What can be expected from Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme?

Republic of Ireland’s planned deposit return scheme (DRS) has just opened for registration to producers and retailers.

Irish flagThe announcement, made by Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth, paves the way for the scheme which launches in February 2024 and aims to increase recycling of the 1.9 billion drinks bottles and cans that are consumed each year in Ireland.

Retailers and producers are now required to register with Re-turn, the not-for-profit company set up by beverage producers. The company has been granted the legal standing to establish Ireland’s DRS and manage formal engagement with producers, retailers and other operators’.

According to Re-turn, all retailers that sell ‘in scope’ drinks – PET plastic bottles and aluminium/steel cans from 150ml to three litres – must register with them, in order to fulfil their ‘environmental and legislative responsibilities’.

Under the Scheme, a deposit of 15 cents will apply to containers of 500mls or less and a deposit of 25 cents for each container above 500ml.

In 2020, a poll commissioned by environmental charity Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment (VOICE) revealed that 88 per cent of the population in the Republic of Ireland favour an ‘all-in’ DRS. This ‘all-in’ approach would have included the collection of metal cans, plastic water bottles, plastic milk bottles, glass bottles, coffee cups, and drinks cartons and pouches.

Under the EU's Single-Use Plastics Directive, Ireland must ensure the separate collection of 77 per cent of plastic beverage bottles placed on the market by 2025, rising to 90 per cent in 2029.

Tony Keohane, Chair of DRS Ireland, commented: “Deposit return schemes are a proven success in over 40 other jurisdictions around the world, including 12 in Europe, and will help us reach our recycling targets. We look forward to continued collaboration with producers and retailers in establishing a Deposit Return Scheme that delivers significant environmental benefits for everyone."

How will the Deposit Return Scheme operate in Ireland?

Re-turn states that in February 2024, when consumers buy a drink in a plastic bottle, aluminium or steel can that features the Re-turn logo, they will pay a small deposit in addition to the price of the drink. When consumers return their empty, undamaged container to retail outlets that fall under the obligation, they will get a full deposit back in full.

According to the Government’s Consultation Document and Re-turn, the system will likely work as follows:

  • Beverage producers initiate the deposit by paying it into a ‘deposit account’ ( to Re-turn, the not-for-profit system administrator).
  • Retailers pay the refundable deposit to producers/distributors at the wholesale stage, as well as the price of the product.
  • Consumers pay the refundable deposit to retailers, along with the price of the beverage. Consumers are able to recognise which containers are eligible for a deposit because of the ‘Re-turn’ logo displayed on the container and the deposit fee shown separately on their receipt.
  • Consumers claim a full refund when they return their used beverage container to a designated return location, such as the retailer. The aim is that all retailers will accept the empty container.
  • The container will be returned either over the counter or using a ‘reverse vending machine’ that will give the consumer a voucher to redeem at the till.
  • The return location is reimbursed for the refunded deposit by the scheme administrator, in addition to receiving a Handling Fee. This Handling Fee should cover the associated costs of accepting and sorting drinks containers.
  • The returned, used beverage containers are transported to be processed and recycled. The scheme administrator manages the regular collection of bottles and cans. Collections from over the counter will be delivered to counting centres for sorting and compacting, whilst collections from reverse vending machines will go straight to recycling centres.
  • The material can be used to manufacture new containers.

Re-turn says that the monetary value placed on bottles and cans through the scheme initiates an incentive to recycle them. If the buyer of a beverage decides not to recycle the product that they paid a deposit for and instead throws it away, someone else may pick it up and return it to a retailer to claim the deposit refund.

It is expected that all retailers will have an obligation to accept materials covered by the scheme, regardless of whether the container was purchased on its premises or not.

What is Re-turn?

In 2021, the Minister For Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan T.C., signed the legislative regulations for the introduction of a DRS in Ireland. DRS CLG, trading under the new name Re-turn, is the new system administrator appointed to oversee and manage the operation of the DRS.

Development of IT, infrastructure and communication systems is expected to be delivered by Re-turn over the course of 2023 – including:

  • Design, procurement and implementation of a digital DRS platform
  • Registration of producers and products
  • Registration of retailers and other return point operators
  • Sourcing and installation of reverse vending machines
  • Procurement of contracts for the collection, processing and recycling of material
  • Design and delivery of a comprehensive communication and awareness programme