Why are bottle bills successful?
There are two main reasons container deposit schemes succeed in increasing recycling rates and reducing plastic waste.
- Financial incentive: Bottle bills provide a financial incentive for consumers to return bottles and cans that might otherwise be littered or thrown in the trash. Giving a financial value to these empty containers means they are viewed and treated not as trash, but as a resource. In fact, deposits reduce beverage container litter by 40% or more. The results of the financial incentive are clear. For example, while the U.S. national recycling rate has stagnated for decades at around 34%, high-performing deposit return systems routinely collect 90% or more of containers for recycling.
- Increased purity: By separating bottles and cans for recycling through reverse vending machines, drink containers are collected without contamination from other types of waste that may be in a household recycling bin. This ensures containers can be recycled into new bottles and cans, rather than used for lower quality applications like landfill cover. This is a process known as closed-loop recycling, which TOMRA calls the Clean Loop. Clean Loop Recycling reduces the reliance on raw materials needed to produce new beverage containers (that is, coming into the loop) and waste ending up in landfills or in nature as litter (going out of the loop).
How bottle bills work around the world
Many countries around the world operate these programs. Bottle bills can result in nearly 100% of all beverage containers returned for recycling; no other waste collection system comes even close to such high return rates.
- Michigan: Michigan has the highest return rate of any U.S. state with a bottle bill, at around 90%. The $0.10 deposit value is a proven motivator for consumers. In the first 40 years of its history, the bottle bill incentivized Michiganders to collect 96% of the 150 billion containers sold with a deposit.2 And the program remains popular. 94% of voters say they support the deposit law.3
- Norway: Norway has long been recognized as a trailblazer in container deposit return systems, with countries around the world replicating its model. Renowned ocean plastic waste researcher Dr. Jenna Jambeck even pointed to the Norway system as a model deposit program for reducing coastal beverage container litter.4 Starting with TOMRA’s first innovative reverse vending machines in 1972, return rates in Norway today are at 89% for both cans and plastic bottles, with collections managed by program coordinator Infinitum.
- Germany: The German market outperforms the rest of the world in beverage container recycling results, following the introduction of its bottle bill in 2003. Germany’s collection rate is extremely high, with approximately 98% of all plastic bottles returned (and 99% for cans).
- Lithuania: Lithuania introduced its bottle bill in 2016, with the aim of reducing litter, cutting local government costs and boosting recycling rates. Prior to the introduction of the program, only a third of plastic bottles were collected (34%). Two years later, the country’s deposit initiative, which is powered by TOMRA’s reverse vending machines, has seen return rates increase to 92%.
Calls are increasing around the world for other countries to follow suit, with the United Nations Environment Agency in 2017 encouraging all nations to implement container deposit schemes. The Single-Use Plastics Directive adopted in 2019 by the European Union has set a target for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, which experts say is difficult to achieve without a container deposit system. Regions such as Scotland, Portugal, Slovakia and more states in Australia are set to introduce bottle bills in the next few years.
With our planet facing a waste crisis, we need to live more sustainably and recycle more efficiently. TOMRA’s is committed to making this vision a reality by changing consumer behavior for the better. As these examples show, bottle bills are a proven part of the solution to changing the way the world thinks about waste. When the right waste management system is in place, people can be empowered to lead a resource revolution.
For more information about bottle bills and other deposit return systems worldwide.
1 “Beverage Market Data Analysis 2015”, Container Recycling Institute. 2017.
2 Container Recycling Institute. 2019.
3 Marketing Research Group. 2019.
4 “Resource Recycling Presentation”, Dr. Jenna Jambeck. College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. 2019.