Deposit Return Scheme will ‘decimate’ Scotland's smaller waste companies

·4-min read
DRS will ‘decimate’ waste industry
DRS will ‘decimate’ waste industry

The decision to appoint a single contractor to run collections across the whole of Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme will create an "unfair market advantage" and lead to job losses throughout the waste management sector, an industry representative has warned.

Drew Murdoch, chairman of the Resource Management Association Scotland (RMAS), has been joined by Scottish ministers from all parties in urging a rethink on the decision to award the contract to US-owned Biffa, the UK's second-largest waste management company headquartered in High Wycombe, England. They are also calling for the scheme's August launch date to be delayed until DRS programmes in other parts of the UK go live in 2025.

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“While we are fully behind the aims and intentions of the DRS, the proposed scheme is badly flawed," Mr Murdoch said.

"The decision to appoint a single contractor gives an unfair market advantage to one large operator. This goes against assurances we were given by Circularity Scotland and Biffa that opportunities to utilise existing infrastructure and collection services would be fully explored."

READ MORE: Deposit return scheme will alter Scotland's competitive landscape

RMAS represents small and medium-sized firms that make up 95 per cent of the approximately 400 registered waste management companies operating in Scotland. They collectively employ about 6,700 people and generate £1.26 billion in turnover.

"We are faced with the situation that, from August, hospitality businesses currently serviced by multiple operators across the Scottish waste management sector will have no alternative but to accept Biffa’s services for the collection of all qualifying drinks containers," Me Murdoch said.

"This will decimate our industry putting many small waste management companies out of business and lead to significant job losses, particularly within rural and island communities."

HeraldScotland: Drew Murdoch
HeraldScotland: Drew Murdoch

Drew Murdoch (Image: RMAS)

Biffa is investing £80 million upfront into Scotland's controversial DRS, which it says will create 500 jobs through the opening of new processing centres in Motherwell, Aberdeen, Thurso, Inverness, Dundee and Grangemouth to count, sort and bale the containers collected through the scheme. Work has begun on most of these sites, and Biffa has confimred that "several" counting machines have already been delivered.

"We employ more than 10,000 people in the UK, including 300 in Scotland," a spokesman said. "Recruitment is well underway for an additional 500 people to work on DRS, and we're actively engaged with a number of small and medium organisations in Scotland to help us deliver parts of the scheme."

HeraldScotland: Work underway at the Biffa processing facility in Motherwell
HeraldScotland: Work underway at the Biffa processing facility in Motherwell

Work underway at the Biffa processing facility in Motherwell (Image: Biffa)

Biffa was given the DRS contract by Circularity Scotland, which was set up by larger organisations within the drinks manufacturing and retail sectors to administer the scheme.

Many small and medium-sized companies in the drinks, wholesale, hospitality and retail trades have warned that the Scottish DRS is overly-expensive and burdensome. Furthermore, the UK Government has indicated that it may block the troubled scheme, while all three of the SNP contenders to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister have signalled willingness to delay the DRS.

A cross-party group of MSPs including former minister Fergus Ewing, fellow SNP colleague Christine Grahame, Labour’s Claire Baker, Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur, and Conservative Maurice Golden is backing RMAS in calling for a rethink on the single contract approach in addition to adopting "an evidence-based approach" to the launch of the scheme.

READ MORE: Getting a return on all those 20 pence deposits

“The DRS will cause unnecessary upheaval to businesses, especially within this economically challenging environment," Mr Ewing said.

"As well as adversely impacting the wider waste management sector, I share the RMAS concerns that the appointment of a large, single contractor may also be at odds with the Scottish Government’s National Economic Transformation Strategy where the focus is on using existing providers at local level across Scotland to address the threat of climate change.”

Mr Murdoch added: “The Scottish Government has so far missed an opportunity to engage with our sector, but we are still keen to support the design of a more appropriate scheme which optimises existing recycling infrastructure as well as related logistics and collections networks. We now call on the new First Minister to put the brakes on the planned launch once they are elected later this month."