Let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of standards.
Welcome to the 16th 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 15 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 sixth essential practice is:
It’s worth repeating yet again: Convenience and user experience are two essential factors to consider when planning and implementing a modern DRS that works for all. And the essential practice that helps get us there is standards on the operations of collection points.
Collection standards are triple-threat. They not only 1) ensure ease and accessibility for consumers but also 2) reduce fraud and 3) build system accountability. The same holds true for specific operational requirements for manual and automated redemption points with reverse vending machines (RVMs).
Consumer Ease and Equity
Experience from DRSs around the world shows that return-to-retail (R2R) systems can best meet access and user experience criteria. In past issues of Bottle Bill Common Ground, we’ve cited Reloop research showing a median 87% return rate for beverage containers in retail-based systems versus a 71% median return rate for return-to-redemption center systems.
Achieving a strong retail-based redemption network begins with legislated mandates that require retailers selling beverages to accept empty containers for recycling and provide consumers with a quick refund of their deposit. Without minimum collection requirements, some consumers will be unable to redeem their containers easily, undermining system equity, and businesses are more likely to ignore their legal responsibility to participate in the system.
To ensure equitable, easy, and timely access to return points, DRS legislation should encompass provisions for retailers to follow, including:
Offering a clean, safe, and well-lit site
Situating the return point inside a building or in a closed shelter
Providing a non-trash receptacle for rejected containers
Ensuring storage capacity for returned containers, separate from the shopping area and not visible or accessible from it
Clearly marking the container return area as part of the DRS
Ensuring site accessibility for persons with reduced mobility and year-round road access
Aligning operating hours with those of the establishment when the return point is situated inside, with business days clearly posted.
Setting minimum collection standards are also critical to ensure that bag drop — where residents can return containers in bulk — and manual collections are done accurately and are not subject to fraud. The key here, as explained in our last issue on Practice 5: Design, Marking, and Registration for Containers, is that the counting of containers needs to be done using barcodes so that fraud is mitigated to the fullest extent possible.
Automated take-back of eligible beverage containers through RVMs is common to most modern DRSs. Many jurisdictions — especially those with high-performing R2R systems — already rely on their use. Although they require a higher initial capital investment than manual systems, modern RVMs enable a more efficient, streamlined operation and are ultimately more convenient for consumers, return point operators, and DRS operators. For producers and distributors, one of the key benefits of modern RVMs is their ability to prevent or minimize fraud.
Given their importance to the success and integrity of DRSs, jurisdictions should specify in their system rules operational requirements wherever RVMs are deployed. Doing so can ensure that all retailers offer the same standard of service and have the capacity to meet the system requirements effectively. Some examples of RVM requirements include:
Connection to power supply
Reliable Internet connectivity
Installation by authorized RVM suppliers
Front screen display providing clear instructions for customers
Ability to issue a deposit slip that includes information on the packaging returned by the consumer, corresponding deposit amounts, and the contact details of the retailer or collection point issuing the slip for accountability.
Incorporating collection standards into solid bottle bill legislation is a critical step, but it is equally critical to include provisions mandating regular and routine audits to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the collection process, and to ensure compliance with the established standards.
Case Study: Quebec
Quebec’s new DRS regulations include distinct collection requirements for the different types of return points:
- Return points designed to take small quantities of containers
- Return points designed to accept both small and large quantities of containers
- Return points designed to take back high volumes of containers (bulk return)
The regulations require that producers establish a network of 1,500 return sites, with quotas based on the density of residents per redemption site.
- For example, in more urban areas, like Montreal, the minimum requirement is one return point per 15,000 residents; whereas in isolated regions, it is one per 4,000 residents.
Producers must also ensure that there are at least two return sites in each regional municipality, where an unlimited number of containers can be redeemed. More bulk sites may be introduced, but they will not count towards the 1,500-site requirement, to avoid the potential for some areas or populations to be underserved.
The new system focuses on consumer experience, aiming to make container return as straightforward as using a household recycling bin. Retailers are given flexibility in how to meet their obligations, with emphasis placed on the overall performance of the system.
- For example, they can decide where and how to offer RVMs, grouping them with other businesses if they wish, so long as the system operator approves the proposal, and they deliver consistent service and marketing and site redemption points according to distance provisions set in the legislation.
Quebec’s approach matches robust and harmonized collection requirements with a flexible approach toward retailers.
A strong network of convenient return points where consumers can easily take back their empty containers is vital to achieving the high recycling rates seen in high-performing DRSs. Building collection standards into legislation is essential to delivering a redemption network that upholds the principles of an equitable deposit system.
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