National Initiative, Lithuania
In 2016, the government of Lithuania implemented a “deposit return system” for disposable beverage packaging as an attempt to combat litter and increase the collection- and recycling rates of used drinking bottles. Consumers would pay a deposit amount of €0.10 when purchasing eligible drink containers, to be refunded when the empty container is returned for recycling. This system is not unique to Lithuania, similar deposit-return systems are present in most European countries. However, the system implemented in Lithuania has proven the most successful of the EU member states with 74 percent of plastic packaging recycled, according to a Eurostat study. The number can be compared to the second best country, Cyprus, where 64 percent and to the average within the EU of 42,4 percent of plastic packaging are recycled.
The national DRS has successfully tasked both producers and consumers to take responsibility for the recycling of their products. It is estimated that through the DRS, 21.000 tons of packaging per year is recycled instead of ending up in dumpsites or the environment.
Good practices and solutions
One of the key reasons behind the recycling success in Lithuania has been the nationwide roll out of a national Deposit Refund Scheme (DRS), with easy-to-use reverse vending machines where consumers can deposit used plastic bottles and receive a cash-back of €0.10 per bottle.
Producers and importers that supply alcoholic and alcohol-free beverages in disposable glass, plastic or metal containers with a capacity of more than 100 ml, but below three l, are obligated to participate in the deposit system for disposable beverage packaging. Individuals who buy beverages in metal, glass and plastic containers marked with the deposit symbol pay the deposit at the point of sale and can collect a refund after delivering the packaging to a DRS machine. There are now over 1,000 DRS machines at large retail chains across the country and more than 1,800 small shops are also accepting the plastic containers. The performance of this system, i.e. the container return rate, reached about 70 percent in the first year of operation and more than 90 percent in the second year of operation.
The public institution Užstato Sistemos Administratorius manages the entire deposit system, starting with the collection of the packaging waste and ending with it being recycled. The process can also be tracked in real-time, at the time of writing this report, 1,649,489,610 packages have been recycled through the system.
Outcomes & Opportunities
By the end of 2016, 99.8 percent of the Lithuanian public were aware of the deposit system, with 89 percent having used it at least once. 58 percent of consumers reported recycling more and 78 percent believed the deposit system to be good and necessary. Prior to the scheme, only one-third of all beverage containers in Lithuania were returned. The goal of a 55 percent return rate in 2016 was exceeded to 74.3 percent of all beverage containers returned for recycling. The return rate reached a huge 91.9 percent by the end of 2017.
Related SDG targets
- 9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities
- 12.6 Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
- 17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism.
Photo: © Giuseppe Famiani/Unsplash
Project: Circular Baltic 2030