Broken glass and damaged cans can be a danger to people and animals. And, of course, items that are littered reduce the attractiveness of local communities and represent resources lost to the economy. We hope to encourage people who would otherwise be careless with their cans and bottles to return them for recycling.

The Economic Opportunity of Deposit Return

The Scottish Government is committed to reducing the local and global environmental impact of our economy. Our actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve the efficiency of how we use materials in our economy are essential to ensuring that economic growth is sustainable and that our children and their children can enjoy the benefits that economic growth can bring. All countries face these challenges and the successful ones in the 21st century will be those which can develop the solutions to doing more with less.

There is a growing body of evidence on the scale of the economic opportunity from a more circular economy. Analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey suggests there could be a trillion dollar opportunity globally.

Product manufacturers who would like to increase the level of recycled content in their goods can sometimes feel constrained when there is uncertainty over the availability of recycled material for them to use. By introducing a deposit return scheme, Scotland will create a new secure resource of high quality material.

Also, we know that a key challenge to developing the infrastructure to reprocess material in Scotland is the need to obtain a secure supply of material to use. A deposit return scheme administrator in Scotland is likely to have significant amounts of high quality material which it can make available to the reprocessing industry.

Material reprocessing and its subsequent reuse offer the possibility to create a wide range of employment opportunities. There will be a requirement for drivers and plant operatives, but also managers, sales people, scientists, engineers and designers. The opportunities will be created at all ends of the skills distribution, from entry level through to post-graduate, in the case of some aspects of research and development.

A coherent system

While Scotland has devolved power over environmental issues, we also recognise that many manufacturers and retailers that operate here are part of United Kingdom ( UK)-wide supply chains. Also, the current producer responsibility scheme operates across the UK. Producer responsibility is about making sure businesses that manufacture, import and sell certain products are responsible for their environmental impact at the end of their life.

The Scottish Government is working with the other administrations across the UK to explore how deposit return and producer responsibility schemes can form a coherent system that incentivises recycling and ensures producers and retailers take responsibility for the materials and products they put onto the market. As part of that, the Scottish Government is open to exploring whether the schemes should be co-ordinated across the UK or whether certain features of them should operate on a UK-wide basis.