The Scottish Government has made no precise calculations of the impact delaying its planned deposit return scheme will have on the environment, Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has said.
MSPs on Holyrood’s Environment Committee have now agreed regulations necessary for the scheme to come into place – with three SNP members voting in favour of these, two Tory MSPs voting against, and the Labour and Green MSPs on the committee both abstaining.
When asked about the impact delaying the start date until July 2022 would have, Ms Cunningham told the committee: “We haven’t made a precise calculation of the difference the 15 months makes in terms of climate change, no.”
She insisted her “heart was set on the earlier date”, with the scheme having originally been expected to come into force from April 2021, but she said she had had to “accept the reality of where we are”.
Campaigners at the Have You Got the Bottle campaign claim the delay could lead to more than 63 million extra cans and bottles being dumped in Scotland’s streets and countryside, as well as a further 60,000 tonnes of additional carbon emissions.
Scottish Government official Don McGillivray said the “driver for the extension of the timescale” was getting the necessary infrastructure in place for people to return empty bottles and cans.
Under the proposals, shoppers will pay a 20p deposit when buying drinks in cans and bottles and this will then be refunded when they return them empty for recycling.
Mr McGillivray said: “If the return point infrastructure isn’t there, isn’t sufficient, then it would have a major effect on the operation of the scheme.”
Green MSP Mark Ruskell criticised ministers for the “glacial” pace of progress they had made on the scheme – which was first announced by Nicola Sturgeon in 2017.
“Some countries have rolled out deposit return schemes within six months,” he said.
“I really feel progress on this has been glacial, to be honest, though maybe that is a bad metaphor given glaciers are melting faster these days.”
But other MSPs questioned why ministers are continuing to push ahead with the plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Conservative Finlay Carson said the lockdown could “change the face of retailing and distribution”, and leave businesses “facing unprecedented uncertainty that is likely to continue for some time in the future”.
He demanded to know where there is “the urgency to push through these measures in the face of such uncertainty”.
Labour’s Claudia Beamish said there are concerns about bringing forward the regulations during the lockdown when many businesses are “struggling, some indeed for their very survival”.
Ms Beamish said: “I am very supportive of the scheme in principle, as are Scottish Labour, and there would in my view still be plenty of time to implement the scheme before July 2022.”
Ms Cunningham said: “I accept and understand why some people might say ‘why are you doing it at the moment’, but we can’t suspend all non-Covid-related business.
“This was one piece of business that was quite far on in terms of where we were with it.”
She said there was no certainty about when “this Covid emergency will be over”, adding that the July 2022 start date gives businesses a “reasonable time” to get the scheme up and running.
The minister added: “The longer we leave it to lay the regulations, the longer we leave that uncertainty hanging in the air, the increasing likelihood is of that July 2022 date slipping away as well.”