The Secret To Designing Effective Deposit Systems

Over the past three years alone, on multiple continents, 22 states or countries have adopted or updated a very specific type of recycling policy.

In addition to this group at least 12 more states or countries are currently working on the same concept. These governmental leaders are all evaluating what is known as a “container deposit return system”.

Deposit systems are a way to incentivize public participation in collecting items for recycling. They work by charging consumers a small deposit when they buy a beverage can or bottle, which is then repaid when they return the packaging for recycling.


Globally, only 14% of all Plastic Packaging is Collected for Recycling

Given deposit systems are capable of collecting two to three times as many containers as other forms of collection, policymakers have turned their attention to evaluating what such a system could mean for their regions.

At the same time, beverage brands have set ambitious commitments to manufacture their packaging with more recycled material and have noted that deposit systems are key tools to reach these commitments, because they increase the supply of clean, high quality recycled material.

However, not all deposit return systems are alike. In fact, no two deposit systems are identical. This, leads to variations in collection performance and cost-efficiency – from Germany in the lead at a 98% collection rate for eligible beverage containers, and Connecticut in last place with 50%. So what makes some systems more effective than others?


The Secret to Designing High-Performance Deposit Return Systems

A white paper published by TOMRA, entitled Rewarding Recycling: Learnings from the World’s Highest-Performing Deposit Return Systems, sheds light on why some deposit systems succeed while others are failing.

For over 45 years, TOMRA has provided a range of services in nearly every deposit system in the world, including the highest-performing models like Germany, Norway and Michigan.

The analysis of every container deposit system in existence today is truly one of a kind and provides essential learnings for a circular economy.

Most high-performing deposit systems share four guiding principles: performance, producer responsibility, convenience and system integrity. From these principles, TOMRA established 12 ‘Key Elements’ – which, when applied together, curb waste and advance the circular economy.


One Takeaway from the Research is…

… that high-performing systems apply these elements together rather than sporadically. Some elements share a relationship with another, providing checks and balances to ensure the system is designed to reach its goal: achieving the highest possible collection rate at the lowest possible cost.

Another learning is the importance of the deposit value and the convenience of the redemption system. Arguably these are the two most important factors for designing deposit systems with high return rates. In terms of the deposit value, in general, the data shows the higher the value, the higher the return rates.

The redemption system is just as important. Systems that establish a deposit value with minimal points of return tend to result in lower return rates. California provides an illustrative example.

The state’s deposit value has stayed at five US cents (€0.04) while the number of redemption points has dropped dramatically due to a dysfunctional funding model. Over a relatively short time period (2012-2020) the return rate has dropped from 72% to 60%.


From Alberta, Canada to Queensland, Australia and beyond, deposit return systems revolutionize how we manage resources and increase recycling rates.

Discover the various system designs worldwide and how the key elements work in practice by downloading your complimentary copy of Rewarding Recycling today.


Author Info:

Mike Noel is a Governmental Affairs Manager for TOMRA based in Connecticut, USA.

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