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.
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.
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.
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.