Welcome to the eighth issue of Bottle Bill Common Ground — a limited-series newsletter from Reloop North America highlighting evidence-based guidance for legislators, policy makers, industry, and advocates working on bottle bills. (If you haven’t read our first seven issues, you can do so here. This issue focuses on Principle #8 of the 10 high-performance principles for an effective deposit return system (DRS), the keystone of a better bottle bill.
Managing a modern DRS requires financial, operational and compliance-related activities. Add diverse stakeholders — producers, consumers, retailers, redemption center operators, system operators, government agencies — and the world of DRS seems quite complex. Principle 8 rides to the rescue, laying out six distinct areas to focus on in the journey of a beverage container.
Setting clear system standards and functions upfront allows each stakeholder to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they will interact with other stakeholders for the good of all.
We’ll touch briefly now on all six areas of Principle 8, but will dive deeper into each when we move to 10 practices essential to DRS legislation in issues 11-20 of Bottle Bill Common Ground.
Product placement on market (recycling design, labeling)
Setting a DRS up for success begins with the design, marking and registration of containers in the system. Players across the value chain need to communicate and adhere to design standards that work at all points of production, consumption, post-use recovery, and remanufacturing.
By defining and mandating clearly laid out eco-design requirements — an approach that emphasizes product sustainability from start to finish — the potential for eligible containers to remain in the circular economy for as long as possible is far greater.
At the same time, clearly marked and readable containers make it far easier for consumers to decipher their “redeemability” and for service providers to register and accurately track material and refund deposits to customers.
Accessible and equitable service standards
Principle 1: Easy & Equitable tells us that a DRS has to be convenient for all consumers to use. To prioritize ease of access and improved customer experience, standards must be set that ensure provision of a network of redemptions points that:
- Are sufficient in number in a set of geographic areas
- Deliver a consistent, easy, clean, and safe customer experience
- Are as easy to access as going shopping
- Cater to both low- and high-volume redeemers
- Guarantee cash refunds
- Are technology-led
Administration (mandatory registration and database of barcoded containers)
Establishing and maintaining a beverage container-specific data registry builds system integrity. Registration should include information such as supplier name, product name, flavor, container dimensions (i.e., volume/height/diameter), material type and color, and barcode.
Central system administrators (CSAs) can collect performance-related data from a variety of different stakeholders—producers and distributors, collection points, logistics providers, consolidation and counting centers, and recyclers—and report it out to government regulators.
Regulators then use this performance data to ensure that the DRS is operating soundly and that the operator is fulfilling its legal obligations, such as:
- Meeting statutory performance targets, including minimum collection and/or recycling rates
- Establishing a minimum number of collection points and an appropriate distribution of collection points
- Ensuring that the public is aware of DRS and locations where containers can be returned.
Redemption (transparent recording/reporting of money and material flow data)
A defining feature of a modernized DRS is the use of technology to reconcile the return of empty containers against those sold, and to reconcile the refund of deposits against those collected.
This not only sets a high bar for transparency and accountability but achieves something very few waste or material management systems can: unit-specific tracking. The benefits redound to producers and consumers alike, and creates a body of data to support future policymaking and government reporting on progress towards zero waste and climate goals.
The management of material flow and financial data is done through “clearing” — a computer- based exercise where deposit containers registered at the point where they enter the market are “matched” with the units returned. Once this process is complete, the container has been “cleared.” Clearing is essential not only for operations, but also for data management and reporting compliance and becomes an essential operational function of DRS.
Pickup and recycling (contracts, processing, material ownership)
Strong performance-based contracts with service providers for container pickup and recycling must set performance criteria for consistent operations that include:
- Minimum collection schedule
- Necessary equipment to facilitate collection, and possibly emptying and sorting of redeemable containers
- Documentation of collection service, scope of redeemable containers, and rules required to receive service
- Preference for service vendors with emissions-reducing operational procedures in place
When it comes to who owns the containers that are collected, it is best practice for the system operator to retain ownership of all material — the case in most European countries (e.g., Latvia, Lithuania, and Norway), as well as in some Canadian programs (e.g., Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario).The system operator collects the returned empty containers from return points, and is then responsible for delivering the material to a recycler. It uses the revenue from the sale of those materials to help fund the system.
Education and outreach (public campaigns)
If the public is not aware of the deposit system and the locations where containers can be returned, the system won’t succeed. Best practices from some bottle bill states and European countries emphasize communicating system results through public-facing annual reports and marketing campaigns. To ensure widest possible reach, DRS operators should communicate their results across various channels, including both traditional print media and social media online.
Transparent reporting and communication of program results is also a crucial tool to build and maintain public support for the system, and to flag when recalibration is needed to increase return rates and participation.
Having read this far, you might be asking yourself, “This sounds reasonable in theory, but what does it look like in reality?” Look no further than Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation’s 2022 Sustainability Report:
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.