NORWAY – Norwegian recycling company TOMRA has given an insight into Norway’s unique deposit return scheme (DRS), which it says could provide a role model for other countries around the world, reports Packaging Europe.

The company says the current DRS container deposits are 2 NOK (approximately €0.20) for containers 0.5 litres or less, and 3 NOK (approximately €0.30) for containers over 0.5 litres.

Eligible containers are plastic (predominantly PET, HDPE) and metal (aluminum/tinplate), for all beverage types. In 2021, container return rates were 92.3% (91.5% of cans, and 92.8% of plastic bottles).

TOMRA states Norway was one of the first countries in the world to establish a deposit return system for reusable bottles, with a system for refillable glass containers established in 1902, and automated return of refillable glass bottles through reverse vending machines (RVMs) in the early 1970s.

Apparently, Norway’s deposit return system for single-use beverage containers is unique because it was voluntarily created by the beverage and grocery retail industries.

The system for non-refillable containers – including cans and PET – was implemented in 1999, due to environmental taxation imposed by the Norwegian Government.

The company says there is a basic tax for beverage producers on all single-use containers, plus a variable environmental tax that is reduced as return rates increase.

Containers with a 95% return rate or more are exempt from the environmental tax, creating a financial incentive for producers to participate in the DRS and achieve the highest possible return rate.

Reportedly, the deposit return system in Norway is part of everyday life for its 5.425 million residents.

TOMRA claims that 1.692 billion cans and PET bottles were sold on the Norwegian market in 2021, equating to an average consumption of 312 containers per person, per year.

The system is managed by Infinitum, a privately owned not-for-profit organization, working on behalf of retailers and producers.

However, Norway’s deposit return system is supposedly the responsibility of the country’s beverage producers – they pay 100% of the net costs for the system.

Unredeemed deposits, revenue from the sales of container materials and other revenues (mainly from interest) cover the largest proportion of the costs – covering almost 95% in 2021, with 5.4% paid through an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fee from producers.

TOMRA says the EPR fees for each producer are based on the recycling cost and material value of each container material type that the producers have on the market, with the fees differentiating between clear PET versus colored PET (see table).

The company adds that Norway’s deposit return system is run and managed by regulation, not legislation, meaning changes to improve and update the deposit system can be done more easily.

In addition, TOMRA states the DRS in Norway accepts aluminum and steel cans, PET and HDPE plastic bottles, and all stores must accept all eligible containers included in the DRS.

All containers require Infinitum-approved labeling and must be produced according to the material packaging specification.

This means the exact materials used can be detected and Infinitum can confirm that all materials are recyclable. This ensures the materials being recycled are of the highest quality and purity possible, able to be reused often.

Overall, TOMRA claims Norway’s DRS has had a significant impact on a growing global practice to combat plastic pollution.

Taxation fuels retailer participation and commitment to driving high return rates, the high density of collection points and high level of automation increase efficiency in a return-to-retail model where all stores accept all containers.

Its centralized operation supports transparency with “regulation rather than legislation” creating a responsive model.

The company states these factors combined make the Norwegian DRS a recycling role model.

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