Norwegian-style Deposit Return Scheme - does the UK have the bottle?

Kathy Illingworth, Valpak Principal Consultant, recently visited Norway to find out more about how their Deposit Return Scheme works and to see reverse vending in action. Read her Blog to find out what she discovered and how the UK could learn from Norway's model.

This week I was lucky enough to visit Norway to learn more about their Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). This couldn’t have come at a better time with Defra’s DRS consultation released only a couple of weeks ago.

Even though Valpak has been looking into DRS, supporting members and analysing the drinks market using our packaging database of over 33 million products, I haven’t had the chance to see one in action!

Norway Visit - Group Photo

Purpose of the trip

The trip was organised by plastics recycling experts, Recoup, and hosted by Tomra (reverse vending machine (RVM) manufacturer) and Infinitum (Norway’s DRS scheme operator). We had the opportunity to get all our questions answered (we had lots!) to understand how the Norwegians have developed and operate one of the world’s most successful DRS’s (collecting over 95% of their PET bottles for recycling). We also got to see the full range of RVMs on the market and see them in retail locations, as well as view the sortation processes used to produce the high-quality output from the scheme.

Norwegian DRS

The system covers PET bottles and cans, with around 3.7k RVMs with an additional 11k manual collection points at smaller stores. The deposit itself is about 20-30p on each drink and can be redeemed at any return point or you can use it to play the national lottery, with money raised going to local good causes. Needless to say, a few of us went for the lottery option but sadly were not winners – hence we are all back at work today!

Reverse Vending Machines in Norway

What the UK could learn from the Norwegian scheme

Here are some of the things that I found really interesting and pertinent for the UK that will help inform our DRS consultation response:

  • With Defra estimating that the UK could need up to 37k RVMs, this would make us the second largest DRS in the world (after Germany)
  • Norwegian DRS legislation is one page long! It’s that simple and allows the industry (who own Infinitum) to make (most) of the decisions on how to make it effective. It certainly appears to be working in Norway, but I am not sure how a one-pager would be viewed in the UK!
  • If the packaging doesn’t meet Infinitum’s design for recycling guidelines, it can’t be part of the DRS! This includes material types, labels, caps and glue and ensures that the quality, and hence value, of the sorted material is premium. With the forthcoming recycled content tax in the UK, any material coming out of a DRS will be very desirable and of top quality
  • Whilst less than 1% of retail sales in Norway are made online, they do offer returns for online shoppers – with delivery drivers accepting empties. This could be really important in the UK as about 20% of our retail sales are made online
  • The collection points in Norway include some on the go (OTG) locations, but these tend to be where the container’s deposit value is given as a charitable donation rather than redeemed by the consumer. This is important as the UK will need to have a good coverage of collection points OTG, where less than 10% of drinks are currently recycled

Reprocessor in Norway

Consultations and responses – Your input matters

A final point is a cultural one, in Norway the view is if you see a piece of litter the fault isn’t with the packaging manufacturer, it’s with the person who littered it! This makes a lot of sense and we have been given a rare opportunity with EPR reform and DRS to make design, behavioural and technological changes to really make an environmental improvement to the packaging supply chain. Therefore, it is so important that as many stakeholders as possible research and respond to these consultations.