Closing the Resource Loop: Lessons to be Learned from the Slovakian deposit return system

A documentary produced by the Coalition “A Buon Rendere – molto più di un vuoto” which promotes a Deposit Return System for beverage containers in Italy debunks all the false myths and objections on DRS circulating in Italy by overturning the question: Who bears the costs of the current collection and recycling system for beverage packaging?

The documentary ” Closing the Loop – Discovering the Slovak Deposit System ” offers an in-depth look at the Slovak Deposit Return System (DRS) for single-use beverage containers which has proved to have a significant positive impact on the environment, waste management and the economy.

The coordinators of the campaign for a DRS in Italy went to Slovakia to study closely how the system works and to hear it told directly by the subjects involved: the beverage producers and the retailers who, through a not-for-profit organization, manage and finance the deposit system; without neglecting the citizens’ point of view through the eyes of an Italian-Slovak family.

The deposit system works through a small surcharge (deposit) when purchasing a drink, which is fully refunded to the consumer when the container is returned at any point of sale.

This mechanism not only boosts separate collection and recycling, but also guarantees an effective local circular economy – as is the case in Slovakia – which “closes the loop” with a “bottle to bottle” and “can to can” recycling “. The beverage packaging collected in Slovakia feed into the production of identical packaging reducing the dependence on virgin PET or aluminum and is not “downgraded” into a secondary raw material to produce yarn, car spare parts or other objects that no longer have a recycling circuit.

Italy is among the European countries that have a bottle-to-bottle recycling that does not exceed 10%, according to the latest data released by the national PRO Conai.

The documentary followed the path of beverage containers once returned from consumers to the store, to be then sent to the national sorting center where they are counted, compacted and subsequently sent to recyclers who transform them into new PET bottles (suitable for food contact) and into new cans.

Results achieved within two years

The DRS in Slovakia covers a wide range of beverages packaged in PET bottles and metal cans, and has achieved, just two years after its launch, an impressive collection rate of 92%. Even more significantly, the Slovakian system exceeded six years early the 90% collection target for PET bottles stipulated by the European Directive on Single-Use Plastics (SUP), thus demonstrating its effectiveness and relevance at an international level .

By way of a comparison, in Italy, where around 15 billion liters of bottled water are consumed every year, the collection rate of PET bottles for drinks was equal to 67% in 2022 (despite this figure includes the quantities, not at all negligible, of bottles lost during the selection process of plastics packging from separate collection, and therefore sent for disposal/incineration (data provided by the main PRO Conai).

No regret for the past

As can be heard from the voices of the key stakeholders who operate the system, and from those who participate in it, there is no regret for the times before the DRS system started.

As a matter of fact:

– Beverage producers are satisfied because they no longer see their branded containers in littering and because they can buy back their material at controlled prices to meet (and exceed) the recycled content targets of the SUP directive for PET bottles equal to 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

– The main Retail Organization SAMO and independent retailers are very satisfied with the handling fee they receive from the system administrator for each package they collect.

In fact, as Martin Krajčovič spokesperson for the SAMO Alliance for Modern Commerce comments «Beverage retailers and large-scale retail trade brands are satisfied with the handling fee they receive from the DRS administrator to compensate for the costs they incur for the collection of beverage containers at their own sale points and which also covers the costs incurred for the purchase of the reverse vending machines. Even small retailers that might be exempted from having a return point want to participate voluntarily for the benefits that come with it, e.g. in terms of customer loyalty».

Municipalities, in addition to benefiting from the positive effects for the local economy and employment, appreciate the terrific reduction of beverage containers which are littered or disposed of in residual waste, and the cost savings this implies.

Lessons learned for Italy and countries that have not yet set a start date for a DRS

The lessons to be drawn for Italy following this full immersion in the Slovak DRS are various and all important: both from an economic and environmental angle.

With respect to the economic side, it contributed to shed light on who are, in a well designed DRS, the subjects that fund and operate the system. This is particularly important, considering that the costs foreseen for the introduction of DRS in Italy have been overestimated and/ or not correctly attributed to the subjects who are supposed to take responsibility in it.
With regards to the environmental angle, the main benefit is related to the remarkable reduction of beverage containers being littered in the environment or delivered in residual waste. The benefits of minimising littering have never been measured accurately in Italy, with the noteworthy exception of the Cost and Benefit analysis produced by Eunomia for the Coalition “A Buon Rendere”; the analysis also highlights that delaying the start of a DRS for further years means a loss of economic resources for the communities, deferring the benefits for the economy and the positive occupational implications.

Alessandro Pasquale, CEO of Mattoni 1873 – a mineral water company – reiterating that «there were no costs borne by the state , citizens and municipalities due to the introduction of the DRS as the costs of starting it and building the infrastructure were borne by the beverage producers through a dedicated bank loan, which was then repaid thanks to the economic viability of the system ».*

Silvia Ricci Coordinator of the Campaign “A Buon Rendere” said:

«Even Italy, which sees a waste of seven billion beverage containers every year (what we waste dashboard) , could reach the 95.3% collection target for PET bottles (96% for cans and 95,8 for glass) in two years with a DRS – as our study found-, saving every year approximately 110 million Euros, thanks to maximised recycling of PET bottles, from the 800 M of Plastic Tax we pay to Europe every year for the plastic packaging we are unable to recycle . The study we commissioned to Eunomia last year is in fact the only one publicly accessible in Italy that quantifies the costs and benefits relating to an introduction of a DRS in Italy».

Enzo Favoino Scientific Coordinator of “A Buon Rendere” added:

« In Italy, a narrative has been diffused, which claims the possibility for the Italian EPR system to meet the 90% collection target for PET bottles stipulated in the SUP Directive; the reality, though, is there is no scheme in the world that has met such a collection level without a DRS. Every year we lose delaying a deposit system implies economic losses in our country: this includes the State which, in addition to paying for the Plastic Tax (whose amount is taken from the State Budget), is funding programs for the purchase of RVMs to be used in incentive collection systems without a deposit, whilst in DRS systems such RVMs are purchased by retailers; also, losses refer to Municipalities which, besides bear the cost of separate collection of beverage containers, also take on the costs due to removal of littered containers, and costs related to their landfilling/incineration when such containers are delivered in residual waste or in street bins».

Close the Loop – Chiudere il cerchio: full documentary ( English subtitles available)

Close the loop – Trailer

Close the loop: a clip from the interviews

Media Kit

*guaranteed from its three funding sources: the revenues from recycled materials, unredeemed deposits and the EPR fees.


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