Podcast Ep 186 – Re-turn, Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme, goes live across the nation on 1 February. CEO Ciaran Foley on a new era for how the Irish recycle.
As a kid I remember bringing bottles back to shops in exchange for coins that we then used to buy tickets to use the local swimming pool in the town where I grew up. Without sounding too much like Huckleberry Finn (well, it was the 1980s) it seemed like a good idea at the time and I never understood why such schemes never endured.
That is all going to change next week on 1 February 2024 when Re-turn, Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme goes live. As you probably have noticed the machines that are outside supermarkets and inside some shops the way it will work is that when consumers purchase a drink in a plastic bottle or aluminium can that features the Re-turn logo, they will pay a fully refundable deposit in addition to the price of the drink.
“This is the biggest behavioural change in Irish society since the plastic bag levy and certainly the smoking ban”
A deposit of 15 cents will apply to drinks containers from 150ml to 500mls and a deposit of 25 cents for containers over 500ml to 3 litres. Consumers can return their empty undamaged plastic bottles and cans featuring the Re-turn logo to participating shops and supermarkets nationwide and receive a full deposit refund. That refund, in the form of a receipt, can be used towards the purchase of goods or can be exchanged for cash instead.
The company behind the scheme is DRSI CLG, trading as Re-turn. It is a company that is limited by guarantee and was established by beverage producers and retailers in order to fulfil their obligations.
Getting to the point of launch has been a mammoth task that involved coordinating retailers, manufacturers and getting the infrastructure in place.
Manufacturers and retailers buy-in
ThinkBusiness spoke to the CEO of Re-turn Ciaran Foley who said the feed back on the new scheme has been encouraging and will no doubt require a major behavioural change among Irish consumers.
Amárach research has revealed that 82% of consumers support the introduction of the deposit return scheme and 95% of consumers plan to engage with the circular economy initiative.
94% of those surveyed consider the impact their recycling behaviour will have on future generations at some level and 82% state that the deposit placed on drink containers will incentivise them to return empty drinks containers to participating retailers nationwide.
Over three-quarters of consumers (76%) believe as individuals they can make a difference to the environment by recycling drinks containers, and they mainly believe they can do this by recycling and reusing more.
Foley explained that under the EU directive on single-use plastics, every country in Europe has been set targets around recycling metal cans and plastic bottles. “We have to achieve a 77% recycling rate by 2025 and a 90% recycling rate by 2029. So it is widely recognised across the world now that the only way to achieve that is through a deposit return scheme. This is live in 40 countries around the world, including 13 in Europe. It’s been very successful in terms of its roll-out across Europe so Ireland is now getting on board.”
Foley explained that as an entity Re-turn is a not-for-profit organisation that has been granted approval by the State to get the deposit return scheme up and running and administer it.
“Since our approval in 2021 a huge amount of work has gone into this and industry has bought in massively. This is recognised as a huge change but also as a good thing in terms of recycling, cleaning up Ireland and supporting climate change. Everyone has bought in; every producer who puts a product into the Irish market has had to register for Re-turn.
“There are now more than 5,000 products that have been registered. So obviously we were very much reliant on buy-in from the producers.”
Foley said many manufacturers engaged with Re-turn quite early but said it has also been a major change for retailers.
“Anywhere that sells plastic bottles or aluminium cans – not only shops but hotels, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops – everyone who sells these products registers with us.”
He said that any business that is under 250 square metres of sale space is exempt from having to function as a takeback operator.
“But everybody has to show the deposit separately on receipts. You have to decide if you want to be a take-back facility – and you have to be if you are over that size – or if you want to do it as a manual collection, which is basically bags and tags in the shop, or you do it as an automated collection via reverse-vending machines that have been delivered all over the country.
“All of the major retailers have gone to the reverse-vending option. A lot of the international retailers have seen these schemes work in other countries and were on board immediately.”
Foley said that so far more than more than 2,000 reverse vending machines will be operational from 1 February, “which is phenomenal really.”
To make it work every manufacturer has to produce goods that have barcodes and logos on their packaging.
When you consider the manufacturing aspect combined with the engagement with retailers in every town and city across the country, it has been an enormous logistical challenge to get to this point of the eve of launch.
“We are really grateful to the industry in terms of how they’ve engaged with us and how they’ve made it happen.”
Foley describes the onset of Re-turn as “the biggest behavioural change in Irish society since the plastic bag levy and certainly the smoking ban.”
He continued: “The interesting piece for Ireland is we are already very pretty good at recycling. The reason glass isn’t in our scheme is because we already have a recycling rate of over 80%, which is very strong. We believe we currently recycle between 55% and 60% of the plastic and aluminium in Ireland through mixed recycling scheme, which is quite good nationally.
“When you think there are about 2bn of these containers that go on the market each year then clearly the difference between 60% and 90% is colossal. So that’s why we have to make the change.
“The cultural piece is getting people to buy-in to recognise that we really don’t want these products on our streets or in our rivers or seas. We really need to switch the mindset from already doing the right thing in our homes to making sure people bring the bottles and cans back to their return point.
“That’s going to be a major change and the experience from around Europe has been that it can be slow to start with for a short time and then people do buy-in. They buy-in not only because there is a financial incentive there but because they want to contribute to cleaning up their country and contribute to reducing the impact of climate change.
“We’re confident based on what we’ve seen in the past in this country that people will buy into it and help us achieve the targets.”