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File photo of someone returning a plastic bottle in a reverse vending machine. Alamy Stock Photo
Explainer

What is the new deposit-return scheme for bottles and cans and how will it work?

The scheme is being rolled out from Thursday.

THE NEW DEPOSIT-RETURN scheme is set to be rolled out this week.

The scheme, which is aimed at reducing litter and increasing recycling rates, will see a small extra charge added to the price of bottles and cans, which will be refunded to people if the container is returned.

It is being operated by not-for-profit organisation Re-turn.

The system is being adopted here as part of an EU-wide directive on single-use plastics. The directive sets a recycling target for plastic bottles of 77% by 2025, increasing to 90% by 2029.

Similar schemes are already operating in other EU member states, such as Germany, Norway and The Netherlands. 

How will the scheme work?

From 1 February, a 15c charge – which is seen as a ‘deposit’ – will be added to aluminium and steel cans and plastic bottles up to 500ml, while a 25c deposit will be added to those that are 500ml and over. 

All eligible cans and bottles will display the Re-turn logo to identify that they are included in the scheme. The logo can be seen in the tweet below. 

The cans and bottles must be returned empty and undamaged. Re-turn recommends returning bottles with the caps on, because this means the cap is recycled too.

The cans and bottles can be returned to any retailer that sells drinks with the Re-turn logo – it doesn’t have to be the shop where you bought the products. 

Glass bottles are currently not included in the scheme, as Ireland has a recycling rate of over 80% for glass and is surpassing recycling targets for the material. 

Dairy products (milk cartons and yogurt drinks, for example) and any containers under 150ml or over three litres will also not be included in the scheme and should continue to be recycled as normal.

How do I get my deposit back?

When a customer brings the drinks containers back to a store, they will have two return options: they can either hand them back manually over the counter or automatically using a reverse vending machine if the store has installed one.

When the bottles and cans are inserted into the machine, it will scan their barcode, confirm that they are part of the deposit-return scheme and issue a voucher for the amount of containers returned.

The voucher can then be presented at the till in store where they can be exchanged for cash or they can be used as store credit. The vouchers must be redeemed at the same retail outlet as the one where you have returned the bottles/cans. 

According to Re-turn, larger supermarkets are more likely to have reverse vending machines, whereas smaller retailers will do manual returns.

SuperValu and Centra have invested €28 million to install the machines at 540 stores across the country ahead of the rollout of the scheme. 

Aldi has installed reverse vending machines at all 161 of its stores nationwide, while Lidl has said that all of its stores will have two reverse vending machines. 

An interactive map of locations throughout the country where drinks containers can be returned will be live on Re-turn’s website on 1 February.

Does this mean I can’t put plastic bottles and cans in my green bin?

Drinks containers can still be put in your green bin at home. 

However, the scheme is being rolled out to encourage more people to recycle, and Re-turn is asking people to return the eligible drinks containers rather than putting them in their green bin. 

According to Re-turn, over 60% of plastic bottles and cans are being collected for recycling through green bins in Ireland, meaning more than 30% are not collected, leading to increased littering.

“By placing a value on the drinks containers, we are incentivising consumers to return their bottles and cans in order to get their deposit back and discourage littering,” a spokesperson for the organisation said.

They described the scheme as “a circular economy initiative that aims to create a closed loop recycling system guaranteeing the material is returned and recycled into new drinks containers”. 

Re-Turn CEO Ciaran Foley told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme last week: “A really important part of being a separate collection is the quality of the recyclate. Currently all of the recycling material is mixed in. It can be contaminated.

“By separating out this plastic, we move from an 80% quality recyclate to a 98% quality recyclate, which allows us to recycle the bottles up to seven times,” he said. 

What if a bottle doesn’t have the Re-turn logo?

While bottles with the logo will be appearing on shelves from 1 February, it is likely that they will be being sold alongside old stock without the logo in stores. 

Producers have until 15 March to put the bottles with the logo in store, and retailers have until the end of May to sell the old stock. 

As bottles without the Re-turn logo are not eligible in the scheme, they should be recycled normally.

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