(Photo credit: TOMRA)


TOMRA: Latvia's deposit return scheme achieves 80% return rate at two-year anniversary

5:39 min Sorting and collection
Asker, Norway

Latvia’s deposit return system (DRS, also known as a deposit return scheme) for drink container recycling launched on 1 February 2022, with global reverse vending leader TOMRA Collection serving as the nationwide provider of reverse vending machines (RVMs) for the return of empty containers.

With a tight timeframe of just 13 months between the appointment of the local DRS operator and the full public launch of the new system, the Latvian DRS is a good example of how quickly and efficiently a strong system can be implemented. In fact, this Thursday, just two years on from its launch, Latvia has announced that a landmark 80% return rate has been achieved. 

Latvia’s deposit return scheme snapshot:

  • Country population: 1.9 million.
  • Container deposit: €0.10.
  • Eligible containers: PET, aluminum, steel, glass; carbonated and non-carbonated non-alcohol drinks, beer and other fermented products with an alcohol content of up to 6%. From 1 January 2023 amended with syrups, cocktails with up 15% alcohol content, and all alcoholic drinks in PET and metal containers. 
  • Container return rates: 80% as of February 2024.
  • Collection model: Return-to-retail model where retailers over 300m² in urban areas and over 60m² in rural areas are required to take back empty containers. There are approximately 1400 return points – more than 1000 automated and around 400 with manual returns. 

Designing the deposit return scheme in Latvia

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development passed legislation paving the way for the DRS in October 2019. After an accreditation tender process, Depozīta Iepakojuma Operators (DIO) was in January 2021 appointed as the DRS operator. DIO includes both local and Baltic-wide beverage manufacturers and retailers, and the Baltics’ biggest recycler of PET, AS PET Baltija. Retailers are represented by the Latvian Retailer Association. 

By launching its DRS, Latvia joined the other Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania in offering a nationwide drink container recycling system. 

The Latvian deposit return system’s goal is to reach a 90% return rate of eligible drink containers for recycling, meeting the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive’s 2029 target for member states to reduce plastic waste and pollution (with an interim goal of 77% separate collection of single-use plastic bottles by 2025). Another key aim of the DRS is to reduce waste reaching the Baltic Sea coast, rivers, forests and parks.

A container deposit of €0.10 was set. Eligible containers included non-refillable (single-use) and refillable glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans of 0.1 to 3 liters for carbonated and non-carbonated non-alcohol drinks, beer and other fermented products with an alcohol content of up to 6%. The Latvian DRS uses a return-to-retail model, where consumers can return empty cans and bottles for recycling to stores to get their deposit back.

''A notable attribute of the Latvian deposit return system is the speed with which it was set up. Latvia shared many similarities with Lithuania and Estonia, and their experiences with deposit systems were certainly an inspiration and accelerator for the successful Latvian model.'' - Thomas Morgenstern, VP Public Affairs, Head of Europe & Central Asia at TOMRA

“And when the DRS was confirmed and a system operator then appointed, the process was very quick – just 13 months to get the system live.”

In January 2023, the range of eligible containers in the DRS was expanded to include products like strong alcoholic cocktails, which represents 84% of the new amendment in terms of units. DIO noted that this category of beverage container was still present in litter surveys following the initial introduction of the DRS, but that this amount has significantly decreased since the expansion.

The expansion of beverage types encourages returns by making the range of eligible containers simpler for consumers, explains Thomas Morgenstern. “The broader the scope of materials and contents, the easier it is for the consumer to understand, and the more successful the system will be. Confusion can be a barrier for returns, so the more containers eligible for high quality recycling, the better.” 

TOMRA and container recycling in Latvia

In April 2021, TOMRA was appointed as the preferred partner to provide reverse vending infrastructure for Latvia’s deposit return system, today supplying over 1100 machines at automated container return points across the country.

“TOMRA was selected as a partner by DIO in an international tender during the DRS implementation process. Their competitive pricing, comprehensive experience, and available resources were key factors in our decision. Given the short implementation period and legislative deadlines, there was no room for error – neither on our part nor on the part of our chosen partners. The implementation period was intense and placed extra stress on all parties involved. TOMRA’s ability to mobilize additional resources during the most critical phase of the project was undoubtedly a key factor in our success.'' - Miks Sturitis, CEO and Chairman of the Board at DIO.

