What is it?

A Container Return Scheme (CRS) also known as Container Deposit or Bottle Return puts a small deposit fee (usually something like .20) on a container (like a soda bottle) paid for at the time of purchase. This money is then claimed back when the container is returned. For many New Zealanders, it will be easier to remember a time when glass bottles could be returned for a refund. 

Although CRS requires infrastructure we believe there is existing infrastructure that could be easily incorporated into a Container Return System – such as many of the community recyclers who run transfer stations, reuse stores and recycling drop off stations that could become refund stations.

Why do we support it?

New Zealand produces a mountain of beverage waste and litter every day, with more than 2.23 billion beverage containers purchased each year.  This equates to 6.1 million containers each day or 1.36 containers per person per day, not including beverages consumed by tourists. 

As a result, over 830,000 cubic metres of beverage containers are discarded into the litter stream, and landfills annually. Equivalent to 700 Boeing 747 airplanes filled with containers! 

Under a mandatory CRS, at least 85% of these containers would be recovered from the litter and waste streams and recycled, with the potential to create hundreds of new businesses, up to 2,400 new jobs and large cost savings for ratepayers and local authorities. 

Additionally a CRS would create significant C02 reductions and marked reductions in plastics entering our waterways and oceans. 

No other single waste stream could be managed so easily by such a proven method as a mandatory CRS where recycling rates overseas of 85 – 95% are common. 

This information is from the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council’s report Happy Returns: A proposed model for a Container Deposit Scheme for New Zealand.

Is it going to happen?

ZWN Chair Marty Hoffart and Board Member Jacqui Forbes are both sitting on the Container Return Scheme design working group that is preparing a detailed proposal for implementation. They anticipate that their report will be given to the Minister in August of this year. The next full day working group meeting is scheduled for 6 May. While an actual working scheme is probably two years away (given the need for stakeholder consultation and cabinet approval), the scheme represents a real opportunity for Zero Waste Network members to be involved. You can read more here about the group’s work including the project’s terms of reference, guiding principles and outcomes.

What do we want to see out of it?

Our representatives on the Working Group will be advocating for our sector and for solutions that benefit community enterprise. We see these solutions as being:

  • Deposit scheme rather than a redemption scheme (this means that all items in the scheme have a deposit cost, rather than only those that are actually returned)
  • Use the ZWN members as a base for the collections network across a range of mandated products with stewardship schemes
  • Create jobs and local economic development by keeping money in the community
  • Real recycling – quality, onshore reprocessing, 
  • Support shift to Circular Economy – refillables, low carbon
  • Collaboration with community partners & iwi and build strong relationships between the participants involved in operation, management and governance.

Why including glass is important

  • Glass is the single biggest contaminant in kerbside recycling.
  • The Glass Packaging Forum figure of 73% of glass is getting recycled is implausible. It is not from an independent source and includes glass going to roading and other down cycling. There is no state, province or country in the world that has a recycling rate that high without a deposit system in place.
  • If glass is not part of the scheme, glass is effectively worthless. People will continue to stuff in their rubbish bins, leave it on the footpath and throw it in the ditch. No one will pick up a glass bottle to return it, but Councils – and ultimately ratepayers – will continue to have to pay to dispose of it.
  • The cost of kerbside collection of glass, transport to OI Glass or other recycler and dealing with broken glass littering roads, cycle paths and car parks will continue to be met by Councils and hence ratepayers.
  • Putting glass into roading is not recycling. It increases the carbon footprint, because it means more extraction of raw materials and more fossil fuels used in the furnace to make new glass.
  • There is higher carbon in transportation of glass, but the reductions in carbon due to refilling and ultimately returning to local refilling of beverages will more than compensate. An increase in this activity is expected in the CRS. Already drinks companies send concentrate to fast food restaurants to reduce shipping volumes and loads. Making drinks in Auckland and transporting them over the whole country is a model that only works with single use.
  • Local refilling has the benefit of creating local jobs and reducing transport emissions
  • Quoting selective higher carbon emissions figures relating to the transport of glass is a vested interest approach to ensuring good policies are blocked or delayed. 
  • The industry group, the Glass Packaging Forum, has lobbied hard to stop container return schemes since it was set up 14 years ago. 

More resources and information

New Zealand groups and resources

Research Reports
New Zealand Product Stewardship Council (2019). Happy Returns: A proposed model for a Container Deposit Scheme for New Zealand.

Ministry for the Environment. (2019)  Reducing harm from waste – product stewardship.

Preston Davies (2017) Cost–Benefit Analysis of a Container Deposit Scheme (prepared for the Auckland Council, Wellington: Sapere Research Group)

Warren Snow (2016) Costs and Benefits of a Container Deposit Scheme for New Zealand (a review of the Packaging Forum’s 2016 Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) of a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) for New Zealand)

Envision New Zealand (2015) The InCENTive to Recycle: the case for a container deposit system in New Zealand, Auckland: Envision New Zealand