Slovakia exceeds return-rate targets for beverage containers as new deposit return scheme marks first anniversary 

Slovakia launched its new deposit return system (DRS, also known as a deposit return scheme) on 1 January 2022, with an ambition to combat litter and meet the requirements of the European Union’s Single-Use Plastics Directive. Featuring TOMRA reverse vending machines (RVMs) and sorting equipment for the Slovak deposit return system administrator's sorting facility, the DRS has seen Slovakia return 820 million containers in the first year of operation of the DRS, with a return rate over 70% — exceeding the goal of 60% set for the deposit system’s first year.

We owe the success of the Slovak deposit system to high-quality cooperation. This includes the cooperation with TOMRA Collection Slovakia during the implementation period of the deposit system in Slovakia. We are looking forward to other shared goals and tasks that the next year of the deposit system will bring us.

Lucia Morvai, TOMRA Deposit Return System Administration
Lucia Morvai, Director of External Affairs and Communications Správca Zálohového systému (officially named Deposit Return System Administrator in English)

Deposit return scheme snapshot:

  • Country population: 5.4 million
  • Container deposit: €0.15
  • Eligible containers: Non-refillable PET bottles and metal cans 0.1 to 3 litres in size (except containers for hard alcohol (over 15%), syrups, and milk / products containing milk). Deposit of refillable glass bottles continues as before, operated by beverage producers (not central DRS organisation).
  • Container return rates: 60% (PET) prior to the new deposit return system (no data available for can return rates), over 70% (821 million) at the end of the first year of the DRS. Target of 90% by 2025.
  • Collection model: Return-to-retail where all retailers over 300m2 are required to take back empty containers. Smaller shops can join the system voluntarily. There are approximately 2,000 collection points.
Woman feeding bottles in the reverse vending machine
TOMRA reverse vending machine in FRESH Plus supermarket

Designing the deposit return scheme in Slovakia

The deposit return system in Slovakia was introduced on January 1, 2022, with the objective of motivating consumers to increase the return rate of beverage containers for recycling, and ensuring clean and litter-free mountains and rivers across the country.

In November 2018, the Slovak Ministry of the Environment announced the intention to introduce a DRS, with the aim of achieving a return rate of 90% by 2027 - ahead of the targets of the European Union’s Single-Use Plastics Directive (which requires the same return rate, but by 2029). Slovakia’s legislation regulating the deposit return system was approved in September 2019. Following unforeseeable delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the launch date of the DRS was set as January 1, 2022. It was a relatively short time, since the tender for the operator had not been finalized, creating a timeframe for the roll-out of the whole deposit system of ten months.

January 2021 saw the announcement of the Central System Administrator for Slovakia’s deposit return system, the organization whose task would be to operate the DRS in Slovakia. It was created jointly by four associations: the Association of Producers of Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Mineral Water, the Slovak Association of Producers of Beer and Malt, the Slovak Alliance of Modern Retail, and the Retail Association of the Slovak Republic. They bring together most manufacturers of beverages in Slovakia, who put on the market approximately 80% of the beverage containers that would be subject to the deposit. The administrator is responsible for running the system with transparent flows of both data and money, and for promoting and communicating the system to DRS stakeholders and wider public. In addition to the founding organizations’ initial contributions, the administrator's source of income is financed by unredeemed deposits for containers, revenue from the sale of collected material, and administration fees paid by beverage producers.

Slovakia was the first country in Central Europe to introduce a DRS, ahead of all its five neighbors – the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine.

The roll-out of reverse vending machines

Global reverse vending leader TOMRA established its Slovak subsidiary, TOMRA Collection Slovakia, in February 2021. The deposit law does not stipulate whether the store is obliged to take back deposited beverage containers manually (at the cashier) or automatically (through reverse vending machines, or RVMs). In practice, most stores have installed reverse vending machines, to speed up and simplify the process of handling deposited bottles. The number of RVMs in Slovakia grew significantly during the first year of the DRS, and this growth looks set to continue, as many retailers purchase additional machines, machines with higher capacity, and so on. 

In Slovakia, Tesco values cooperation with TOMRA Collection Slovakia, where we have a good partnership. We appreciate a professional, flexible, and accommodating approach, both during the installation of new RVMs and also during their maintenance.

Maria Zerzanova, Tesco
Mária Zerzanová, PR Manager Tesco Stores SR a.s. 

We installed RVMs from TOMRA Collection Slovakia in all 34 FRESH Plus supermarkets in eastern Slovakia. Thanks to their features, RVMs have become a helper in the fight against littered plastic bottles and cans. Thanks to the reliability of the machines, our customers quickly got used to the mandatory deposit system of beverage containers. In the case of system errors, which naturally occurred a few times, we appreciated the trouble-free communication with the technicians and their fast assistance in troubleshooting.

Miroslav Labaš jr., Director of advertising, marketing and PR division Labaš s.r.o.

Public acceptance and satisfaction in industry for Slovakia's deposit return scheme

Following visible, well-targeted campaigns, consumers learned in time all the necessary information about the new DRS, its purpose, and its use, such as where and how to return beverage containers. The administrator, individual retailers, and manufacturers of RVMs such as TOMRA participated in these campaigns with their own contributions. According to a consumer survey carried out in March 2022 (commissioned by TOMRA within three months of the DRS launch), 99.2% of consumer respondents knew about Slovakia’s DRS. 77% were satisfied with the system, out of which 55% said they were very satisfied. 

Representatives of the government (Ministry of the Environment) and participating industries have repeatedly expressed their satisfaction with the functioning of the DRS, a system that was introduced in a timeframe significantly shorter than similar systems in other countries. 

"Slovaks have taken a very responsible approach to returning both plastic bottles and cans and are actively involved in it, which is why we managed to collect 70% of all deposit containers in the first 10 months. By reaching that, we have so far exceeded the legislature goal by 10%," said Lucia Morvai, Director of External Affairs and Communications at the Deposit Return System Administrator. 

We are the first country in Central Europe to start a deposit system for PET bottles and cans. Every day, approximately 2.5 million PET beverage bottles and cans are collected in Slovakia, which would otherwise end up to a considerable extent in nature or in waterways.

Ján Budaj Minister for the Environment

The launch of the deposit system in Slovakia was very successful, thanks to the wide support of both retailers and consumers. They understand the purpose of the deposit return system and therefore have the motivation to learn new things in adapting to the new system.

Roman Postl, TOMRA Collection Slovakia
Roman Postl, Managing Director TOMRA Collection Slovakia

Parameters, goals and accomplishments

By the end of 2022, 70% of all eligible containers were collected, ahead of the original return-rate target of 60% by the end of 2022. Slovakia has a goal to achieve a 90% return rate by 2025, four years ahead of the goal of the EU's Single-Use Plastics Directive. Both the administrator and the Ministry are optimistic about the prospect of meeting or exceeding these goals for recycling in the coming years. The number of bottles returned for recycling through the DRS at the end of December 2022 exceeded 820 million.

In an effort to help recycling in Slovakia, the deposit system administrator also built a new industrial capacity sorting facility for PET bottles and cans, capable of processing the country's entire annual output. This new plant of Slovakia’s Deposit Return System Administrator in Kočovce, Rakoľuby, supplies manufacturers of beverage containers with sorted material of higher quality, while requiring less energy and processing. The Central System Administrator of the deposit return system is currently the most important Slovak supplier to local plastic recycling companies.