In recent years, there has been renewed interest in deposit-return systems (DRSs) for the recovery of beverage containers. These systems place a small deposit on beverage purchases, which is refunded to the consumer when the empty container is returned for recycling.
As more countries consider DRS as a means to reduce litter and encourage recycling, many are questioning the impacts that such a system would have on municipalities, particularly those that have an existing source separation program in place.
The main argument put forward by opponents is that DRSs harm municipalities by diverting recyclables with the most value from the municipal recycling stream, resulting in a reduction of the cost-effectiveness of municipal curbside programs. To support this argument, evidence is provided to show loss of material revenues as well as the industry contributions from extended producer responsibility schemes for packaging where they exist. However, one of the key elements missing in the majority of these analyses is the savings resulting from the reduced or avoided costs of collection, treatment, and disposal by the municipal waste management system.
We wanted to learn more about how municipalities are impacted by the implementation of a DRS, and so we set off on a task to compile all of the research done on the subject over the years. What we found was compelling, and sufficiently closes the case that container deposit systems are good—not bad—for municipalities. The following table presents a compilation of 20 studies that examined the costs and benefits to municipalities of implementing (or expanding) a DRS for beverage containers. It is noteworthy that, although different in scope, location, author and year, each study reported significant net cost savings to municipalities.