Deposit Return Scheme to Steal the Character of Scottish Wine Shops

Natalie explains how Scotland’s new Deposit Return Scheme will impact independent bottle shops.

For the majority of us, the early months of the year are noted by many New Year’s resolutions and fresh spurs of positivity. But as a result of the ongoing revelations of the effectiveness of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, this atmosphere is certainly more muted across the beverage industry. What initially appeared as a great step towards the large-scale increase in public recycling is, in practice, entangled with logistical and financial errors. At worst an inconvenience to the large supermarket retailers, the scheme manifests as a catastrophic reality for smaller retailers like our very own St Andrews Wine Company.



In theory, this effort to boost recycling isn’t entirely ridiculous. The scheme works by having consumers pay an extra 20p per single-use glass bottle. This 20p deposit is then released to the customer on the return of the bottle to one of many returning locations. Frustratingly, regardless of the good intentions, errors swiftly arise when regulations are placed. With the scheme coming into full effect on 16th August 2023, every bottle will be required to display a mandatory barcode in an effort to prevent fraudulent returns.



Now, I must admit that I was entirely oblivious to these new regulations until a recent encounter at St Andrews Wine Company. Having flittered around the store going back and forth on which wine I fancied treating myself to that weekend, I picked a bottle of my favourite Alsatian Gewurztraminer. At the desk, Peter Wood (Wine Co’s owner) broke the news that this very bottle would be illegal to sell by mid-August. It wasn’t just my Alsatian wine at risk, many bottles on many shelves too were to be prohibited unless they could somehow swiftly orchestrate changes on their label. Whilst the consensus among these smaller producers is that the barriers of the Scottish market are making their involvement less and less financially viable, even those who might want to comply and apply for their barcode would likely fail. The deadline provided by the government to register their wines’ barcodes to the scheme does not accommodate the many weeks of delay (the logistical remains of the pandemic) for unique barcodes to be prepared which, at least to my mind, is absolutely shocking.

Given the horrendous impact of this scheme on small businesses, you would thinkthat this would have been a greater discussion previously. Well, without any consultation with the beverage trade, the DRS was conveniently processed in March 2020 whilst public attention was very much focused on the pandemic. Further digging doesn’t provide much reassurance as the proponent of the scheme has since rescinded his faith in its efficacy, the recycling bodies have calculated the huge cost of implementing the scheme, and independent shops are having to reconsider their ethos of supporting unique wineries in favour of conforming to tight restrictions.

Whether or not you care about this scheme and its impacts, get out there and support your local bottle shops because they certainly don’t have the same excitement for the year ahead.




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