How will a DRS impact UK MRFs? (Part 1)

How will a DRS impact UK MRFs? (Part 1)

Article 1: DRS Introduction

This series of articles will consider how the planned Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Scotland and a potential DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could affect MRF operations. This first article introduces the DRS and the current status in the UK at the time of writing (January 2023).

DRS Introduction

The purpose of a DRS is to increase recycling rates and reduce litter.

A DRS works by charging consumers an additional charge (20p in Scotland) when they purchase an item included in the scheme. The deposit acts as an incentive for the consumer to recycle the item by returning it to a return point, such as a reverse vending machine, where the consumer will receive their deposit back.

After the recovered materials are collected from the return points, the materials are sent directly to a recycling facility avoiding the need for sorting the recovered materials in a MRF.


The DRS in Scotland is planned to go live on 16th August 2023 [1]. The Scottish DRS includes all PET bottles, steel and aluminium cans and glass bottles between 50ml and 3litres in size and the Scottish DRS expects to capture 90% of the included materials by 2025 [2].

For a MRF currently processing recovered materials from Scotland, this means they should adjust their operations to process 90% less PET, steel, aluminium and glass drinks containers by 2025.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The UK government completed a DRS consultation via DEFRA on 4th June 2021 [3]. The results of the consultation were due to be published by early 2022 [4], the publication is not yet available at the time of writing (January 2023) although it is expected imminently [5].

The main difference between a potential DRS in England and Northern Ireland and the DRS in Scotland is that glass is expected to be excluded from the England and Northern Ireland DRS. The DRS in Wales is expected to include glass containers, similar to the DRS in Scotland [6].

The exclusion of glass from the England and Northern Ireland DRS is controversial; the benefits are listed as improved safety for consumers handling glass, reduced handling costs and reduced equipment complexity at return points. Recovered glass will still need to be sorted by MRFs where the glass causes excessive wear on equipment and has a low sales value compared to other materials (this is the subject of a future article).

Other Countries

Deposit return schemes are reported to have been implemented in 45 countries, including 10 countries in Europe. Previous applications of DRS provide evidence that the 90% target materials recovery rate set by the Scotland DRS is realistic and achievable. Germany has a 98.4% DRS return rate for PET and aluminium drinks containers. The least successful country is reported to be Estonia with an 82.7% total return rate for metal cans, PET and glass [7].


This article has introduced the key points for DRS in the UK and other countries. MRFs in the UK should be aware of the DRS requirements and when DRS could affect the incoming materials to their facility.

SortFlow is available to model MRF processes and calculate the impact of DRS to the process, supporting definition of risk mitigation plans for DRS.

Alasdair Mitchell


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