Secrets to successful deposit return systems

The world’s highest-performing deposit return systems (DRS) for can and bottle recycling have four success factors in common.

A new research paper has found the following to be the main creitera for success:

  • Performance: A collection target for all beverages plus a meaningful deposit delivers strong results.
  • Convenience: The redemption system is easy, accessible and fair for all users.
  • Producer Responsibility: Producers finance and invest in the system using the unredeemed deposits, commodity revenues, and an eco-modulated EPR fee.
  • System Integrity: Trust is built into the system’s processes through transparent management, a data-driven clearinghouse, and reliable redemption technology.

With growing awareness of plastic waste and more countries adopting deposit policies, the study “Rewarding Recycling: Learnings from the World’s Highest-Performing Deposit Return Systems” by reverse vending machine vendor TOMRA, reflects on what makes a high-performing system – so stakeholders can better understand why some deposit systems are succeeding, while others are failing.

Rising interest in circular economy

There are increasing calls from the public to address plastic pollution and recycling costs, and from experts to move away from traditional linear take-make-dispose models in favor of a circular economy.

Policymakers are turning to DRS as a successful approach for tackling these challenges. Also known as container deposit schemes or bottle bills, this legislation adds a small deposit to the price of a beverage, which is repaid to consumers when they return the empty bottles and cans for recycling.

In the past three years alone at least 22 states or countries have committed to update or develop deposit return systems, soon bringing the global total to more than 60. This includes Oregon, Quebec and all of Australia. In addition, the European Union establishes targets for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, a rate experts say is difficult to reach without a deposit on beverage containers.

Existing DRS programs see up to 98% of drink containers collected for recycling, compared to other recycling collection models, which in the U.S. can average a 27% collection rate. The Single-Use Plastics Directive establishes targets for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, a rate experts say is difficult to reach without a deposit on beverage containers.

“With alarming growth in plastic waste worldwide, and drive from businesses, consumers and governments alike to take action, it is vital that deposit return systems truly achieve the environmental objectives they strive toward,” said Wolfgang Ringel, senior vice-president group governmental affairs for TOMRA.

“By taking a deep dive into DRS across the globe, we can learn from the past and strengthen future policies for the benefit of people and the planet.”