Coca-Cola bottlers call for ‘five nation approach’ to DRS

Coca-Cola Pacific Partners, the main bottling franchise for the Coca-Cola Company, has called for a “five nation approach” to the UK’s deposit return scheme (DRS) amid concerns over how different systems would work together.

DRS
A Coca-Cola DRS scheme at a Merlin Entertainments site

All four UK nations have announced that they will introduce a DRS for beverage containers by 2025, with the Scottish scheme set to launch next year.

Scotland and Wales will include aluminium, glass, plastic and steel containers in their DRS systems, but England and Northern Ireland will exclude glass.

Julian Hunt is Coca-Cola Euro Pacific Partners’ vice president for public affairs, communications and sustainability in Great Britain, Norway and Sweden. He said he was “kept awake at night” by the potential of the UK ending up with four different schemes.

This, he said, would lead to “suboptimal” outcomes for the environment, businesses and consumers.

Mr Hunt also suggested Northern Ireland would want its DRS aligned with the Republic of Ireland, leading to the need for a “five nation approach”.

“It is a devolved matter. It needs five governments to work together to get a similar approach that works for all stakeholders to get the right outcomes for the environment,” he said.

“We’ve seen there’s been a lot of upheaval in Westminster and I think that has been the really worrying development, because we’ve had a lot of delays to the clarity we’ve been seeking.”

DRS

Mr Hunt was speaking on 20 September at an event on “powering the successful implementation” of the DRS at One Aldwych in London, organised by data standards organisation GS1 UK.

(l-r) Anne Godfrey, GS1 UK; John Kane, Booker; Julian Hunt, Coca-Cola Euro Pacific Partners; and Howard Davies, Welsh Government

The other speakers on a panel chaired by Anne Godfrey, GS1 UK’s CEO, were John Kane, director of programme management at food wholesaler Booker, and Howard Davies, plastic policy manager at the Welsh Government.

At the event, one source told letsrecycle.com that the new government under Prime Minister Liz Truss will not scrap the DRS, though it may do away with regulations relating to products high in fat, salt and sugar.

However, the source said the government would not release the legislation on the DRS until October at the earliest and perhaps not even before Christmas.

Supply chains

During the panel, Mr Kane expressed concerns that the launch of the Scottish DRS was “just 47 weeks away”. Booker offers a range of more than 20,000 products, including beverages such as Coca-Cola.

An SKU is a number that retailers use to differentiate products and track inventory levels (picture: Shutterstock)

Mr Kane said there were “unanswered questions” about how prices should be displayed on products and how the scheme would work across borders between nations. Products could require different SKUs – numbers displayed on barcodes that retailers use to differentiate products and track inventory levels – in Scotland and the rest of the UK, he suggested.

Mr Kane said this would cause a “massive challenge” and could lead to supply chain issues. “We haven’t got elasticated walls at our warehouses.”

He added: “It is complicated and it is unnecessarily complicated because what we should have done is encouraged everybody to do the same thing at the same time.

“I do applaud the Scots for taking the lead, because it is important and we’ve got to get something delivered, but it actually makes the whole industry tie themselves up in knots about how to do this efficiently and cost-effectively whilst maintaining consumer choice.”

Wales

Later, Mr Davies explained that the Welsh Government was working on a joint programme with Westminster and Northern Ireland with the intention of introducing a scheme with a single administrator covering each of the three nations. “The phrase we’ve coined in our team is, ‘you can buy a can in Bristol and take it back in Bangor or Belfast,’” he said.

You can buy a can in Bristol and take it back in Bangor or Belfast

  • Howard Davies, plastic policy manager at the Welsh Government

However, Mr Davies acknowledged there were to be differences across the UK, even excluding Scotland. “There has been a policy divergence, which is England decided to take glass out of their scheme from a previously agreed position. That’s up to English ministers to decide that.”

Mr Davies also said they were planning to introduce elements of “flexibility” to the DRS. This includes flexible levels of deposits, “so the scheme administrator can pitch the level depending on product type, product size, multipacks, whatever.”

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