Deposit returns schemes – what are they, and how will they help the UK in the fight against plastic pollution?

Stefan Ranstrand President & CEO, Tomra Systems ASA and Truls Haug, Managing Director UK&I, Tomra Collection 


The UK is going into battle against plastic pollution. The plastic bag charge, the ban on microbeads and the proposal to prohibit certain types of single-use plastics have all been effective weapons in the UK’s arsenal. However, there is still plenty to be done: single-use beverage containers are one of the worst offenders when it comes to marine litter, and this is why the UK government has decided to take action and implement a deposit return scheme.

Plastic is an efficient and practical material but becomes an issue when not disposed of correctly. Plastic bottles and other beverage container litter are among the most frequently found items in our oceans, beaches and landfills – not only in the UK, but across the world. One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, with an increase of 20 per cent expected over the next three years.

What is a deposit return scheme?

In a deposit return scheme, a small deposit is added to the price of the beverage in store and refunded to the consumer when they return their bottle. This system gives people a financial incentive to recycle their containers, meaning vastly improved collection and recycling rates.  Existing deposit markets have seen an almost immediate change in behaviour and see up to 98 per cent of drink containers returned.

The difference between this system and the current UK recycling system is the possibility of contamination. When beverage containers are kept separate from other types of household recycling, a high level of material purity and quality can be maintained. A plastic bottle recycled correctly can be made into a bottle again and again, reducing the need to create new bottles from raw materials. This closes the recycling loop, and ensures the material isn’t downgraded and made into a product that cannot be recycled further.

Deposit return schemes exist across 40 markets and the positive effects on litter reduction are immediate. Television programmes such as The Blue Planet have had a huge effect on the way we view marine litter, opening our eyes to the magnitude of the problems we are facing. A full rubbish truck of plastics enters our oceans every minute: as an island, the UK is increasingly aware of how negatively this affects marine life. By 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by weight, and global beach cleans have shown that close to 40 per cent of litter found on beaches comes from beverage containers.

Retailers come onboard

We have already seen many UK retailers come on board and trial deposit return systems within their shops. We have seen in our other markets that a “return to retail” model can be beneficial for both consumers and retailers. Retailers benefit from increased footfall in their shops, handling fees that cover their operational costs and an increase in business as consumers tend to do their shopping where they recycle their bottles.

Consumers benefit from the convenience of nearby locations. They can recycle while they shop and have the potential to receive vouchers and additional benefits for using that shop’s machine.

Whatever model the UK government decides to implement, adopting a deposit return scheme will undoubtedly help the UK in its battle to control the flow of plastic into our oceans, streets and landfills – helping us see plastic as a valuable commodity, and one that should be reused again and again and not discarded in places it doesn’t belong.


TOMRA Collection Solutions was founded in 1972 and has more than 82,000 machines that collect over 35 billion containers a year across 60 markets. TOMRA is eager to share its expert knowledge and experiences regarding the positive impact of deposit return systems. For more information please visit www.tomra.com

By Truls Haug, Managing Director, TOMRA Collection UK and Ireland

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