The basic idea of a deposit is to deposit something valuable and get it back later.
Deposit return systems are suitable for the return of consumer goods, as the customer usually wants his deposit back. Deposit systems are based on the value of the “pledged” consumer goods. For the manufacturer of e.g. beer bottles, the production of new bottles is more expensive than the cleaning and repeated use of his bottles.
For plastic bottles, legislators have introduced deposit systems to “convince” consumers to return the plastic bottles. Producers would also do without a return system, as it is cheaper to produce new plastic than to recycle.
However, non-recycled plastic is mainly incinerated in waste incineration plants. Recycling therefore has a much better CO2 balance.
Deposit systems in international comparison
History of the deposit return system in Germany
Since January 2003, there has been a so-called mandatory deposit on one-way packaging in Germany. It was introduced by Jürgen Trittin, then Minister of the Environment. The regulation is described in detail in the Packaging Ordinance.
The deposit system had already been discussed before the adoption of the deposit obligation. The packaging ordinance was first discussed in 1991 under the name “quota regulation”. The regulation was launched this year because the market share of the reusable deposit fell to 71%. Until the final nationwide introduction in 2003, the first changes were made (1998), such as the introduction of a deposit for carbonated soft drinks. Since 2000, intensive efforts have been made to introduce the mandatory deposit, but resistance from retailers, industry and can opponents initially prevented this. Two years later (2002) a final agreement was reached so that the mandatory deposit could be introduced the following year. The Packaging Ordinance was first accepted by the Federal Cabinet and then examined by the Bundesrat. The EU Commission became involved in the process and initiated a review procedure against the German deposit system. Germany was accused of discriminating against foreign companies with the new regulation. In 2005, the Deutsche Pfandsystem GmbH (dpg) was founded by the initiative of the German trade and beverage industry. Thanks to its dpg standard, this company ensures an orderly, uniform identification procedure and an automated return process for the one-way deposit system. In May 2005, a uniform deposit was introduced for disposable bottles and cans. Source: https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/chronikdosenpfand100.html
Since 01.05.2006 disposable packaging subject to deposit is water, carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, beers and beer mixes and general alcoholic mixes). Exceptions are reusable packaging, very small (less than 0.1 liter) or very large (more than 3.0 liter) and ecologically advantageous packaging such as beverage cartons. Source: dpg-pfandsystem.de
Since May 2006, retailers and other distributors in Germany have been obliged to take back their products. This regulation obliges to take back PET bottles, regardless of whether the customer bought the bottle in this store. Exceptions to take-back obligations apply to store owners with less than 200 square meters of floor space. These only have to take back their own one-way packaging. There are further exceptions to the take-back obligation for returnable beverage packaging and beverage crates. A consumer is also not entitled to his deposit if the deposit label is no longer readable (damage or loss of label) or if the bottle comes from abroad (no DPG logo). Source: dpg-pfandsystem.de
At the moment the German deposit system has the following types of deposit: For all one-way bottles or one-way cans there is a deposit of 25 cents. Reusable bottles made of glass or PET usually have a deposit of 15 cents. It does not matter whether it is mineral water, juice or soft drinks. There is also a deposit of 15 cents on reusable beer bottles with swing tops. If the reusable beer bottle is made of glass, there is a deposit of 8 cents per bottle. Some one-liter wine bottles are also subject to a deposit of two to three cents. Source: www.mehrweg.org
Even 15 years after its introduction, the system is still not complete. If the Green Party have their way, the deposit system will be simplified. According to this, retailers will in future be forced to take back reusable bottles as well, and all PET bottles without exception will be subject to a deposit.
Norway’s deposit return scheme
The deposit system for reusable packaging in Norway has its origins in 1902. The idea of integrating donation campaigns when returning the deposit originated in Norway. Today, the system is operated by Norsk Risirk AS, which was founded in 1999, after being approved by the Norwegian Environmental Protection Agency. Among other things, this company has exclusive rights to manage the deposit system for disposable packaging. In order to provide financial support for the costs of processing empty one-way and returnable bottles, the company pays a fee to all stores and supermarkets in the country.
Since manufacturers and importers receive discounts on environmental taxes when cooperating with Norsk Risirk AS, many manufacturers and importers decide to cooperate with the company. Norsk Risirk AS is financed through registration fees, fees per package quantity and through return and logistics fees. Source: andersen.dk
The current deposit system in Norway has only two variants. If the bottle or can is not larger than 0.5 liters, a deposit on 1.00 NOK is used. As soon as the bottle or can is larger, there is a deposit of NOK 2.50. Source: visitskandinavien.de
Denmark’s deposit return scheme
Denmark has had a deposit system in place for several decades, but until 2000 it only applied to returnable packaging. In the 20th century, the Danish government strongly resisted one-way packaging and aluminum cans. However, since this was against EU law, one-way packaging was also used from 2000 onwards and aluminium cans have been permitted since 2002. From this time on, the deposit system for one-way packaging was also introduced. The Danish Ministry of the Environment founded Dansk Retursystem A/S for this purpose. This company still takes care of the deposit system in Denmark.
