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.