The Irish Times view on the deposit return scheme: a bumpy start

Everyone will be able to monitor its success or failure by the number of cans or bottles littering the landscape

Return machines for Bottles and cans to be recycled in on Aungier Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The first three months have not gone as smoothly as might have been hoped for the new deposit return system for plastic bottles and aluminium cans. Many people attempting to use the new reverse vending machines which have been installed in retail outlets across the country complain the machines are often full or not working. Stories of frustration at multiple failed attempts to recycle have been widespread.

It is difficult to assess how common the problems are but there is no doubt they are real, as Re-Turn, the company licensed by the State to operate the system, has acknowledged.

The company’s chief executive accepted this week that issues remain with the machines, which provide receipts for 10 to 25 cent per item that can be exchanged for cash at store tills. Some retailers may not yet be emptying the machines as promptly as they should, but Re-Turn is confident this will improve, and the machines will reach the European average of being operational 95 per cent of the time (the current level is 86 per cent).

In February, 2 million containers were returned , rising to 20 million in March and an anticipated 50 million in April. These numbers compare favourably with a similar rollout in Slovakia.


Teething problems were probably inevitable. To meet its targets, the scheme needs to prompt a major shift in Irish attitudes towards the disposal of waste. While similar initiatives have been in place for decades in many other European countries, Irish consumers are not familiar with deposit return schemes. Many are likely to believe they were already recycling by using their own domestic green bins. But the reality is that much of that waste ends up in incinerators .

It will take some time before it is clear whether the behavioural shift is occurring at sufficient scale to shift the balance definitively towards recycling. But, as with the 23-year-old plastic bag levy, everyone will be able to monitor its success or failure by the number of cans or bottles littering the landscape. Any reduction in those would be welcome indeed.