Deposit refund schemes provide a small refund to consumers when a plastic item is returned to an authorized collection point.
TARGET USERS: Individuals, Government
KEY CONSIDERATIONS: In Europe, 10 countries have implemented programs, with return rates ranging between 82% in Estonia and 98% in Germany.
MORE INFORMATION: https://recyclinginternational.com/plastics/deposit-return-scheme/
Single-use plastic items quickly become waste and are often discarded in garbage receptacles or the environment at large. With only 9% of all plastic waste being recycled, plastic waste collection is a key factor in this outcome. By investing in a deposit refund schemes, and creating financial incentive for consumers to recycle, many cities around the world have seen significant increases in collection and recycling rates.
Deposit refund schemes are systems where consumers buying a product pay a small amount of money which will be reimbursed when they bring the container to a collection point once they have finished using it. The container can then be recycled and transformed into secondary raw materials. Programs are typically operated by a governmental entity or by an independent body. The organization in charge oversees the process, with the installation of the necessary infrastructures and the efficiency of the deposit fee circuit: from producers to retailers, retailers to consumers and the other way around.
This system is an application of the polluter-pays principle, where people are economically incentivized to recycle rather than waste. It is mostly implemented to collect and recycle beverage containers made of plastic, metal and glass as they can be easily transformed into secondary raw materials. Usually, the fee paid for each item ranges from €0.10 to €0.50, depending on the type and volume of the container.
Deposit refund schemes are often called deposit return schemes or deposit refund systems. Some systems use reverse vending machines in public spaces (which can cost up to €15,000 to install), while others leverage more traditional drop off/collection points.
A leader in the reverse vending machine market is TOMRA, with 82,000 reverse vending machines in operation globally. For more information, see: https://www.tomra.com/en/collection/reverse-vending
In Europe, 10 countries have already implemented deposit return schemes: Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. All of which have achieved significant results. The least successful country is Estonia, with an 82.7% total return rate – including can, PET and glass – which is already higher than many countries in Europe.
The most successful example in Europe is Norway, with an impressive 97% recycling rate for plastic bottles. Germany also has very high results, as it has the highest population and a broad DRS scope, targeting glass, plastic (mostly PET) and metal (aluminum) with 98.4% total return rate. The system was implemented by the ministry of environment in 2003 with a €0.25 fee per item, whether it is glass, metal or plastic.
The system in Norway, run by Infinitum, has been live since 1996 following 10 years of discussion, development and testing. This system handles PET bottles for beverages (not food or household cleaning) a small amount of HDPE and aluminum cans. Refunds can be made via one of 3500 reverse vending machines, with 93 per cent of the total of packaging collected is via this channel. The remaining seven per cent is collected manually by one of 11,500 registered collection points. For products registered with Infinitum, consumers get one Krone (approximately €0.10) back for a 330ml plastic bottle or can and 2.5 Kr (approximately €0.26) for a large two-liter plastic bottle. Infinitum has a recycling rate of 97 percent of all of the packaging that is registered through its system.
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