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Deposit Return Schemes

Discover how deposit return schemes benefit consumers, businesses and the environment. Find out how TOMRA is leading the resource revolution.

The UK uses over 13 billion plastic bottles every year. Only 7.5 billion (around 57%) are recycled – many others are littered or sent to landfill. (House of Commons Report, 'Turning the Tide on Plastic', 2017)

However, we must stop seeing single-use drinks containers – plastic, glass and cans – as waste. With a new mindset, we can make more of these resources by giving them value that encourages means they can be used again and again.

Deposit return schemes play a vital part in this process. They reward recycling, offering a financial incentive for consumers to deposit their used drinks containers for money. 

What is a deposit return scheme?


Deposit return schemes are an increasingly popular solution to the challenge of recycling. They work by adding a small extra deposit on the price of drinks sold in plastic and glass bottles and cans, which the consumer gets back once they’ve returned the container for recycling. This deposit can be redeemed for cash. 

Inside the machine itself, innovative sorting technology separates the used containers by material and whether they are recyclable or not. This eliminates the possibility of contamination and means they stand a greater chance of being reused for the same purpose – rather than downcycled or thrown to landfill.

Through a combination of incentivised recycling and increased purity, deposit return schemes achieve up to 40% higher collection rates for these materials than other recycling methods. 

How does a deposit return scheme work?


 how does a deposit return scheme work?


Deposit return schemes follow a simple three-step process.

  1. Buy a drink from a supermarket, paying a deposit on top of the price
  2. Drink the beverage
  3. Return the empty container to a reverse vending machine and receive the deposit back

The retailer adds a small extra deposit on top of the bottled drinks they sell. This acts as a levy that can be reclaimed by the consumer upon recycling. Extra amounts that are added onto drinks range from 9p to 25p, depending on the area or organisation running the deposit return scheme.

In other words, consumers receive money from a machine by putting an item in – incentivising recycling for the population and making collection more efficient and manageable for the organisation.

Why use a deposit return scheme?

Deposit return schemes incentivise recycling, provide collection efficiencies for businesses that can reduce littering on a massive scale. Here’s more about the benefits deposit return schemes provide for: 


  • Financial rewards for recycling
  • Convenient locations for depositing used drinks containers
  • Quick and clean process


  • Clean and streamlined recycling collection
  • Time and cost-efficient automated container sorting
  • More storage capacity yet less physical space taken up on site


  • Less litter in groundwater, oceans and streets
  • Reduced need for landfills
  • Less energy and raw materials used to produce new drinks containers


Rewarding recycling around the world: the global benefits of deposit return schemes

TOMRA is the world leader in reverse vending machines – the core component of a deposit return scheme. TOMRA collects 35 billion drinks containers in over 40 countries.

Any organisation can sign up to a deposit return scheme by installing a TOMRA reverse vending machine at their site. The UK is still yet to introduce a nationwide deposit return scheme, but some companies have got ahead of the game. 

Deposit return schemes have been widely rolled out in Germany, Lithuania and Canada. In each location, the recycling collections rates is above 90%. Here are some of the ways it’s been rewarding recycling in those parts of the world.


Workers can dedicate time and effort elsewhere

Businesses can make savings on labour time by installing TOMRA reverse vending machines. The manual sorting and cleaning process of recycling is handled by the machine itself.

This removes the need for staff to manually sift through containers to determine what can and can’t be recycled – a very time-consuming and labour-intensive task – freeing their time for other duties.


A smoother and more effective collection process

Automated reverse vending machines clearly separate the recyclable and non-recyclable containers by material. This means the collection process is streamlined, and takes less time to complete, with reduced disruption. 

It’s also much more effective. In Germany, deposit return schemes have led to 97% of all plastic bottles (and 97% of cans) returned, compared to a far more modest 43% in the UK. (The Guardian, 2018)


Increasing storage capacity for other goods

The existing space taken up by recycling stations can be downsized when a deposit return schemes is introduced – simply because reverse vending machines take up less room. Gone are the clunky separate recycling bins for different plastics and materials. They can be replaced by a single machine that takes up much less room.

This means a business can dedicate this extra space to other goods, freeing up storage capacity on-site.


Learn more about TOMRA reverse vending machines.