MSPs group joins industry body calling for rethink on Biffa contract award and launch delay
The body representing Scotland’s SME resource and waste management operators says the decision to award the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) contract to a US-owned corporation will lead to job losses across its sector and increase CO2 emissions.
Due to launch in August, the DRS aims to reduce litter and lower carbon emissions by charging consumers a deposit on all 50ml to three litre single-use plastic, aluminium, steel, or glass drinks containers. The 20p deposit will then be refunded when the empty items are returned to a participating retailer.
In July, the scheme’s operating body Circularity Scotland announced the appointment of Biffa PLC as its sole logistics service provider. US-owned Biffa will be responsible for collecting qualifying drinks containers from return points and managing bulking and counting centres where materials will be processed for recycling.
The Resource Management Association Scotland (RMAS) has accused Circularity Scotland and Biffa of failing to meet a pledge to explore opportunities to utilise the sector’s existing infrastructure, collection services and networks to operate the DRS. It says the decision to appoint a single, centralised contractor will ‘decimate’ smaller waste operators leading to lost revenues, job cuts and a reduction in customer choice for waste collection services, especially in remote, rural and island communities. RMAS has also raised concerns that the move could result in an increase in long haul collections creating higher carbon emissions.
The group is now calling for the DRS to be realigned and rolled out in tandem with schemes being planned in England and Northern Ireland which are proposing to exempt glass from collections. It says the scheme could be digitalised to help lower carbon emissions and alleviate many of the financial and administrative concerns being raised by smaller retailers.
A cross-party group of MSPs, which includes former minister Fergus Ewing; fellow SNP colleague Christine Grahame; Labour’s Claire Baker; Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur; and Conservative Maurice Golden, is backing RMAS in calling for a rethink on the single contract approach in addition to adopting an evidence-based approach to the launch of the scheme.
Drew Murdoch, Chair of RMAS said: “While we are fully behind the aims and intentions of the DRS, the proposed scheme is badly flawed. The decision to appoint a single contractor gives an unfair market advantage to one large operator. This goes against assurances we were given by Circularity Scotland and Biffa that opportunities to utilise existing infrastructure and collection services would be fully explored.
“Instead, we are faced with the situation that, from August, hospitality businesses currently serviced by multiple operators across the Scottish waste management sector will have no alternative but to accept Biffa’s services for the collection of all qualifying drinks containers. This will decimate our industry putting many small waste management companies out of business and lead to significant job losses, particularly within rural and island communities.
“The Scottish Government has so far missed an opportunity to engage with our sector, but we are still keen to support the design of a more appropriate scheme which optimises existing recycling infrastructure as well as related logistics and collections networks. We now call on the new First Minister to put the brakes on the planned launch once they are elected later this month. To be successful, the DRS needs to be rolled out on a UK basis and in line with the proposed schemes in England and Northern Ireland and exclude glass which is already widely collected through kerbside recycling programmes.”
Fergus Ewing MSP said: “The DRS will cause unnecessary upheaval to businesses, especially within this economically challenging environment. As well as adversely impacting the wider waste management sector, I share the RMAS concerns that the appointment of a large, single contractor may also be at odds with the Scottish Government’s National Economic Transformation Strategy where the focus is on using existing providers at local level across Scotland to address the threat of climate change.”