Initially, small importers in particular resisted the company because of the high costs. Dansk Retursystem A/S is financed by registration fees, logistics fees and return fees. The deposit system in Denmark is currently organized according to the size of the collection volume. Cans, glass and plastic bottles up to 1 liter capacity have a deposit of 1 DKK. If the products can contain more than 3 liters, a deposit of DKK 3 is payable. Plastic bottles with a capacity of 0.5 liters have a deposit of 1.5 DKK. Quellen: anker.andersen.dk
The deposit return system in the USA
There is currently no federal regulation in the USA regarding deposit systems. Currently, eleven states, such as Oregon, California, Michigan and New York have introduced a one-way deposit system. The first law was passed in Oregon in 1971. The system operates in America under the name Container deposit legislation. Quelle: Tripadvisor
The deposit system in Sweden has existed since the 1980s. The system started with deposit for cans. Later the deposit for glass and disposable bottles was added. At present, Sweden has a deposit of SEK 0.6 on small glass bottles up to 0.33 liters. There is a deposit of 0.90 SEK on glass bottles of 0.5 liter. For beverage cans or plastic bottles up to 1 liter, the deposit is 1.00 SEK. If the content is larger than one liter, there is a deposit of 2,00 SEK.
In Australia there is an existing deposit system in the regions of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. The deposit system was also introduced in New South Wales in 2017. The deposit, amounting to AUD 0.10, is levied on bottles and cans with a capacity of between 150 millimeters and 3 liters. Sources: gotoaustralia.de
Deposit System FAQ
What is a deposit?
According to the dictionary, a deposit is an amount of money that is calculated for the empties and then refunded. In the case of deposit bottles, for example, the buyer pays 25 cents more per bottle. The buyer gets the money back as soon as he returns the bottle to the store. In most cases, the deposit bottles are returned in a beverage market or at a reverse vending machine.
Why is there a deposit?
The deposit system for bottles was introduced to avoid garbage and thus relieve the environment. Empty bottles should not simply be thrown into the garbage or nature. Bottles should be returned to the stores so that they can be cleaned or recycled.
Who does the deposit bottle belong to?
According to the Federal Supreme Court in Germany, the manufacturer owns the bottles or packaging, even though the buyer has paid an amount for the bottle to the retailer in the form of the deposit.
When may supermarkets refuse to accept the deposit?
Retailers in Germany are obliged to take back the deposit for the type of bottles that the specific retailer distributes himself. For example, if the retailer sells PET bottles, the retailer must take back all types of PET bottles, regardless of their contents. The regulation is more difficult for returnable bottles because of the different bottle shapes of the respective suppliers. This means that the retailer is only obliged to take back the reusable bottles whose brand is offered. The regulations for this are contained in the Deposit Ordinance.
Why are there plastic bottles without deposit ?
Bottles smaller than 0.1 liter or larger than 3 liter are deposit free. According to the German Federal Ministry of the Environment this is due to the unsuitable size of the bottles and the lack of alternatives.
How should the deposit law be secured?
There are two types of deposit laws in Germany. The “Fahrnispfandrecht” applies to movable goods and rights. The legal regulation for this can be found in §§1204 continuing in the German Civil Code (BGB). The lien on real property applies to mortgage (§1113 BGB), annuity charge (§1199 BGB) and land charge (§1192 para. 1a BGB).
Why is there no deposit on wine bottles, bottles for juices, spirits bottles, bottles for beverages with more than 50 percent milk content?
The German Federal Ministry for the Environment justifies it with the fact that the relationship between ecological benefits and the cost of establishing a deposit system is inappropriate. It would only make sense to set up a deposit system once the market volume of beverages exceeds a certain level.
How much deposit money do I get? (reusable, one-way, glass)
At the moment the German deposit system has the following types of deposits: For all disposable bottles or disposable cans there is a deposit of 25 cents. Returnable glass bottles, returnable beer bottles with swing tops and PET bottles usually have a deposit of 15 cents. If the reusable beer bottle is made of glass, there is a deposit of 8 cents. Some 1-liter wine bottles also have a deposit of two or three cents.
The use of deposits in other areas
Pawnshops are an area of the commercial pawn credit system. Here it comes to lending against valuables such as jewelry or cell phones. This concept of pawnshops was already implemented in the 8th century B.C. The pawn is given to the creditor so that it can serve as a guarantee for the outstanding debt.
“Unity and justice and freedom are the pledge of happiness”
In the context of this passage of the German national anthem, a pledge can be seen as a guarantee or a sure sign.
This article was mostly written by Loris Puhlmann. Loris did an internship with us as part of his academic degree.