THE Republic of Ireland has launched a deposit return scheme (DRS) despite some teething problems and “loud naysayers”.

A historic political coalition giving Greens bargaining power and a drive to reach tough EU recycling targets led to a similar scheme to the one that caused a political fallout between Holyrood and Westminster. It came into force on February 1.

Ireland’s scheme does not include glass, a simplification that Colin O'Byrne, programme manager for environmental charity Voice Ireland, argues led to the scheme getting off the ground.

He also credits cross-party working as well as getting industry and the public on board to bringing it to fruition – but admits it has not been plain sailing to introduce the deposit cost on plastic and aluminium, ranging between 15 and 25 cents, depending on the size of the container.

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Ireland’s scheme becomes the 41st in the world and the 15th in Europe to go live.

Holyrood’s attempt to introduce a scheme failed after to the UK Government’s refusal to allow a glass exemption in the Internal Market Act (IMA) led to a political bun fight.

In contrast, Ireland and other European countries are steaming ahead with introducing deposit return schemes in a bid to meet the requirements of the bloc’s single-use plastic directive and its tough targets. Member states are required to collect 77% of single-use plastic bottles with caps and lids by 2025, with the end target of 90% by 2029.

O’Byrne (below) admits that there have been some teething issues in the first days of the scheme going live – an expected technical hitch with some reverse vending machines and an unexpected issue with some old stock caused some confusion.

“It will work out and be fine, but you only have one chance to make a first impression,” he told The National.

The National:

O'Byrne spearheaded Voice's deposit return scheme awareness-raising campaign, Return for Change.

Asked if Ireland saw a chaotic impact on its economy, as some had suggested may happen in Scotland when the scheme went live, O’Byrne said: “No, it hasn't happened.

“And I'm amazed because we're just as prone to nonsense as you Scottish people.

“There have been plenty of loud naysayers, but one of the things that was in our favour, relative to yourselves, is we kept it simple with just bottles and cans as the entry point.”

While Voice are calling for glass to be introduced in the scheme eventually, it wasn’t prioritised due to already high recycling levels of the material. O’Byrne argued including glass gave Scotland “more fronts to defend” when trying to get the scheme off the ground.

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“Glass is funny because you can't get away from the fact that it is so heavy and that it does have extra energy and transport costs associated with that weight, that the handling of it can lead to smashing,” he added.

“By starting off with plastic bottles and cans, once we can get that to be successful, once that can just be par for the course for people doing their daily shop or whatever the routine is, we start introducing the conversation around reuse.”

We told how in June last year, Westminster refused to grant an IMA exemption for glass for Scotland’s DRS. Circular economy minister Lorna Slater (below) would tell Holyrood shortly afterwards that the scheme would be delayed until at least October 2025, when England is set to launch its scheme.

The Scottish Greens minister said at the time that the Scottish Government had been put in an “impossible position” by Westminster, who were attempting to ask businesses to comply with UK-wide regulations that hadn’t even been formulated, never mind published.

The National:

Ireland, on the other hand, seems to have benefited from consensus, and with many of the large multi-billion corporations involved in Scotland’s scheme, such as Coca-Cola and various supermarkets including Tesco, getting on board due to the strict EU laws.

“I cannot overemphasise how important the single-use plastic draft directive has been for us,” O’Byrne said.

“I know Brexit means Brexit, you guys got screwed on that aspect of it, but we’ve got a legal mandate, it doesn't matter who's in power, they're going to have to put it in.

“There's no mechanism that we found yet better at getting to that 90% than a deposit return scheme, you want to come up with a better one, have at it. But that was it.”

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O’Byrne explained that after the 2020 Irish elections came the historic three-party coalition consisting of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

The Greens were cognizant of the directive and pushed for it to be in the Programme for Government as they had a “strong enough hand to play”.

“A deposit return scheme was kind of low-hanging fruit in that regard,” he explained.

“It wasn't one that annoyed the two main parties too much, and everyone went – this is something we can do, this is something we can get some credit for and it keeps us legally sound.”