A deposit system for non-refillable PET bottles and metal cans was introduced in Slovakia at the beginning of 2022. The system relies on TOMRA return machines and a deposit return system. It is designed to meet the requirements of the EU directive on single-use plastics, enable higher return and recycling rates, and address the littering problem. The pre-specified return rate for 2022 reached 70 percent. From Germany, we already know the effect of a relatively successful return system. The example of Slovakia underlines our conviction that reusable and return systems will continue to gain in importance. The trend is only just beginning.
According to the Slovakian deposit system (DRS), more than 820 million beverage containers were collected and recycled via the new return system in the first year of its establishment.
The minimum return rate of 60 percent set in advance by the legislator was exceeded by almost 17 percent and reached 70 percent. Those involved consider this to be a success, and not without good reason. The aim is to achieve a return rate of 90 percent by 2025.
Slovakia’s return system relies on deposits. Consumers must pay a deposit of 15 cents when buying beverages in PET bottles or cans, which is refunded to them when they return the used packaging.
The Slovak system is reportedly financed through three pillars:
- Administrative fees, which must be paid by beverage producers,
- Revenue from the sale of collected material, and
- profits from unredeemed deposits on containers.
The Slovakian system does not stipulate the way in which sales outlets fulfill their obligation to take back empties. Theoretically, therefore, empties can also be returned from person to person at the checkout. As expected, however, an automated solution using TOMRA reverse vending machines has prevailed. According to the company, it has currently installed around 2,000 of these automated return points in Slovakia.
Packaging / products affected
The vending machines are suitable for non-refillable PET bottles and metal cans with a size of 0.1 to 3 liters. Beverages with an alcohol content of over 15 percent, syrup, milk and milk-based beverages are exempt from the mandatory returnable deposit.
All retail outlets with an area of more than 300 square meters are obliged to participate in the return system or to take back empty PET beverage bottles and cans. Smaller stores can join the DRS system voluntarily.
According to the Slovak deposit system (DRS), 77 percent of consumers were satisfied with the implementation of the system, and 55 percent were very satisfied. According to a study by TOMRA, 99.2 percent of Slovakian consumers were already aware of the Slovakian DRS three months after the system was launched.
Responsible for operating the DRS, raising public awareness, and engaging all stakeholders is a central system administrator. This was established in 2021 by four national associations:
- The Association of Producers of Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Mineral Water,
- the Slovak Association of Beer and Malt Producers
- the Slovak Alliance of Modern Retailers, and
- the Retail Association of the Slovak Republic
Reusable on the rise
We have been firmly convinced for some time that reusable and returnable systems will gain in importance. In Germany, such a deposit system has already been relatively successfully established for many years and is being extended bit by bit to more and more beverage packaging.
The trend toward reusable or deposit packaging will become increasingly established. We will see significantly more of this. Successful implementations such as in Slovakia underpin this. And the legal requirements of the EU are doing the rest. The recently presented proposal for the new European Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, for example, places a special focus on reusable systems – and sets increasing quotas not only for beverage packaging.