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What is the Deposit Return Scheme?

Deposit return schemes are established in many countries. They help to tackle climate change and reduce litter. In Scotland, the scheme is designed to tackle throwaway culture and help protect the environment for generations to come.

People will pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium or glass. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

The scheme aims to:

  • Improve recycling rates
  • Increase the quality of recycling materials
  • Reduce litter


Page last updated: 2 March 2023

1. What you need to know

  • Whom does it apply to?

    The scheme applies to hospitality businesses that serve drinks for customers to consume off the premises in single-use glass, metal or PET plastic containers sized between 50ml and 3l.

  • How does the deposit work?

    Businesses should charge the 20p deposit when selling a drink that is in a scheme container as a distinct and separate cost to the sale price of the drink.

  • Return points

    All businesses that sell drinks to take away are legally required to operate a return point where customers can return their empty scheme containers and get their deposit back.

    A return point can be operated manually with scheme containers handed over the counter and the deposit refunded from the till. A retailer can also choose to install a reverse vending machine on their premises to handle automated returns.

  • Deposit exceptions

    If your customers only consume the drinks you sell on site and you collect all the containers, you will not have to charge the deposit or operate a return point. This is called a closed-loop system.

  • Legal requirement

    If applicable, your business has a legal responsibility to comply under The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020. Under some circumstances, businesses will be able to apply for an exemption.

2. Timeline

The key dates are as follows:

  • 1 January 2023 - from this date producers can register with SEPA.

  • 16 August 2023 - the scheme goes live. All drinks produced in scheme containers for sale to a consumer in Scotland must bear a deposit. Retailers who sell drinks must operate return points (unless exempt).


Orkney is currently undertaking a trial period. Orkney's trial scheme will not need consumers to pay a deposit on drinks containers. It is hoped it will provide insight into how the initiative can be rolled out to rural and island communities.

"Return and Recycle Orkney" runs from 4 November until August. It is delivered by Zero Waste Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government.

3. Who is involved in the creation of the scheme?

  • Zero Waste Scotland

    Zero Waste Scotland advised on the creation of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. It has supported industry, Scottish Government and key partners on implementation. It continues to provide a wealth of support for the industry.

  • SEPA

    SEPA is the regulator for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. It’s responsible for the producer registration service. It will work with producers, retailers, and the scheme administrator to help them understand what they need to do to follow the scheme.

  • Circularity Scotland Ltd

    A scheme administrator handles the day-to-day management of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. Circularity Scotland Ltd is currently (November 2022) the only approved scheme administrator. Its members include:

    • Scotland’s largest drinks producers
    • Importers
    • Wholesalers
    • Retailers
    • Key trade organisations

4. Frequently asked questions

There are several useful resources with FAQs if you have any further questions on the scheme and how it will impact on your business.

5. More information on the Deposit Return Scheme

Are looking for more detailed information on how the Deposit Return Scheme will affect your business? Read about it directly from these resources.

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