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Deposit Return Systems


Deposit Return Systems

High performing Deposit Return Systems significantly accelerate the circularity of beverage containers like plastic bottles and aluminum cans, with recovery rates of 90% and above.

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At a glance

Deposit return systems

Deposit return systems give waste a value, incentivizing consumers to contribute to a circular economy. Explore the benefits.



Explainer Video – What is a Deposit Return System? 

Deposit Return Systems (DRS), also known as deposit return schemes or deposit refund systems, are a proven solution to address litter caused by consumer packaging waste.


What is a Deposit Return System? Extended version

In this extended video, you will learn how deposit return systems (DRS) work, how they are financed, how they can help solve plastic pollution from consumer packaging waste, boost recycling rates and the circularity of food-grade recyclates, and more. 

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Rewarding Recycling: Learnings from the World's Highest-Performing Deposit Return Systems

Download TOMRA’s new white paper revealing best practices in designing deposit return systems for beverage container recycling.


Download Whitepaper

Deposit return systems play a vital part in preventing bottles and cans from ending up in oceans, streets and landfills, by offering a financial incentive for consumers to return used containers for recycling. 


Demand for single-use cans and bottles continues to grow every year. Most of these containers are used only once before being discarded, creating waste that contributes towards plastic pollution. Deposit return systems (DRSs) play a vital part in preventing this, helping to drive a circular economy by making bottle and can recycling both simple and rewarding. 


Why DRS with return to retail boosts performance ? 

Deposit return systems with a return to retail model are paramount for achieving higher return rates – especially when combined with automated technology. 

How does a deposit return scheme work?

Container deposit return systems work by adding a deposit on top of the price of a beverage, which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty bottle or can for recycling. Think of it as buying the beverage, but borrowing the container. Afterwards, beverage distributors arrange for the collection and ultimate recycling of the containers.

These programs are also known as container deposit systems or bottle bills. Deposit return systems are typically established through legislation passed by state or national governments.

Why are deposit return schemes successful?

Deposit return systems provide a financial incentive to return drink containers. This communicates containers have a value, rather than being trash. DRSs have shown to reduce beverage litter 30-84%, depending on deposit value. While the U.S. national recycling rate has stagnated for decades around 34%, high-performing deposit return systems routinely collect 90% or more of containers for recycling.

By separating bottles and cans for recycling through a deposit system, beverage containers are collected without contamination from other types of waste in a household recycling bin. This means containers can be recycled into new bottles and cans (rather than lower-quality uses like landfill cover), reducing reliance on raw materials to produce new beverage containers. This is known as closed-loop recycling, which TOMRA calls keeping materials in the Clean Loop.

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Setup of deposit return scheme

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Recyclable materials in DRS

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Deposit return schemes and beverage producers

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Deposit return systems: "What if..?"

What if the problem of bottles and cans polluting our neighborhoods, waterways and oceans is actually the result of poorly-designed waste management systems?

What can deposit return schemes deliver?

When a bottle is returned to a reverse vending machine, often as part of a deposit return system, it can be recycled back into another plastic bottle. Deposit return systems answer calls to address plastic pollution, increase recycling, and move away from traditional linear take-make-dispose models in preference of a circular economy. Deposit return systems have been shown to combat litter, reduce costs, create green jobs, and bring social and economic benefits.

Deposit return around the world

Over 40 regions around the world operate a deposit return system. These include Norway, Germany, Lithuania, several Australian states, 10 US states and nearly all of Canada. Regions such as Scotland, England and Wales, Portugal and more states in Australia are set to introduce deposit return in the coming years.

Calls are increasing for other countries to follow suit, with the United Nations Environment Program in 2017 encouraging nations to implement deposit return systems. The European Union's Single-Use Plastics Directive sets targets for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, which experts say is difficult to achieve without a container deposit system.


DRS Infographics

View infographics explaining DRS visually below.


How Convenience Leads to High-Performing Deposit Return Systems

Take a deep dive into how high-performing systems make redemption convenient, and why convenience is key to an effective DRS.


TOMRA is an industry supporter of the global treaty on plastic pollution, and we believe that to achieve maximum results, DRS should be included in the agreement.