In a recent discussion with my colleague Kate Hopper in our CPG team over some of the legislation and political shenanigans that are impacting her clients in the consumer goods and FMCG space, one of my personal policy favourites ended up dominating: deposit return schemes.
Specifically, how the different nations of the United Kingdom were working in siloes, what is included, who’s responsible, when will they start, the considerable lack of recycling infrastructure to deal with what would hopefully be much higher volumes of recyclate…. and how Scotland has delayed their launch despite the support of the soft drinks sector.
Kate asked what we thought would happen. The response was simple: nothing. The (recyclable, which would have a deposit in most European countries and some US states) can will be kicked down the road. Come yesterday, this happened; a delay until October 2025 at the earliest.
Why did this happen?
While flawed, a scheme was ready. It just needed the nod from the UK Government due to a quirk of the UK Internal Market Act. But politics plays a role here.
The UK Government claims they want everyone to start at once with one scheme. This may be simpler for the consumer; certainly slower for the environment. So, how can they achieve this? By hitting the economics of the distinct Scottish scheme, with a political manoeuvre.
The Scottish model of DRS only works financially if glass is included. Generally speaking, that means bringing alcohol into it. No glass inevitably means more costs for retailers and soft drinks manufacturers, which could subsequently push up food inflation.
The UK model (which technically is an England model as Wales and Northern Ireland are also designing their own approach), does not have glass included – and is yet to be fully costed.
Scotland could have resisted but, in the current world of their politics, there is no political capital to spare. Circularity and reusability were key policy elements of the SNP/Scottish Greens deal – now they are forced to wait on a UK Government and an English model to see what can be delivered.
The UK Government has played a policy game. It targeted an opponent with limited political capital to spare, with a small line in a decision. It won. The SNP and Green coalition could not even enter the battle, even on something it has as a central element of its policy programme.
Understanding the games that are afoot, the stakeholders, the players, and the detail really matter.
As the delays and denials over DRS for Scotland demonstrate, in a time when consumer goods and FMCG are political footballs across nations and Governments – policy and political understanding are essential.