AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says Lorna Slater’s bottle return project should not be binned, but must be made fit for purpose
One has to feel some sympathy for the beleaguered Circularity minister Lorna Slater who has widespread support for trying to clean up our streets and hedgerows. However, she is getting pelters from all sides, even her partners in government, over her flagship recycling project. The latest interventions by the SNP leadership candidates mean her plans are as good as a trashed beer can.
As a sign of withering faith in her deposit return scheme, few of the governing party’s MSPs bothered to show up during last week’s debate in parliament where the minister was left to look like a defiant General Custer, mounting a lone defence of a project that is good in principle but lacks proper process. Everyone would like it to work, few believe it will.
Whoever wins the SNP leadership race will demand it is reviewed and that could mean a further delay. It may even have to await the launch of a UK-wide scheme in 2025 if it does not get an exemption under the Internal Markets Act as it is currently creating a trade barrier within the UK. Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary wants the scheme put on hold.
Ms Slater’s well-intentioned plan pays insufficient heed to operability or its consequences and has suffered further from the addition of last-minute amendments that are not fully explained. It further erodes the Scottish government’s reputation for good management or, as SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes acknowledges, competent government.
Instead of ushering in the scheme on 16 August, Ms Slater may be advised to look at what Edinburgh Fringe shows she might attend to fill her time as she and her Green party colleagues could find themselves binned from ministerial office if this is not sorted out.
We’re constantly told that other countries operate similar recycling schemes successfully, but the minister has failed to acknowledge that there are significant differences. For a start, most did not have well-entrenched kerb recycling operations which are now a routine that most of us in the UK have got into the habit of using.
The new scheme is saddled with huge costs to providers, operators and customers. Alister Jack points out that the 20p returnable deposit on each item will add £2.40 to a 12-pack of bottles which, at the very least, makes it inflationary if the money is not retrieved.
If Ms Slater and her chums in government really had listened to those expected to operate the DRS they would have told her there were cheaper and easier alternatives to the DRS, such as the one proposed by Innis & Gunn founder Dougal Sharp.
He proposes the addition of 1 or 2 pence per item at the tills for all bottles, cans and jars similar to the successful carrier bag charge. The money generated could then be invested in the most ambitious kerbside recycling initiative in the world. Too simple? Well, it’s got a lot of support on social media.
There is general agreement that action is needed to sort out the growing litter problem. We could, of course, employ more litter pickers and enforce penalties for dropping litter.
The government says the providers and consumers should take responsibility rather than rely on others to pick up the mess, and many companies have already spent considerable sums in equipment, systems, labelling, and so on in readiness for the DRS. For that reason alone we have to go ahead with it in some form and at some point, or there will be a backlash of a different kind.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business