‘Less litter, less waste’: new deposit return scheme starts for recycling plastic bottles, aluminium cans

Scheme aims to tackle large volumes of single-use drinking containers dumped every day

Ireland’s new deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers will ensure “less litter, less waste, better environment”, according to Tony Keohane, chairman of Re-turn, which will operate the scheme that started on Thursday.

The deposit return scheme was one of the biggest social and environmental changes in Ireland for many years, being on a par with the smoking ban and plastic bag levy, he said at its unveiling.

From February 1st, consumers who buy a drink in a plastic bottle or aluminium can with the Re-turn logo will pay a small deposit in addition to the price. When empty, undamaged drinks containers are returned to any participating retail outlet with reverse vending machines, the deposit is fully refunded in the form of a voucher usable in that outlet. A deposit of 15 cents applies to containers from 150ml to 500ml, while a deposit of 25 cents applies to containers between 500ml and three litres.

More than 1,800 vending machines have been installed, with 1,400 participating retailers, and 200 small retailers are operating the scheme manually.


However, a majority of small retailers have chosen not to participate though Re-turn hopes many will come on board when the scheme is fully operational.

Some five million drinks are consumed in single-use containers in Ireland each day. As well as boosting recycling rates, it is hoped the DRS, which will cost €100 million to run every year, will significantly reduce the number of bottles and cans being littered or sent to landfill or incineration. Ireland at present recycles 50 to 60 per cent of such containers, while Re-turn hopes that figure will climb to 90 per cent.

Mr Keohane paid tribute to Minister of State for Circular Economy Ossian Smyth for providing legal and political certainty that was critical to getting the scheme off the ground. The not-for-profit Repak was “an angel investor” in providing initial funding and “provided key people at the right time”, he added.


Conor Pope answers some of your questions about the Deposit Return Scheme, which launches on February 1st #depositreturnscheme #qanda #recycle

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Mr Smyth said he always knew a DRS was “something very popular with the public”. For that reason, the Greens put it in the programme for government and legislated for it when the party got into office.

“It will get bottles and cans off our roadsides and beaches and contribute to the circular economy by turning waste drinks containers into new bottles and cans,” he added.

He hoped an enhanced version would be unveiled in the next phase providing the option to send refund money to a charity, sports club or local authority.

Deposit return schemes operate effectively in more than 40 countries, including 15 in Europe, where the average EU collection rate is 92 per cent, Mr Smyth said. “By giving these containers a financial value, it incentivises consumers to return them. I think people in Ireland will really get behind this scheme and make it a great success; we saw this with the introduction of the plastic bag levy and the euro.”

On smaller businesses who opted into the scheme, he said: “They can be assured of my ongoing support in making the scheme work for local businesses and communities.”

Re-turn chief executive Ciaran Foley paid tribute to the collaboration of container producers and retailers “that has been nothing short of amazing”.

“We want to make the scheme as simple and as easy as we possibly can for everybody,” he said.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) welcomed the DRS, which it said was the culmination of a long-running campaign by environmental organisations, notably Voice Ireland and FoE, supported by thousands of citizens and dozens of community action groups.

“The DRS is coming to a shop near you and is a real sign that campaigning for environmental actions works – and that ordinary people can make a real difference when we act together,” said Claudia Tormey of FoE.

This had “not only forced the Government to open its eyes to Ireland’s plastic pollution but also demonstrated solutions existed”, she said.

With this scheme now in place, much needed focus could go towards “reducing the amount of packaging that supermarkets force into our homes in the first place because recycling, while important, cannot be seen as a substitute for preventing waste at source”.

FoE called on the Government to heed concerns raised by disability advocates on the DRS and to ensure the scheme was made accessible for all.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times