The Deposit System

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Editor's note: This blog was first published on March 18, 2019.

Years ago when I was in my early teens, I used to take care of all the used soda bottles and cans in our house. Back then in Michigan, we used to get 10 cents for every returnable bottle or can. In the summer, there used to be a yearly golf tournament near us and we would stand near the exits with plastic garbage bags offering to dispose of cans and bottles for the fans that were leaving the tournament. We would then take the empties and return them for cash. That was the extent of my knowledge of that deposit system.

It wasn’t quite as comical as the scheme Kramer and Newman cooked up on an episode of Seinfeld.

Of course, due to unforeseen circumstances, their deposit scheme failed.

But take a look at Norway and its recycling program. The country says it is now recycling up to 97% of its plastic bottles.

An article in iflscience.com says:

The success is thanks to the Norwegian government’s environmental taxes that reward companies that are environmentally friendly. Since 2014, all plastic producers and importers are subject to an environmental tax of around 40 cents per bottle. However, the more the company recycles, the lower the tax. If the company managed to recycle over 95 percent of its plastic, then the tax is dropped.  

Customers also pay a small ‘mortgage’ on each bottled product they buy. To get back their money, they must deposit their used bottles in one of the 3,700 ‘mortgage machines’ found in supermarkets and convenience stores across the country, which reads the barcode, registers the bottle, and gives them back a coupon.”

A nonprofit organization called “Infinitum” set up the system for Norway. The organization’s website outlines the deposit system like this:

Registration

In Norway, all producers and importers of beverages, in either cans or non-refillable bottles (PET), can register their products in the deposit system. They pay the deposit to Infinitum to label the bottles and cans with the deposit symbol.

Returning empties

Consumers return their empty cans and bottles to a retailer, like a store, kiosk or petrol station. When consumers return their empties, they get back the deposit they paid upon purchase. In turn, the retailers get the deposit refunded from Infinitum.

Infinitum’s production

The empty bottles and cans return to Infinitum’s production facilities or to regional partners. The production facility record, process and prepare the empties for recycling.

Recycling

The empties are sent to recycling in compressed cubes. This is called bailing.

Cans: The recycler melts the aluminum into aluminum sheets. The raw material produces new cans, or other types of aluminum products.

Bottles: The recycler sorts, shreds, cleans and dries the plastic bottles into plastic flakes. The plastic flakes become preforms. Producers buy preforms for new bottles.

Because of the program’s success in Norway, a few countries have sent delegates to study the process. The Minister for Environment from the West Australia government toured Infinitum facilities last year.

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