The UK's Deposit Return Scheme is set for 2027. What do businesses need to know?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/animaflora
Pic:getty/animaflora

Related tags DRS deposit return scheme

The UK Government plans to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme in October 2027: today confirming a two year delay from the previously set date of 2025. A policy statement outlines the next steps for the scheme - what do beverage businesses need to know?

The idea of introducing a deposit return scheme in the UK has been rumbling on for years: but with uncertainty over its start date, questions over which materials would be included, and different ideas for regulations in Wales and Scotland have plagued the scheme to date.

This morning, the UK government – in a joint policy statement with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Government – commits to its introduction in 2027 and outlines a phased introduction of the scheme with full implementation in 2027.

What is a DRS and why is it coming?

A Deposit Return Scheme puts a deposit on beverage containers when they are purchased. This can then be redeemed when the can or bottle is returned, incentivizing consumers to recycle their containers.

Across the UK, consumers purchase an estimated 31 billion single-use drinks containers each year – 12 billion plastic drinks bottles, 14 billion drinks cans, and 5 billion glass bottles.

The current collection rates are between 70 to 75%, but the ambition is to raise recycling rates to at least 90%: reducing litter and expanding opportunities to collect and reprocess high quality materials.

What happens between now and 2027?

The DRS will be introduced via the following timeline:

  • Phase 1: appointment of all administrations and Deposit Management organisations by Spring 2025
  • Phase 2: set-up of Deposit Management Organisations between Spring 2025 and Spring 2026 (including funding and appointing key delivery partners, procuring IT and logistics partners, and developing a delivery plan and operational blueprint for obligated businesses)
  • Phase 3: roll-out from Spring 2026 to Autumn 2027 (including establishing the necessary infrastructure and retailer activity)
  • October 2027: DRS schemes across the UK become operational

What materials will be covered?

The DRS will cover drinks containers made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), steel, and aluminium cans. The position on glass containers will be set out in separate statements issued by each administration.

The DRS will cover containers from 150ml to 3 liters. Any containers outside this range will be in the scope of the Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging (EPR).

“Setting the minimum level at 150ml will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the returns process from scheme launch, as very small containers can be challenging to label, or may cause issues with reverse vending machines," says the policy statement.

"This will make returns simpler and easier for consumers and support a positive DRS experience. We estimate that only a very small proportion (around 0.5%) of plastic and metal drinks containers sold in the UK are below 150ml.”

'It's only right that the stopwatch starts again in the UK's race to build an effective Deposit Return Scheme!' Businesses welcome move forward

Karen Betts, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation, welcomes the confirmation that the DRS will be part of the UK's plans for a circular economy.

“It’s critical that the UK’s governments now work closely together to ensure the scheme is easy to use and understand, operating under the same rules and with the same labels across the four nations," she said. "A consistent, UK-wide approach is the best way to ensure value for money and to drive up the UK’s disappointing recycling rates.”

Britvic says the DRS brings the UK closer to a truly circular economy. “Britvic has long advocated for an aligned, well-designed deposit return scheme in the UK because we believe it can deliver a truly circular economy, and ensure that great packaging never becomes waste," said Paul Graham, managing director, GB. 

"We encourage everyone to play their part in building on this progress towards a fully interoperable scheme, so that collectively we can finally maximise the environmental benefits of DRS in the UK.”

Dusan Stojankic, Coca-Cola vice-president for GB and Ireland, highlights the need for consistency across the scheme.

"​To make sure DRS is a success, we must have truly interoperable schemes in place across England, Scotland and Wales," he said.

"We call on all parties and governments to work together to ensure that the schemes move forward with pace and with consistency of materials in scope. Having a common approach will ensure we have a best-in class system in place – and is the only way we will improve the circular economy and cut litter."

Ireland's DRS came into effect in February this year.

“The rest of Europe has moved with the times to create a circular economy for drinks containers, so it's only right that the stopwatch starts again in the UK's race to build an effective Deposit Return Scheme," said Carol Robert, Chief Operating Officer, Suntory Beverage & Food Great Britain and Ireland.

"As well as long term benefits such as reduced litter and increased recycling rates, a DRS is also a critical step for businesses, and the UK, to achieve net zero. We’ve seen a positive start for Ireland’s DRS and it is now essential that we work on an interoperable UK-wide approach with detailed, prescriptive and consistent DRS regulations."

While environmental campaigners have been pushing for the DRS to come into place, many businesses had called for a delay to ensure the scheme is set up properly.

Gavin Graveson, senior executive vice president for Veolia Northern Europe Zone welcomes the delay to ensure an effective scheme is put in place. “A deposit return scheme needs to work for the entire UK and fit within the recycling system we already have. This delay shows us that Defra is serious about prioritising the big ticket items that will accelerate the circular economy today, whilst laying the groundwork for future developments."

Sandy Luk, CEO of the Marine Conservation Society, welcomed the 'huge step forward' for the DRS but highlighted her 'huge disappointment that the new scheme isn't going to start for another three years and isn't going to cover glass bottles'

What labels will drinks have to carry?

The DMOs will be responsible for working together to create a logo to be used on all DRS containers across the UK, alongside clarifying the use of an ‘identification marker’ (such as a barcode) that can be scanned when drinks are returned.

How much will the deposit be?

The DMO will determine the deposit amount: which is intended to be aligned across the UK.

“This could be a flat or variable rate (such as based on the size or material of the container) and will be determined by the DMO based on relevant evidence and research.  A common deposit level will make it easier for consumers and businesses participating in the scheme. This will make it as easy as possible to claim back a deposit, and ensures that DRS will look and feel like a single scheme across the UK for consumers. It will also ease the production and distribution costs for businesses and limit the risk of fraud.”

What about small businesses?

Low Volume Products – product lines with less than 5,000 units placed across the UK per annum - will be exempt from specific DRS obligations, such as the requirement to pay fees, apply deposits, and carry DRS labelling.

Producers will have to register product lines with the DMOs as a “Low Volume Product”.

“This exemption is designed to support producers with very specialist or low volume sales products (such as those being sold at a farm shop or market) who would find DRS requirements disproportionately burdensome. Low Volume Products are estimated to make up far less than 0.05% of in-scope drinks sold across the UK each year. Nonetheless, producers of Low Volume Products are encouraged to adopt best practice on their use of drinks containers.”

Will rules be the same across England, Scotland and Wales?

The policy statement emphasizes that DRSs should be ‘as interoperable as possible, whilst meeting the specific needs of each administration and recognizing the devolved nature of waste and recycling policy’.

Deposit management organisations will be separately appointed for the schemes in England and Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and will operate under the relevant legislation in each administration.

That still leaves questions, however, over one of the sticking points of whether glass will be covered by the DRS in Wales.

Ireland launched a deposit return scheme in February 2024,​ which covers single-use drinks containers from 150ml to 3 liters. Consequently, the container sizes covered by the DRS in the UK will be the same to make it easier for businesses and customers who work across the two areas.

Where will return points be?

Supermarkets and convenience stores will be required to act as return points, and must register accordingly.

Other types of organisations that sell in-scope drinks containers including hospitality venues, food to go stores, schools, gyms, sports or recreation centers, community centers, and mobile caterers that sell in-scope drinks containers will be able to apply to host a voluntary return point. 

The joint policy statement can be found in full here.

Related topics Processing & packaging

Related news