Ireland introduces Deposit Return Scheme

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Ireland's DRS comes into effect this month. Pic: getty/vejaa
Ireland's DRS comes into effect this month. Pic: getty/vejaa

Related tags Ireland deposit return scheme DRS Plastic bottles aluminum Aluminium Sustainability

Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) – a nationwide money-back initiative for plastic bottles and aluminum cans – launches this month in a bid to improve recycling rates.

Drinks featuring the ‘Re-turn’ logo will incur a small additional deposit at the time of purchase. Returning empty, undamaged drinks to participating retail outlets (or reverse vending machines) means the deposit is returned.

Containers from 150ml – 500ml will have a deposit of 15c, while containers between 500ml and 3 liters will have a deposit of 25c.

Boosting recycling rates 

Ireland DRS

  • Most PET bottles, aluminum & steel cans can be recycled, although any which have contained dairy products (ie milk or yogurt drinks) cannot.
  • Caps can be recycled along with the bottle.
  • Glass is not included, as Ireland already has a recycling rate of more than 80% here (surpassing recycling targets): although Re-turn says the scheme could consider including glass in the future.

Around 5 million single-use containers are used in Ireland a day. The Irish government estimates that around 60% of plastic bottles and cans are recycled through the current green bin system.

The EU’s Single Use Plastic (SUP) Directive, however, sets out recycling targets of 77% by 2025 and 90% by 2029.

Ireland hopes that - by placing a value on the drinks containers - consumers will be encouraged to recycle them (this idea of value is reflected in the fact that a bigger container has a larger deposit).

Furthermore, the separate collection of drinks containers reduces cross contamination and results in a higher quality of recyclate.

Re-turn - the organization charged with running the scheme - calls the DRS a ‘proven successful solution’ to achieving its recycling targets: pointing to successes across other EU countries.

Financial value

The DRS is designed to boost recycling rates, push the move towards a circular economy and reduce litter.

“By giving these containers a financial value, it incentivizes consumers to return them,” said Ireland's Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth.

“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 [introduced in 2001 at 22c per bag] and the Euro.

“The Deposit Return Scheme is a once-in-a-generation development for the Irish beverage industry. I want to acknowledge the collaboration and the leadership industry has shown in establishing a complex new system in a relatively short time-frame.

"I would also like to recognize the smaller businesses who have opted into the scheme. They can be assured of my ongoing support in making the scheme work for local businesses and communities.”

DRS ireland getty mike richter
The DRS encourages consumers to think about the value of packaging material. Pic: getty/mikerichter

The scheme is operated by Deposit Return Scheme Ireland (DRSI) CLG, trading as ‘Re-turn’, which was established by beverage producers and retailers to fulfil their obligations under the Separate Collection (Deposit Return Scheme) Regulations 2021.

This means that the management and operation of the DRS is funded through producer fees for each product placed on the market, rather than public or government funds.

Re-turn points to the success of the model in other countries: “This new scheme brings together all parties involved in the manufacture, selling and consumption of beverages and has proved very successful internationally in increasing collection rates".

Beverage industry welcomes new scheme

Both the Irish Beverage Council and Drinks Ireland have welcomed the launch of the DRS in Ireland, citing it as a ‘ significant change in how beverage manufacturers, retailers, and consumers interact with the market’.

Representing the non-alcoholic beverage industry (including producers, distributors and marketers of still and carbonated soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, juices and packaged waters) Robert Kiernan, Director of the Irish Beverage Council, said: "The DRS offers the beverage chain, from producer, to retailer, through to the consumer, the opportunity to play their part in increasing recycling, reducing litter, and building a more circular economy.

"The Irish Beverage Council is delighted to have played our part in shaping and delivering this important initiative, and looks forward to the introduction of a successful and sustainable DRS for Ireland".

Drinks Ireland represents the interest of alcohol drinks manufacturers and suppliers across the island of Ireland. Jennifer Wallace, Drinks Ireland, said: "Drinks Ireland has worked hard to support members in preparations for the Deposit Return Scheme which will deliver significant environmental benefits.

"This project represents a major change for businesses and consumers. We were happy to see the scheme recognizing the diversity of the market, including support for smaller producers. We stand ready to continue supporting our members in their successful implementation of the scheme".

EU legislation prompts action on recycling rates

Deposit Return Schemes are used in around 40 countries around the world, including 15 in Europe.

The roll-out of Deposit Return Schemes is gaining momentum in Europe, where recent EU legislation now requires countries to up their recycling rates.

Nordic countries, however, have had such schemes in place for some times: Sweden introduced a scheme in 1984 and now has a 88% PET collection rate; while Finland introduced its DRS in 1996 and now boasts a 96% PET collection rate.

Germany became the first larger country to introduce a DRS (2003) and now has a 98% PET collection rate.

While the UK has been discussing a DRS, it has failed to get the scheme off the ground over debates over the design of the scheme. A DRS is now not expected to come into effect until 2026.

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