We get a lot of questions about what a bottle deposit model would look like in Aotearoa. This blog is here to answer that question; to show you how we could use a bottle deposit system in an Aotearoa context, one which benefits people, community groups and our ocean.

In my last blog I wrote about the significance of bottle deposits in getting drink and plastic companies to take on responsibility for the waste their products create. I wrote about how introducing bottle deposits would stop plastic from ending up in landfills and the sea, increasing, instead, the amount and quality of what gets reused.

Bottle deposits can seem like a slightly complicated recycling scheme, but we need them for more than just recycling. Bottle deposits will mean less plastic goes into the ocean while also reducing the need for landfills. We already know why bottle deposits are so awesome (and we’ve written about this here for you). They’ll stop new plastics being made from oil. They’ll help zero-waste community hubs thrive, and be a foundation for future introduction of reusable bottles cycling around in a circular economy.

Here’s how we could run them in Aotearoa.

What do we want and when do we want it?

The scheme we want would collect a minimum of 85% of plastic bottles, a huge increase from between 35% to 45% recycled currently. If we follow the examples of Germany and the Netherlands, a high deposit (they use 25 euro cents) and convenient reverse vending machines, we can get closer to 95% reclaimed. (Oh, and we want it now…)

Community zero waste hubs

We’re advocating for a bottle deposit scheme that not only uses reverse vending machines for collection but also integrates community collection depots, which could be placed at community recycling or environment centres.

These depots would be places people can access other services while dropping off their bottles. In Aotearoa the Zero-Waste Network already has many zero-waste centres that would benefit from bottle deposits. A 3c handling fee from collecting bottles would become a reliable income, helping pay for staff and premises, and supporting additional services like repair cafes, and E-waste collection. These hubs, combined with new recycling processing facilities and other parts of the bottle deposit scheme, are projected to create 2200 new jobs nationally.

South Australia is a great example of just how well community depots can work. The Scouts run depots with an income of $22 million annually, some 60% of that coming from additional services they’re able to provide with the backbone of bottle deposits. There’s potential there for our existing zero-waste and sustainability centres to suddenly get a decent income! And add to that – bottle drives will become a great fundraiser again – your local school, sports club, charity group could collect peoples bottles to raise some funds.

Enabling a move to reusable drink containers in a circular economy.

We are really aware that recycling plastic bottles could be improved upon by reusing either solid plastic bottles, or glass. Bottle deposits create a foundation for this and more. They create an effective system where people drop off things they don’t need, such as empty bottles, to be taken somewhere and turned into something people do need again – maybe more bottles, or other recycled plastic products. This sets up the potential for other things to start cycling through the system. Reusable bottles might be introduced either voluntarily by companies, or through legislation.

Bottle deposits work best when we’re all included

Just like you wouldn’t want to put the fox in charge of the henhouse, bottle deposits work best when managed by an independent group which can’t make money out of the scheme and a design groups which includes a wide representation of stakeholder groups. Producers of beverages, community group representatives, recyclers, and waste-sector experts should all be part of the conversation around design and management of the scheme. This will make for a fairer system which puts cleaning up oceans and communities and moving towards a zero-waste society at the highest of its priorities.

With bottle deposits we could see an Aotearoa where recycling and community centres are supported with funds to get a circular economy ticking at the same time as turning waste into a resource instead. Producers and recyclers could work alongside communities to develop initiatives and design better products that would help solve our waste crisis.

By Rowan Brooks

Photos credit to EcoMatters