Re-turn scheme creating chaos for border county shop owners as cans and bottles 'cheaper' in NI

The Irish Government's deposit return scheme is causing chaos for shop owners, and smaller outlets are suffering the most, according to the body representing fuel retailers in Ireland.

The Irish Petrol Retailers Association (IPRA) has lodged a complaint about the Re-turn scheme with the European Commission, alleging that it breaches EU competition law.

However, it has also outlined a range of other concerns and told the Irish Mirror that the scheme is having a devastating impact on some Irish shops and fuel stations.

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"We believe this scheme is designed to hit smaller independent retailers the most," said a spokeswoman for the IPRA, who also criticised a lack of information about the company behind Re-turn.

The IPRA says retailers in border counties have also been badly affected since the introduction of the scheme, as the deposit has made beverages in plastic bottles and cans cheaper in Northern Ireland, and many customers are choosing to avoid interacting with Re-turn altogether.

A number of "big price increases" on all soft drinks has also eroded profit margins across the board by up to five percent, while the expense of getting Re-turn machines and providing additional staff hours to run the scheme is also hitting retailers in the pocket.

They feel there is no alternative, however, according to the IPRA spokeswoman, because "opting out means you are required to direct your customers to your competitor" for returning containers.

Retailers have also lost the option of importing certain beverages from elsewhere in the EU, which forms part of the IPRA's complaint to the European Commission.

The only way these can be sold is for special stickers to be manually added to each item, which requires extra staff hours and cannot be done in the case of multipacks.

In relation to the IPRA's complaint, a spokesman for Re-turn said: "Alongside Ireland, there are currently 14 other EU countries operating Deposit Return Schemes, with five more to be implemented by 2025 (Portugal, Hungary, Austria, Cyprus, Poland).

Re-turn is fully compliant with EU guidelines and has not been contacted regarding alleged breaches of EU competition law."

Separately, the IPRA spokeswoman told the Irish Mirror: "Lots [of retailers] are having issues that children and others don't realise about the additional deposit charge and then don't have enough money when they get to the till."

She said there were many unanswered questions surrounding the company that has been set up to operate the Re-turn scheme, which is called Deposit Return Scheme Ireland Limited and its board is dominated by representatives of the beverage industry.

The IPRA is also seeking to establish how many vehicles were added to the roads to run the recycling scheme. "What fuels are they running on and what are the emissions like, given the number of pick-up points now added around the country alongside already running recycling trucks?" the spokeswoman asked.

She also echoed questions asked this week by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore by asking about salaries being paid by the company to its executives or directors.

"Is this where it is envisaged that the unclaimed deposits will go, as this has not been specified in any details yet?What are the directors' salaries and expenses, and will these be published annually? Who approves them? The Government?"

The spokeswoman said the IPRA is currently collating more information to support its complaint to the European Commission's competition regulator. "We needed to see the impact of the scheme before we could start to gather this," she explained.

"The IPRA is not against the creation of a circular economy but [we] believe the running, impacts and achievements of the scheme need to be monitored closely."

Re-turn's spokesman said: "DRSI CLG, a new company limited by guarantee, was established by beverage producers and retailers to fulfil their obligations under the Separate Collection (Deposit Return Scheme) Regulations 2021."

"Deposit Return Scheme Ireland (DRSI) CLG is a not-for-profit organisation trading as Re-turn, which Minister Ossian Smyth appointed in July 2022.

"The Deposit Return Scheme brings together all parties involved in the manufacture, selling and consumption of beverages and has proved successful internationally in increasing collection rates," he added.

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