Lorna Slater has insisted that the “onus” is now on the UK Government to make a deposit return (DRS) work after rejecting claims that she cancelled her Scottish-wide policy too hastily.
The Green Circular Economy Minister pushed back the DRS to be implemented as a UK-wide scheme, expected to be introduced in 2025, after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack refused to give an exclusion to the Internal Market Act (IMA) for glass to be included in the policy.
This was despite initial plans for a UK Government DRS including glass.
The Scottish DRS had been delayed three times and was due to be introduced in August of this year.
Speaking at Holyrood’s Net Zero Committee, Ms Slater labelled this a “fatal decision” by the UK Government that made it “impossible to progress” plans for Scotland’s DRS.
The minister stressed that her plans are now “at the mercy” of the UK Government.
She added: “We designed our scheme in good faith that they would be aligned with schemes across the UK when they launched.
“It is wholly disappointing that the International Market Act has been used by the UK Government to undermine this parliament’s ability to introduce a DRS in Scotland.
“This has damaged business confidence in DRS.”
Ms Slater told MSPs that discussions between the Scottish and UK governments have taken place over the summer, but she warned that progress cannot be made without action from the UK Government’s Defra.
She said: “Scottish Government officials have continued to work with their counterparts in the UK, Welsh and North Irish administrations over the summer to develop inter-operatable deposit return schemes, based on the conditions set out by the UK Government’s IMA decision letter.
“While there is positive progress on this, it is important that the UK Government sets out its scheme in regulations to maintain momentum, build business confidence and ensure DRS launches successfully.”
Ms Slater added: “Scotland’s towns, countryside and beaches remain plagued with littered cans and bottles. We need to move away from a throw-away culture and embrace new ways to reduce our waste and emissions, and DRS will help us achieve that.
“It is disappointing that Scotland’s DRS is not launching in 2023, but we will continue to work in support and collaboration to realise the economic and environmental benefits a DRS will bring when it launches across the UK.
“The onus is now on Defra to make a success of DRS.”
A UK Government source has claimed that a solution was put forward by Tory ministers, but that Scottish counterparts at Holyrood "chose to delay" the DRS, adding that it was "a mess entirely of their own making".
The source said: “The Scottish Government did not get round to making a formal application for an Internal Market Act exemption until very late in the day, which is a bit like building a house without planning permission.
“Alister Jack and the UK Government offered a solution which would have rescued the SNP-Greens’ botched scheme, which had met with widespread opposition from business in its original form.
“The offer of a partial exemption for a cans and plastics scheme – minus glass - had the support of Circularity Scotland and business. It was Scottish Government ministers who chose to delay and this is a mess entirely of their own making.”
The Holyrood committee wrote to the UK Government’s Scotland Office about the policy, but was passed to Defra which did not want to appear in front of MSPs.
Committee chairman Edward Mountain has criticised the UK Government for not engaging with Holyrood.
He said: “We are not happy being pushed from one arm of government to another arm of government.
“Unfortunately, the response is not due until September 30.
“I do urge the UK Government to assist us as a committee to understand the reasons behind that.”
Mr Mountain suggested that the Scottish Government had possibly acted too hastily in cancelling a Scotland-only DRS after the intervention by UK ministers.
He asked Ms Slater whether a scheme that excluded glass could have gone ahead.
In response, the Green co-leader said: “It is possible to operate a deposit return scheme in Scotland with cans and plastic bottles.
“It does seem absurd to not include glass. It would not have been as good.”
The minister warned “it was not simply the glass that was the issue when we had to halt our scheme”, adding that there were “two further issues” that prevented a DRS from pressing ahead.
Ms Slater said conditions around labelling and what level the deposit will be set is still to be decided by the UK Government, adding she was “left with no option” but to pull the Scottish Government DRS.
But Mr Mountain pressed Ms Slater over whether a “premature decision” had been made to cancel the Scottish DRS.
He said: “I think most people in Scotland felt there was a benefit from recycling cans and plastic containers.
“Could we, within a year of regulation, come up with a scheme to allow cans and plastic containers to be recycled through a DRS?”
But Ms Slater stressed that UK ministers do “not have a timescale” for setting the labelling requirements and the level of the deposit, adding it “could be as much as two years away”.
She added: “We are now at the mercy of Defra and the UK Government’s timescale and regulations.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: "We welcome the Scottish Parliament's Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee interest in the Scottish Government's paused Deposit Return Scheme - and about how a UK-wide DRS could work in practice.
"We continue to work with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, to develop an approach to making DRSs across the UK interoperable. We will update stakeholders, including the committee, as plans develop.
"The UK Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.
"The Scottish Government paused its DRS so that it starts at the same time as the UK Government’s scheme.
"Schemes need to be interoperable across the whole of the UK, to provide a simple and effective system for businesses and consumers."