Global leader in collecting beverage containers for recycling, TOMRA, reveals findings from effective deposit return systems
The world’s highest-performing deposit return systems (DRS) for can and bottle recycling have four success factors in common, explains a new white paper unveiled today by the global leader in beverage container collections for recycling, TOMRA. With growing awareness of plastic waste and more countries adopting deposit policies, “Rewarding Recycling: Learnings from the World’s Highest-Performing Deposit Return Systems” (free download) reflects on what makes a high-performing system – so stakeholders can better understand why some deposit systems are succeeding, while others fail.
While the beverage container industry has shifted largely to single-use packages, deposit systems, historically, have been integral to many reusable packaging and pallet programs. In recent decades, however, deposit systems for reusables in the B2B space have become increasingly unpopular. They have been viewed as harmful to trading partner relations when large financial penalties have been imposed for unreturned containers or pallets. Deposit systems, however, seem ripe for growth in the B2C space, and perhaps that will have a spillover effect into the B2B arena. Understanding how successful deposit systems work can be integral to the success of reusable packaging systems. Reusable packaging systems are not discussed in the white paper.
Rising interest in the circular economy and combating plastic waste
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 England, Portugal, and all of Australia. In addition, the European Union’s Single-Use Plastics Directive establishes targets for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, a rate that experts say is difficult to reach without a deposit on beverage containers. In Europe, existing deposit systems see up to 98% of plastic drink containers collected for recycling (with a 95% average for all European DRSs), compared to other recycling collection models, which average a 47% collection rate across Europe.1 2
What makes a high-performing deposit return system?
Different deposit systems can bring different results, depending on their design. The white paper “Rewarding Recycling” draws on TOMRA’s over 45 years of experience in providing a range of services and reverse vending technology to deposit systems in 40 deposit markets. Reverse vending machines provide an easy way for the public to return containers for recycling and regain their deposit money. The machines collect, sort, compact and initiate accounting for each container accepted. TOMRA has over 84,000 reverse vending machines capturing over 40 billion used beverage containers worldwide each year.
With its unique first-hand insight into the workings of different systems, TOMRA evaluated deposit models against key metrics such as cost efficiency and the percentage of containers returned for recycling, and found that the most effective deposit systems share four principles in common:
- Performance: A collection target for all beverage containers 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.
The white paper also examines the 12 key policy elements that put these principles into practice, and shares case studies of regions that are best at delivering on those elements in their deposit return systems.
“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 in TOMRA. “By taking a deep dive into deposit return systems across the globe, we can learn from the past and strengthen future policies for the benefit of people and the planet.”
“Our commitment to the circular economy is unequivocal. We take pride in doing our part: sharing our know-how, developing new solutions and striving to make our planet more sustainable every day,” said Dr Volker Rehrmann, Head of Circular Economy at TOMRA.
Find out more about what makes an effective deposit return system
Visit tomra.com/DRSBestPractices to download the free white paper “Rewarding Recycling: Learnings from the World’s Highest-Performing Deposit Return Systems”. TOMRA will provide insight into the success factors for high-performing deposit return systems in an upcoming webinar on Wednesday 23 February at 9 am US Eastern Time / 3 pm Central European Time. Register for the webinar here. This will be followed by a series of quarterly TOMRA webinars on each of the four principles of high-performing deposit return systems.
The white paper follows on from the launch of TOMRA’s “Resource Recovery Playbook” in November, the beginning of a series of white papers and reports on the circular economy and a sustainable future for resources.
1 Refers to Germany. “Deposit Systems for One-Way Beverage Containers – Global Overview 2020,” Reloop.
2 Calculated based on collection rates from Global Data, deposit system Central System Administrators, and “PET Market in Europe: State of Play,” Eunomia. 2020. Data available upon request.