Subscriber OnlyPricewatch

Deposit return scheme: ‘I spent 90 minutes trying to return bottles. This scheme is vile’

Pricewatch: A reader shares her negative experience of returning plastic bottles, and another wonders whether ‘the whole thing is pointless’

We continue to get queries from readers about the deposit return scheme that was introduced at the start of February, and it is fair to say not everyone has been won over by its merits.

“My mother has worked her entire life as a nurse in Ireland, which has left her with severe back, arm and hand issues,” writes Jane. “She has her weekly shopping delivered and lives in a location where the tap water is not drinkable and therefore she needs to spend a considerable amount of her limited income purchasing bottled water merely to survive.”

Jane’s mother is not able to lift five-litre bottles of water – which are exempt from the scheme – as they are too heavy.

“She is recently retired and solely reliant on a State pension and, at the current rates, the deposit return scheme will cost my mother 2 per cent of her annual income, which she cannot afford to forgo, so I will return the bottles for her,” our reader continues.


“Today I made a first attempt at returning four bags of bottles, despite having multiple chronic health issues myself, including scoliosis, a torn meniscus and having had abdominal surgery last month and being in both chronic and surgery-related pain.

“I have just spent over 90 minutes trying to return bottles for which my elderly mother was charged deposits. This is 90 minutes of my life I will never get back and I assume I will have to do this on a monthly basis (as she does not have a large house for storage of more than one month’s worth of bottles), meaning 18 hours wasted annually.”

Her attempts began at a Lidl outlet in Navan where both machines weren’t working.

“I went into the store from the lobby area, approached a member of staff, as per message on the machine, who was very helpful and came out to unblock/empty the machine. I waited, in pain, in line for another customer who had then started to use the machine while I was empathising with the staff member who had resolved the issue.

“When the other person finished returning bottles I got less than halfway through returns and the machine stopped working again. I went back into the store and approached the same Lidl employee who said he’d come out again (although he was in the middle of another task). I suspect he forgot and I tried to find somewhere to sit as standing for long periods is causing severe pain. I found a metal bar at a trolley bay to perch on, about 15 minutes later another staff member came out and cleared the machine again.”

Another bag later and the machine stopped working again.

So Jane went back to the store and the second member of staff said he’d be out to her again. When she was leaving the store area to return to the bottle return area the alarm went off as she tried to go through what she thought was an openable gate at a closed checkout.

“When I explained that I hadn’t purchased anything to a Lidl employee at the next till and was waiting for the machine to be cleared/reset she said: ‘No they’re out of order, we can’t fix them, we’re waiting for people to be sent out to fix them’.

When Jane said that two other staff members had already resolved the issue and she was waiting on one of them who said they would come out again, “she seemed embarrassed at having been caught out. I assume she was just too fed up to even entertain any customers having issues with the machines. I was very grateful for the two employees who were so helpful.”

Eventually she got all the bottles into the machine but then needed to join the grocery queue to wait again to cash in the refund.

“I’ve returned home in considerably more pain than I had been in earlier from having to stand and then try to sit on a metal bar while the mostly very accommodating and pleasant Lidl staff had to suffer through trying to resolve this nonsense that has also been inflicted upon them.

“The burden that is being put on the elderly, those in chronic pain, sick and disabled is incalculable. This scheme is utterly vile, it is not enough to state that the machines are accessible because they can be reached by wheelchair users and not consider the huge costs, financial and otherwise, and impact this entire endeavour will have on the most vulnerable in society.

“It is clear nobody involved in this roll-out has any experience of chronic pain/disability or even the smallest amount of empathy for those who have. Those whose lives are already so much more difficult than many others around them. Everybody who has been or is involved in inflicting this on the elderly, sick, disabled and the population as a whole should be ashamed of themselves.”

Brian Kearns contacted us with another question. “I’ve seen you and others have posted the number of plastic units that have been recycled through the machines since they were implemented, but does anyone have a figure for the number of plastic bottles and cans that were already being placed in green bins before the new system started? I mean, if it is a similar number, wouldn’t that make the whole thing pointless?”


Conor Pope answers some of your questions about the Deposit Return Scheme, which launches on February 1st #depositreturnscheme #qanda #recycle

♬ original sound - The Irish Times

With regard to the first query a spokeswoman said “Re-turn appreciates this customer sharing their experience and we’re sorry to hear how unfortunate it was. Given this customers’ set of circumstances, we would encourage them to contact Re-turn directly and we will endeavour to find solutions to their problems.

“The DRS scheme is compliant with EU accessibility standards; however, we recognise that does not account for every situation and we are working to assist any consumer who contacts us. Re-turn is dedicated to fostering accessibility and inclusivity for all consumers as we work towards a successful deposit return scheme. If individuals have any challenges in engaging with the scheme, please contact Re-turn. We are eager to assist you and your mother to find solutions to make it work for you both.”

She encouraged Jane to contact Re-turn directly at

More broadly, she said Re-turn is “in the process of setting up an accessibility consultation group to review any issues brought to our attention and as the national infrastructure rolls out, we will also be conducting a programme of audits from which a continuous improvement programme will be defined. The scheme will continue to evolve and improve as it becomes a part of Ireland’s recycling infrastructure.”

She said that when it comes to machines not working, Re-turn is aware of reports regarding reverse vending machines (RVMs) “experiencing temporary downtime and appreciate all consumers’ understanding and patience on this matter. We encourage consumers to raise a reverse vending machine issue as soon as possible with an employee of the shop. If any issues persist, the retailer should notify the machine manufacturer. Re-turn is working closely with retailers to ensure the shop staff are trained and equipped to assist customers with the RVMs.”

As for the query from Brian Kearns, this is what she had to say:

“Internationally, the introduction of deposit return as a method of encouraging consumers to return their plastic bottles and cans has proven a very successful and practical solution to increasing recycling rates.

“It is important that these drinks containers are recycled separately and through reverse vending machines (RVMs) as it is more effective than processing through recycling bins. Currently, all recycled materials in recycling bins are mixed, which can lead to contamination. This mixture relies on conveyor machines in recycling centres to identify plastic bottles and cans. By separating plastic and aluminium from general recycling, we can achieve a 98 per cent quality of recyclate, surpassing the 80 per cent effectiveness of the recycling bin system.

“This separation not only allows for the continuous recycling of aluminium but also enables plastic bottles to be recycled up to seven times. In addition to reducing litter, the main purpose of this scheme is to help Ireland reach the EU’s recycling targets. The Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive is the main driver for the introduction of a deposit return scheme. Ireland needs to achieve the EU recycling target of 90 per cent by 2029 (an interim target of 77 per cent by 2025) and deposit return is a proven successful solution to achieving this target.

“Re-turn is a non-profit organisation funded solely by beverage producers and suppliers. While unclaimed deposits will be reinvested into the scheme and used to fund Re-turn initiatives, we highly encourage consumers to return their drinks containers to get their deposit back.”