It’s great to see you at our half-way point on essential practices!
Welcome to the 15th issue of Bottle Bill Common Ground — a limited-series newsletter from Reloop North America highlighting evidence-based guidance for policy makers, industry, and advocates working on bottle bills. (If you haven’t read our first 14 issues, you can do so here.)
We are now focused on 10 essential practices — requirements on how to build, run, and maintain a modern deposit return system (DRS) for beverage containers. The fifth essential practice is:
Any number of design decisions are made before a beverage container is manufactured, such as shaping, sizing, thickness, and material type. These choices, made by the producer, play a critical role in determining the container’s potential for recovery and recycling within a closed-loop system. Having a set of design-for-recycling standards included in DRS legislation helps guide those choices from the very beginning of a container’s journey and ensures that it can be recovered and recycled in a closed loop manner.
Some materials are not readily recyclable in current recycling processes because their design significantly degrades the quality of recycling streams. For example, polylactic acid (PLA) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are contaminants in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling processes and reduce the quality of PET.
Elements to consider when designing beverage containers for recycling are detailed below.
- Separability of components
- Use of additives, fillers, and colorants
- Use of sleeves and labels
- Shape, size, and thickness
- Product residues (how easy the product is to empty of its content)
- Barriers and coatings
- Labeling and adhesive
- Printing ink
Legislation that specifies the use of modulated producer fees can help incentivize eco-design. This means that fees paid by producers vary according to aspects of their product’s design, with more “economically recyclable” materials charged at a lower rate than difficult to recycle materials.
When it comes to marking and labeling the container itself, best practice dictates the use of standard text, like “Return for Refund,” and/or printing a logo, as well as a barcode, on each container for easy identification.
Barcodes can also enable RVMs to recognize and count each deposit container, in order to track which containers are returned. Barcodes also help to ensure that containers not eligible for redemption are not accidentally accepted. This provides a baseline level of system accountability.
Decisions on what level of marking and labeling to legislate are determined by a number of factors, including:
- Level of deposit
- Proximity of population centers in bordering markets
- Impacts on distribution of beverages
- Costs of additional labels (including redesign)
- Likely cost to system of fraudulent activity
Consumers must be able to return all eligible containers to any collection point, in order to create a convenient and effective system. Requiring brand owners to register their products with the system operator, who then provides that information to return point operators, is a direct way to help reach this goal.
High-performing DRSs around the world require beverage producers to provide the following information as part of the registration process:
- Company name and contact information
- Beverage container information, such as brand/product name/flavor, volume, material type and color
Case Study: Norway
Beverage containers in Norway’s DRS, which is run by Infinitum, must adhere to detailed specifications that regulate the type of materials used, as well as the thickness, physical shape, and dimensions of containers that enter the system. Before launching on the market, each product and related beverage container requires registration with Infinitum. During the registration process, the container’s deposit marking and barcode are checked to ensure that they can be identified using automated collection or counting equipment. The registration process includes marking containers with a standardized deposit logo and submitting the barcode to Infinitum, to ensure they can be correctly scanned by RVMs. Eco-design standards inform the fees for materials in the DRS. For example, producers are charged higher fees for coloured containers or those with a sleeve that covers 75% or more of the container.
In Norway, manufacturers can choose between a universal barcode, which allows beverages to be sold in both Norway and Sweden, or a barcode unique to Norway. Unique barcodes carry lower fees since they minimize the risk of fraud: these items are only sold in the Norwegian market and a deposit fee for them is paid in Norway. While universal barcodes may save producers other operational costs, they carry higher fees to cover the cost of increased fraud, as a consumer can redeem a container bearing the same barcode but sold in a place where they have not been charged a deposit.
Thanks for reading! We encourage you to share this newsletter widely with those who want or need to know about these principles and practices. Working together from a common ground of knowledge, we can move good bottle bills forward. Sign up here to get these blog posts as emails.