What are they?

A deposit return system (DRS), also known as a deposit refund scheme in some countries, is a mechanism where a price surcharge is placed on a product when purchased, and a monetary rebate is provided back to a consumer when the product package is returned after use. In most cases, deposits are placed on packages to encourage recovery of that package to recycle its material. In other words, it’s a process designed to financially incentivize people to return an empty package after consuming or using what was in it so it can be recycled and reused. In order to provide a financial incentive, it requires people to pay a surcharge for the product when they purchase it.

Materials such as aluminum, glass and plastic, for instance, have high recyclable value and can be used over again in different forms. The intention of a deposit system is to get more people to recycle more materials to save resources. To make a deposit system work, investments are needed to develop, install and operate the related collection and recycling technology.

What do we think?

The Coca-Cola Company supports the collection and recycling of post-consumer packaging: we aim to reduce the need for new materials by working to reuse collected packages and we work to help prevent litter and other related environmental impacts. Deposit return systems for packaging are one way of contributing to this goal. With that understanding, there are many other opportunities such as curbside recycling systems that collect a broad range of materials available for reuse.

In a number of markets (for example, Canada, Ecuador, Estonia, Germany, Scandinavia), the Coca-Cola system is actively involved in local deposit return systems. In fact, alongside our industry peers, we have more than 40 years of experience operating within these systems. During that time we have learned a lot and seen some systems succeed and others fail. Hence, we believe deposit systems are only one potential solution to increase collection and recycling, and they may not work in every societal and economic context. Some countries experience very high collection rates without deposits due to strong municipal waste systems and community awareness built over time (for example, Austria, Switzerland).

We have advocated for and helped develop a more holistic approach to recovery of recyclable materials for decades. In most cases, deposits focus on beverage packaging, not on overall household or packaging waste. In some cases, by extracting the most valuable materials from the recycled-products stream – plastic, glass and aluminum – it becomes less commercially viable for operators to properly collect and recycle other waste materials. 

When addressing waste issues, usually it makes more sense to broaden packaging collection and recycling solutions, bolster existing curbside collection systems and increase recycling of all valuable materials through improved services, availability and sorting. However, we remain open to dialogue about package deposit return systems when they are well-designed and executed in a non-discriminatory, equitable, and cost-efficient manner, resulting in higher recovery rates. When well-managed and designed in partnership with industry, deposit systems can provide high quality materials for future packaging and other uses.

All recovery and recycling programs have a financial impact on consumers, industry and government. The costs and cost-effectiveness, among other concerns, of each system must be considered in determining the right solution for a given community.