As the primary sellers of packaged drinks in Scotland, retailers have two key roles to play in ensuring the deposit return scheme operates successfully, improving recycling rates, reducing litter and helping to build a circular economy for Scotland. 

Clear labelling on all shelves and display units holding deposit-bearing drinks is vital in getting consumers to understand the system. You will be required to clearly display information about the deposit and its value, and how to redeem the deposit, in any place where the scheme article is displayed for sale.

As a drinks retailer, you are legally required to operate a return point and there are different ways in which you can configure this. 

Reverse vending machine

Reverse vending machines (RVM) are sophisticated pieces of equipment that can identify drinks containers inserted and refund consumers’ deposits once the container has been scanned and validated. RVMs can generate vouchers that can be used at retailers to pay for shopping or get a cash refund at the till. 

RVMs have been successfully used to support many other deposit return schemes around the world. Return points using RVMs store the returned containers in bags, boxes and bins ready for collection by Circularity Scotland or our nominated logistics partner. The expense of buying or leasing these machines means that they only really make economic sense for retailers handling larger volumes of containers.

Manual handling

This is when a retailer accepts returned containers over the counter and repays consumers from the till, using accounting and reporting systems to obtain reimbursement from the scheme administrator. They will store returned containers on-site, in bags and boxes provided, ready for collection by the scheme administrator’s nominated logistics partner. Circularity Scotland collects the material and validates each container at a counting centre, and redeems deposits as appropriate.

An app will be created to help you and your staff identify what is included in the scheme and what is not.

What you need to know 

Handling fee

Return point operators will receive a handling fee designed to cover the costs of the time, equipment and additional storage space needed to operate the scheme. 

The level of this fee will be determined annually by Circularity Scotland, based on data and analysis provided by independent consultants to ensure it remains reasonable and current.

Collections process

Collection activities will operate seven days a week - depending on the volume of returns the current model is that RVMs could be visited daily while Manual Return Points could be serviced weekly or fortnightly. However, these collection frequencies will be reviewed as part of the registration process and once the scheme is live and adjusted where necessary to ensure an efficient operation as the system beds in.

Each bag or tote box collected will be sealed with a security tag with a unique identifier for the return point operator so they can track its progress through the system. Glass bins will be weighed by the collections driver and reconciled to the uplift location.

We recognise that additional, one-off collections may be necessary at specific return points.  This might be triggered when a return point with limited storage capacity experiences a surge following a local event such as a music festival or sports match.

You will be able to request additional collections through the Return Point Operator app, on the Circularity Scotland website or by calling the Customer Service call centre. There will be agreed timeframes for such collections.

Payment frequency 

For manual return points, fees will be paid weekly based on counted volumes in a given week on the Friday of the following week. The process is triggered when the containers collected have been processed at the counting centre.  

For automatic return points, fees will be paid monthly based on Reverse Vending Machine data on collection volumes in a given month. This happens when the sacks or totes have been scanned on arrival at the counting centre.  We are committed to offering the same level of service to return points at all locations across Scotland - no matter how remote.  


There is some flexibility in how you can meet your obligation to accept empty containers. Retailers can apply for an exemption from having to operate their own return point

A typical example is where a small shop could agree an exemption with a larger store nearby.  Another type of example is for shops located in a specific location, like a train station or shopping centre, who can agree an exemption with a newly created voluntary return point.  

Examples of these might be train stations, shopping centres or food courts where a centralised reverse vending machine could perform the individual retailers’ duties to accept returns.

Under exceptional circumstances, an exemption may be given to a business that can satisfy regulators that there is no reasonable way to operate a return point on their premises without breaching other legal obligations such as food and fire safety or environmental health.

The exemption process is being managed by Zero Waste Scotland


6 key things retailers need to know

Display deposits

You must display the deposit value clearly at point of purchase and separately from the product price.

Accept returns

Drinks retailers must operate a return point accepting any container included in the scheme and refunding the deposit.


You will be reimbursed in full for returned containers around 7 days after the collection

Handling Fee

You’ll receive a handling fee for the containers you accept to cover the extra costs of meeting the scheme’s requirements.

Some exemptions

Where there is a high concentration of retail or hospitality businesses and a communal return point, exemptions may be possible.


The scheme administrator will arrange for regular collections with extra one-off services when required.


Online retailers must charge the 20p deposit on all drinks sold in PET plastic, glass and metal containers. They are also required to offer a free take-back service, collecting deposit-bearing products they have sold and refunding their customers. This is to ensure that the scheme is accessible for all, including those who rely on home deliveries. Online retailers’ customers will still be able to take their empty containers back to any other return point. As such, it is anticipated that the vast majority of customers will make use of a local return point, rather than a takeback service.

For any questions about how online takeback will work please refer to SEPA’s FAQ page.

There are some exemptions. The main one will be where there is another return point in the immediate vicinity which volunteers to accept responsibility for their collection duty. This is most likely to be in transport terminals, food courts and shopping centres.

The exemption process is being managed by Zero Waste Scotland

There will be an app created to help you and your staff identify what is included in the scheme and what is not.