Collage of plastic can glass

Beverage container materials in deposit return schemes

Deposit return systems (also known as deposit return schemes or DRS) can play a crucial role in encouraging the return of drink container materials. Learn more about the types of beverage container materials included in a DRS, to promote recycling and create a fair playing field.
Effective deposit return systems accommodate the drinks sold on the market today. This means considering beverage type, size and material the container is made of. The material included in a deposit system – such as plastic, metal, glass and liquid paperboard – is defined by legislation. Typically, policymakers focus on the beverage packaging commonly used by producers, as well as considering the recyclability of container materials.

What types of materials are included in deposit return schemes?

Image of boys picking up containers

Incentivizing beverage container returns

A key aspect motivating high collection rates in a DRS is a financial incentive to return drink containers for recycling. This is what separates deposit systems from other programs: the deposit encourages consumers to treat packaging as a resource, rather than trash. Home recycling bins are convenient but do not address on-the-go consumption, which one study found is 30-50% of US beverage consumption.¹ On-the-go consumption can be a key contributor to litter.

The European average collection rate for PET beverage containers in a curbside system is 47%, versus 94% in DRSs.² In the US, on average 27% of non-deposit containers are collected for recycling vs 72% of deposit containers.³ As regions (especially European Union member states) pursue ambitious recycling, collection and recycled-content targets in coming years, DRSs have proven to be a reliable way to achieve high performance.
Girl returning bottle in Buffalo

The importance of separate collection

Maximizing the number of containers collected is half the challenge – the other half is maintaining the material’s purity throughout the process to drive high rates of recycling. This ensures drink container materials can join the Clean Loop and become new containers, reducing the need to create containers from virgin materials. 

When a container is returned separately in a DRS, it avoids contamination from other kinds of household recycling or waste; contamination can make the recycling process complex and costly. When materials remain pure and of high quality from the beginning, the risk of being downcycled, incinerated or landfilled is reduced.

Container materials: a breakdown

Learn more below about the most common beverage container materials in deposit return systems, how that material is recycled, and its role in preventing waste and driving a circular economy. 




Image of can moving through reverse vending machine

Spotlight: The Netherlands

Until recently, the Netherlands’ DRS only included PET plastic bottles over one liter, leaving out smaller plastic containers and all aluminum containers. Of the approximately 900 million small plastic bottles sold every year in the Netherlands, around 100 million are estimated to end up in the environment. As a result, the government introduced a deposit on plastic containers smaller than 1 liter from July 2021.¹⁸

The government also found that 150 million beverage cans are thrown away each year. As a result of rising litter volumes for cans, it announced in 2021 that cans would be added to the DRS from 2023.¹⁹

The glass, metal and plastic PET container industries agree that deposit systems lead to higher recycling rates, as well as better quality, higher value material enabling circularity. We support efficient, effective deposit systems. Deposits produce a resilient supply of material that our industries need to make new beverage containers.

Joint statement Can Manufacturers Institute, National Association for PET Container Resources, and Glass Packaging Institute (USA)²⁰

Liquid paperboard

It is essential to seize the moment by implementing an ambitious DRS, that includes a wide range of packaging materials. Limiting the scope of the scheme would be a missed opportunity, particularly if low carbon, renewable packaging formats, such as carton packages, are excluded. If cartons were to be included in the DRS, it would increase the volume of good quality, recycled paperboard available to the industry, allowing further investment to be made in carton recycling infrastructure.

Alex Henriksen Tetra Pak²¹ 

Upcoming beverage container materials and types

The effectiveness of high-performing deposit return systems is seeing growing interest in other container materials and beverage types.

Download the "Rewarding Recycling" white paper

Illustration of DRS white paper globe and containers

Deposit return scheme best practices

Learn the success factors of the world's highest-performing deposit return systems for recycling beverage containers.

Download TOMRA’s white paper discussing what effective deposit return systems deliver, the key elements high-performing deposit systems share, and dozens of case studies on real-world implementation of deposit return policy. 
Download white paper
TOMRA has 50 years' experience in deposit return systems, working in 40 deposit markets, in every part of the value chain. With approximately 80,000 installations across 60+ markets, TOMRA’s reverse vending machines capture 45+ billion used drink containers each year for recycling.

Questions? Get in touch.