Tomra November

''Our more than 50 years of experience with DRS around the world was a key reason for our appointment in Latvia. In particular, our very recent role providing technology for the Lithuanian market was valuable – especially because that roll-out was delivered in a very short timeframe, which was exactly what the Latvian system needed. TOMRA globally has first-hand experience with every part of the DRS value chain, from material pick-up and PET processing, to data management," says Mats Toots, TOMRA Collection Country Manager for Latvia. "We’ve played a key role in large-scale DRS infrastructure roll-outs across the globe, so we felt very comfortable with this project. We were able to guide retailers and other stakeholders through the process with efficiency, speed and confidence.”

TOMRA’s goal was to facilitate a safe and modern deposit return system for Latvia, convenient for both consumers and retailers, to encourage the habit of returning container packaging and ensure a good return rate. 

Latvia's deposit return scheme success

On 1 February 2024, exactly two years after the launch of Latvia's DRS, DIO announced that the DRS achieved a landmark 80% return rate for eligible containers by the end of 2023. With this, Latvia has already reached the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive’s goal of a 77% return rate by 2025 – two years before it is due. Latvia’s sights are now firmly on meeting the Directive’s 90% return rate by 2029.

"An average return rate of 80% over two years is a commendable achievement, particularly considering that the majority of Latvian society did not have previous habits around container returns,” explains Miks Sturitis from DIO. “The return rate for refillables has already reached 90%, up from 50% prior to the system’s implementation, while the PET collection rate has risen to 83% from 45%.”

By September 2023, more than half a billion packaging units entered the Latvian deposit return system. This equated to 7,700 tons of PET packaging, 10,000 tons of glass and 2,140 tons of aluminum for recycling, and 92 million glass bottles returned for refilling.

“When we began implementing the deposit system, one of our primary objectives was to ensure a cleaner environment in Latvia and significantly reduce litter,” adds Miks Sturitis. “I am particularly pleased to report that this goal has been achieved.” Independent environmental and litter monitoring organizations have recorded a 61% reduction in plastic containers in litter along the Baltic Sea coastline between 2021 and 2023, and a 49% reduction among all DRS containers. A clean-up of the Gauja River as part of the “Save Our Sea” campaign found not a single container marked with a deposit sign. 54% of consumers surveyed said the environment has become cleaner after implementation of the DRS.

“We are highly motivated to continue improving the system, making it even more convenient and accessible for society,” said Miks Sturitis. “This includes upgrading collection capabilities in high-demand locations and further educating our younger generation and societal groups that are not yet fully participating in the return process. Our goal is to achieve a 90% collection and recycling rate by the end of 2025.”

Consumer satisfaction is high and growing: 69% of DRS participants had recommended the DRS to others as of March 2023, and 73% as of October 2023, with 69% of participants rating the DRS between 8 and 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest satisfaction). DIO research shared in November 2023 also found that the deposit system is used regularly (at least once per month) by 80% of the population (a 9% increase from the previous year), and by 94% of Latvian households. Recyclers' main motivations to participate were to reclaim their deposit refund (61%), reduce waste in nature (52%), and care for the environment (39%).

Latvia’s DRS has also brought an opportunity for the public to donate their deposit refund to charity, for an added positive impact to the community. Recyclers are able to make a donation to seniors in need, aid for Ukraine, or animal shelters – simply by clicking “donate” direct from the TOMRA reverse vending machine’s screen. In one year, 357,000 euros were donated to charity. In December 2023, a fourth donation partner was added, supporting seriously ill children.

TOMRA has recently collaborated with DIO to install the first high-volume RVMs in Latvia, capable of receiving up to 100 PET containers and cans at once.

“What is very positive is that Latvia has been responsive and agile in managing its DRS – for example, by extending the range of containers included after just one year, to boost the return rate and get more material out of nature. If the system operator continues to regularly optimize the DRS, making it even easier and more efficient for consumers and retailers, it is sure to continue to be a success and provide an excellent example to other markets.'' - Thomas Morgenstern, VP Public Affairs, Head of Europe & Central Asia at TOMRA.

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