Deposit Return Systems

Last modified: March 23, 2019
PROBLEM: More than 120 billion aluminum, plastic and glass disposable, single-serve beverage containers are littered or wasted in the United States every year, and container recycling rates are plummeting. This unconscionable waste of resources has enormous energy, climate change and pollution impacts. Worse, the beverage industry is working overtime to replace industry operated return-refill systems with wasteful, taxpayer funded collection systems all over the world.

SOLUTION: The beverage industry knows what works to recover containers because they invented the deposit system for refillable glass bottles, and they operate the system in the 10 U.S. states where they are required to do it. Those 10 states with deposits recycle more bottles and cans than all the other 40 states together. When corporations take responsibility for their products and packaging at end of life, there is an incentive to make less wasteful, less toxic, less over-packaged and more durable products. For beverage containers, that means that container wasting will only decrease significantly when brand owners (the place in the supply chain that has the most control over packaging decisions) are made to take physical or financial responsibility for getting their containers back.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: As a result of consumer pressure, Coca-Cola is making progress towards their original goal of using 25% recycled plastic in bottles (they are close to 10% in North America). In February 2002, Pepsi committed to using 10% recycled plastic by 2002. Coca-Cola participated in an objective, multi-stakeholder project to assess options to increase container recovery, but they abandoned the project after a report by the beverage industry's own consultants showed the effectiveness of deposits and ways of making them more cost effective.
(See the links in table above right for more. Click on the links in the table below to navigate further down this page)
BEAR Report Essential Elements Beverage Container Wasting
Shareholder Campaign Releases Anti-Trust Boondoggle

National Beverage Producer Responsibility Act of 2003[top]

BEAR Report [top]
A new report on beverage container recycling suggests that we can double recovery of beverage containers - and save money at the same time. These are the unexpected findings of a study carried out under the watchful eyes of both beverage industry and environmental representatives, through Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (BEAR).

  • GRRN Statement (January 2002) [pdf]
  • About the Report
  • Executive Summary [pdf]
  • Full Report (January 2002) [off-site]

    Essential Elements [top]
    Based on the BEAR report, a group of NGO and government participants developed a list of essential elements of a deposit systems that maximize environmental performance while giving industry flexibility to minimize costs. Below are analyses of existing North American deposit systems that embody different elements, a link to a website with descriptions of all North American deposit systems, and a link to research on promoting beverage container reuse.

    Trashed Cans: The Global Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can
    Wasting in America
    , July 2003, by Container Recycling Institute [off-site]

    Refillable Beverage Containers

    Anti-Trust Boondoggle[top]
    Here's a breathtaking story -- how Coke and Pepsi got Congressional exemption from anti-trust for their exclusive distributor franchises based on their testimony to preserve the environmental benefits and economic necessities of small businesses operating a system based on refillable bottles. Within months of passage in 1980, however, Coke and Pepsi began dismantling the refillable infrastructure and eliminating mom & pop bottlers. Coke and Pepsi should be held responsible for providing increased environmental benefits under the current system or Congress should remove the exclusive (and very profitable) franchises enjoyed by the distributors. Hence the rationale for an EPR-style bottle bill to level the playing field. Beverage Container Wasting [top]
    Why all the fuss about beverage container wasting? For one thing, 114 billion soda and beer containers were wasted -- buried, burned or littered -- in 1999, and the number is growing.

    Shareholder Campaign [top]
    Socially responsible investors are asking Pepsi and Coke to commit to achieving container recovery levels for all containers currently attained in most deposit states (80%), as well as to use 25% recycled plastic in plastic soda bottles.
    * GrassRoots Recycling Network worked closely with Container Recycling Institute on the Beverage Campaign. Some of the materials on this site were developed with CRI.

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