Full circularity ahead: Deposit Return Systems are sweeping Europe

Ireland and Hungary are the latest countries to launch Deposit Return Systems (DRS) to collect beverage containers, becoming part of a Europe-wide movement towards full circularity. Countries that have adopted DRS boast impressively high collection rates, with some exceeding 90%, creating a consistent stream of high-quality food-grade recycled material.

DRS drive high collection rates

Recycling beverage containers protects the environment by preventing littering and reducing the CO2 emissions associated with producing new packaging. DRS work by adding a small deposit on top of the sales price of a product which can be claimed back when the product is returned for recycling. This puts a value on used packaging and incentivises consumers to recycle. Well-designed DRS feature conveniently-located collection points to make it easy for users to deposit used bottles.

DRS have proved to be the most effective way to achieve the highest rates of separate collection for recycling. EU Member States that have implemented DRS have found that the systems have consistently outperformed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, achieving 40% higher collection rates on average. The quality of the material collected via DRS is also very high, making it the best system for bottle-to-bottle recycling.

Building a circular industry

Natural mineral water and spring water producers are working to meet and exceed recyced content targets for 2030 set in the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) and also 2040 in the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Separate collection is essential to meet ambitious targets while ensuring a consistent supply of high-quality recycled PET (rPET). But over the past decades, collection rates of PET beverage containers have varied substantially across the EU.

Making widespread implementation of DRS mandatory in the PPWR is one important step towards creating this supply and drastically reducing the need for virgin material. Providing beverage producers with priority access to the recycled materials from their bottles will also enable them to close the loop and prevent the downcycling of rPET bottles by other sectors.

The charge to implement DRS across Europe is picking up speed. Industry, policymakers and local stakeholders are collaborating to give bottles a second life and move towards circularity for all EU beverage packaging. See how DRS implementation is progressing across Europe in our interactive map.