Here’s everything you need to know about Ireland’s new deposit return scheme
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

The new scheme will come into effect from 1st February 2024 and will see a refundable deposit added to certain drinks containers.

One of the biggest social and behavioural changes since the introduction of the plastic bag levy or even the smoking ban is about to go live - the new deposit return scheme. 

It comes into effect from 1st February 2024 and will see a refundable deposit or levy added to certain drinks containers. 

Here's everything you need to know...

What is the deposit return scheme?

A deposit return scheme has long been an objective of the Green Party although it's been championed by people of all political persuasions.  

It forms a key part of the current programme for government and after several years of planning is now about to finally go live.   

Under the scheme, from 1st February 2024, all PET plastic bottles and aluminium and steel cans between 150mls and 3 litres will have a deposit of between 15c and 25c added to them.

A 15c deposit will apply to containers in size from 150ml to 500ml inclusive and a deposit of 25c will apply to containers over 500mls to 3 litres inclusive.

Glass bottles, all dairy products (milk cartons and yoghurts etc whether plastic or otherwise) and any containers over 3 litres or under 150ml ARE NOT included in the new scheme but these should still be recycled by you as normal. 

You’ll know if the bottle or can you’re buying is included in the scheme as it’ll have the new Re-Turn logo on it.  

Why is the deposit return scheme being implemented? 

The scheme is being introduced for two main reasons. 

The first is to improve recycling rates. 

Under EU regulations, by the end of 2025, Ireland has to recycle 77% of plastic bottles and this rises to 90% in 2030. However we're nowhere close to this at present, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s therefore hoped the new scheme will help us reach our targets.

The second, and equally as important reason, is to tackle the scourge of litter. 

Anyone who’s ever taken a drive along the countryside will have seen plenty of plastic bottles and cans strewn along the roadside and in hedge groves the length and breadth of the country.

Many plastic bottles and cans also end up in our rivers, lakes and seas where they can do untold damage to marine life. Parks and recreation spaces are also often strewn with bottles and cans after big events and gatherings, and it often takes taxpayers’ money to clean it all up.  

It’s hoped that by literally putting a price on the containers we use, we’ll be less likely to throw them away.  

These schemes are also normal in many other European countries. Indeed Ireland had its own scheme for glass bottles back in the 70s. 

Up to 2 billion aluminium cans and plastic bottles go into the Irish market every year so even a small change in behaviour as a result of the new scheme will have a huge impact. 

Why isn’t glass or milk products included?

Ireland currently has a recycling rate of over 80% for glass and we’re even surpassing our recycling targets for this material. As a result, there are no plans to include glass in the new deposit return scheme for now but this may change in the future.

Milk containers aren't included as it's a different type of plastic. And milk products tend to be consumed in the home and are therefore recycled in people's green bins already and rarely end up as litter on the streets.   

Can you give examples of how the levy will work?

From February it will seem like some of your favourites items will have shot up in price. Which is the last thing consumers might want in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. 

But you can of course get the money back as the deposit will be fully refunded when you return your empty, undamaged drinks containers.

  • A standard 330ml can of Coke that might have cost €1.50 previously will now cost €1.65.
  • A four-pack of 330ml cans of Coke that retails for €4.90 at present will now be €5.50. 
  • A four-pack of 750ml Evian water that retails for €4.39 at present will now be €5.39. 
  • A 1.35 litre bottle of Innocent orange juice that retails for €4.99 at present will now be €5.24. 
  • An eight-pack of 500ml Guinness draft beer that retails for €16 at present will now be €17.20. 

However over the coming months and years you might see some brands change how they sell some of their products. For example Tropicana orange juice comes in a paper carton so won't be subject to the deposit levy on its products. Innocent might therefore decide to start selling its juice in paper cartons too. And some water brands might decide to use glass bottles or focus on selling bigger containers of water that are over 3 litres.

How do I get my deposit back?

Almost every supermarket and large convenience store in the country will soon have a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) installed where you can get your money back. 

However some smaller stores may choose to take back your empties and refund you manually.

Getting your deposit back from an RVM is relatively easy:

  • Make sure your containers are empty and undamaged with the barcode clearly visible. Badly damaged containers won’t be accepted. So resist the urge to crush your cans in particular!  
  • Your containers don't need to be sparkling clean - just empty them and maybe give a very light rinse at most. Washing just wastes water.  
  • Ensure you’re only bringing back PET plastic bottles or steel and aluminium cans within a certain size. Look for the Re-Turn logo.
  • Insert your eligible containers into the machine.  
  • The machine will read the barcode on the containers and confirm they’re part of the deposit return scheme.
  • You’ll then be issued with a voucher for the number of containers returned. 
  • You can then present this voucher at one of the shop tills to exchange for a cash refund or a store credit.

Your containers can be returned to any store. For example if you bought something in Tesco or Centra, you can go into Dunnes and use its RVM instead. 

However, once you have your voucher, this can only be redeemed at the same store. So if you use Tesco’s RVM in Dun Laoghaire and get a €10 voucher, you must present this at Tesco Dun Laoghaire to get your money back.

Some of the bigger stores may also have a recycling bin for any potential containers that the RVM can't accept (damaged, wrong size, unreadable barcode) but it's probably best to be prepared to have to bring a few back with you. At least initially. 

Will every store accept my returns?

No. Small shops can seek an exemption from handling returns as they may not have the space to install an RVM or to store containers returned over the counter.

If this is the case, the shop must advise you on where the nearest 'return centre' is. 

Can I start collecting my 'empties' now?

No. Only containers with the Re-Turn logo on them can be returned for money. And these won't start to be sold until 1st February 2024.

So any containers should be recycled by you in your green bin as normal until then. 

An extra step... 

One of the main criticisms of the scheme is that it’ll create an extra step for those with a green bin at home and who are already recycling their plastic bottles and cans.

From 1st February 2024, you can still recycle your other plastics and cardboard etc as normal, but you’ll need a new bin for your PET plastic bottles and aluminium and steel cans between 150ml and 3 litres. And then you'll need to bring these back to a local retailer to get your refund. If you don’t, and you throw out your bottles and cans with the rest of your recycling, then you won’t get your deposit back. 

So it's an extra recycling step for a lot of people.

But not everyone is using their green bin and recycling as studiously as you, perhaps. 

At the moment over 30% of plastic bottles and cans in Ireland don’t make it into the green bin and end up on the ground, in the sea or in landfills.

By placing a value on the drinks containers we regularly buy, it's hoped recycling rates will improve.

Another criticism is that older or disabled people in rural areas in particular might find it tough to bring back their 'empties'. However it's unlikely anyone will have to travel particularly far to get a refund and empty plastic is hardly heavy. But one wonders if a slight bonus payment might have helped eased the initial blow and slight inconvenience for consumers i.e. a 20c refund after paying a 15c deposit.

An adjustment for consumers

There'll clearly be an adjustment period for consumers over the coming months as we change our behaviour and try get used to the new scheme. Not everyone will be happy and no doubt a few kinks will need to be ironed out along the way.

However one could have been forgiven for thinking the world was going to end when the smoking ban was introduced back in 2004. And even the plastic bag levy, which is now over 20 years old, had its naysayers initially. Yet both initiatives are now fully embraced by the population.

And in time the same will likely be said for the deposit return scheme.