Pioneering recycling: deposit return on campus and across Portugal
Demand for single-use cans and bottles is growing each year, but many of these containers end up in our oceans, streets, and landfills. Deposit return systems seek to combat this waste by offering a financial incentive for consumers to return their empty beverage containers for recycling. As Portugal gets ready to launch national deposit return legislation, Nova SBE is pioneering its own container deposit program.
There is alarming growth worldwide in the consumption of plastic and plastic pollution. Research shows that, each year, more than 1.4 trillion beverage containers are sold, where 500 billion of those are plastic. Of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced every year, only 14% is currently collected for recycling. A huge 40% of plastic packaging is simply sent to landfill, and 32% ends up in nature as litter. At least eight million tons of plastic leak into our oceans each year, and reports suggest that 80% of that plastic comes from land.
But as plastic usage and waste grow, so too does awareness of the problem. There are increasing calls from the public to address plastic pollution and recycling costs and move away from linear take-make-dispose models in favor of adopting a circular economy. In a circular economy, products are designed for recyclability, and their materials can be used again and again in a continuous loop.
An increasingly popular, but far from a new solution to combatting plastic waste is “deposit return systems”. Deposit return systems work by adding a small deposit on top of the price of a beverage, which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty bottle or can for recycling. Think of it as buying the beverage, but borrowing the container. These programs are a proven way to achieve high return rates for plastic bottles and put a circular economy into practice.
More than 60 regions around the world have adopted or committed to deposit return legislation. Container deposit systems see up to almost 100% of all drink containers returned for recycling; no other waste collection system comes even close to such high return rates. Deposit return schemes aim to reduce litter and landfill, reuse materials in a closed loop, and reduce reliance on raw materials to produce new containers. To make the en masse return of bottles and cans more efficient and convenient, many deposit return systems use automated “reverse vending machines”. These machines instantly count and sort the containers returned, and pay out the refund to recyclers.
The European Union’s Single-Use Plastics Directive has set out for member states to collect 90% of all plastic bottles by 2029, with an interim goal of 77% by 2025. Experts say these targets will be difficult to achieve without deposit return systems in place. Portugal is leading the pack and has already adopted a law to introduce a national deposit return system in 2022.
And a frontrunner that’s pioneering recycling even more rapidly in Portugal is the Nova School of Business & Economics. Far ahead of the national program, Nova SBE has partnered with global reverse vending leader TOMRA to launch its own on-campus deposit return system. The initiative seeks to raise awareness of container deposit legislation and reverse vending both at the university and across Portugal. Nova SBE’s deposit return system encourages everyone on campus to “get in the loop” by returning their drink containers for recycling. It also contributes to Nova SBE’s sustainability initiatives and vision to be a living lab for future solutions and teaches students the value of waste and the importance of a circular economy.
Participating in Nova SBE’s deposit return system is simple. Students, faculty, and staff simply pay a €0.15 deposit when they purchase an eligible drink container at participating campus stores and restaurants, including the campus store Pingo Doce & Go. You get your deposit refunded back to you when you return your empty bottles and cans for recycling at the two TOMRA reverse vending machines located in the campus food court. At the reverse vending machines, you can choose between two ways to have your deposit refund paid out: receive it electronically via the myTOMRA app (which connects to your personal PayPal account), or donate it to the Community Center for the Parish of Carcavelos.
The initiative with Nova SBE is a landmark installation that can truly showcase for both the local community and the entire country how deposit return systems work and the impact these systems can have on plastic collection rates, recycling, and resource usage, and the natural environment. We invite everyone on campus to participate in the new deposit return program and to “get in the loop”. Find out more about Nova SBE’s deposit return system at mytomra.com/nova.
Alexandra Lange is a graduate of University College London, the University of Paris XII, and the Paris Bar School. She is an expert in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and on packaging circularity with a European and an international dimension. She joined TOMRA in January 2019 and is currently the company’s Vice-President of Governmental Affairs in Western Europe. TOMRA is a company founded in Norway in 1972, which is now a world leader in the collection and sorting solutions worldwide.