The UK’s long-discussed deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage packaging has been delayed to 2027 as the government prepares a single rollout across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The scheme is expected to be operational by October 2027, nine years after originally promised by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The DRS will apply to PET plastic, steel and aluminium drinks containers. Glass containers will be excluded, except for in Wales.

A deposit management organisation (DMO) will be created this spring to handle the DRS. The DMO will run the scheme on “behalf of industry in each administration”.

A similar management organisation was established in Scotland – Circularity Scotland – but went into administration after the UK government postponed the launch of the Scottish DRS scheme in favour of the incoming UK-wide programme.

The UK’s 2027 date has been welcomed by industry but many note collaborative work will be required to make it function and that it should have a consistency in materials processed.

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Food and Drink Federation CEO Karen Betts said: “It’s critical that the UK’s governments now work closely together to ensure the scheme is easy to use and understand, operating under the same rules and with the same labels across the four nations.”

The inclusion of glass in Wales and its exclusion from the rest of the UK means the scheme will not include the same materials across borders.  

“A unified and consistent scheme is critical and it’s disappointing that the Welsh Government continues to be an outlier in calling for the inclusion of glass within scope,” a joint statement from the British Soft Drinks Association and Natural Source Waters Association outlined.

“A lack of alignment in this area would create different market conditions within Great Britain, which, in turn, would confuse consumers and impede efforts to achieve the high collections rates of PET and aluminium beverage containers necessary to fuel the circular economy for beverage packaging,” it added as it urged the Welsh government to reconsider its approach to the scheme.

The Welsh government defended its position on glass, saying Wales’s “baseline and landscape is different to our UK counterparts”.

In a statement today Huw Irranca-Davies MS, Cabinet Secretary for climate change and rural affairs, said: “The evidence on glass is clear. With over 50 successful international examples of DRSs where the overwhelming majority include glass as standard.

“Not only should Wales not have to settle for less than the international best practice standard, but it is essential if we are to continue to make progress against our baseline and ensure the scheme will be effective in supporting the transition to net zero.”

The Society of Independent Brewers and Associates chairperson Richard Naisby has called out the “political failure” of the UK government to implement one scheme across all of the UK, stating that it will create barriers for small breweries to trade and increase their costs.

“While much progress has been made across the four nations to align the schemes including a de minimis for low volume products, today’s announcement means that small businesses in Wales will be penalised by the political failure to agree the same materials, with Wales the only nation to include glass,” Naisby said.