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Latvia celebrates two-year DRS success for beverage packs as 80% return rate recorded

#Latvia celebrates two-year DRS success for beverage packs as 80% return rate recorded

woman returns bottle reverse vending machine for Latvia DRS
All image credits: DIO.

08 Feb 2024 — This month marks a milestone for Latvia as it celebrates two years since the inception of its beverage packaging deposit system. It was reported by the national system manager SIA Depozīta Iepakojuma Operators (DIO) that citizens returned 80% of packaged units to the deposit system, with certain packaging types achieving return rates exceeding 90%.

Miks Stūrītis, chairman of the board of DIO, tells Packaging Insights that the success rate is a sum of several incentives:

  • Return point network (RVMs and manual collection), geographical coverage, availability (RVMs are operational and technically up and running) and service quality (retailer staff is maintaining RVMs promptly – emptying, cleaning).
  • Smooth and timely logistics and accurate accounting with retailers.
  • Extensive and systematic consumer education about the deposit system and motivation as to why returned bottles in DRS are much better than throwing them in a curbside bin.

Stūrītis underscores: “The total return rate for the second year of operation of the deposit system is 80%, but there are some types of packaging that are already returned to the system at 90% and even higher, for example, refillable glass bottles and beer in PET packaging.”

“We are pleased that the most important goal — a cleaner Latvia — is already being achieved with the help of the system, and this is confirmed not only by subjective observations but also by various environmental monitoring data. In addition, society notices this and gives additional motivation to use the deposit system and hand over all the purchased packaging. Our goal this year is to achieve at least an 84% return rate.”

bags full of returnable bottlesOver the past two years, Latvian citizens have returned 650 million units of empty containers at over 1,400 automated and manual deposit points across the country.Identifiable vs. unidentifiable containers on coast
According to the results of coastal monitoring conducted by the association Zaļā brīvība (Green Freedom) and the Environmental Education Foundation, the reduction in discarded plastic bottles stands at 61% compared to pre-deposit system data from 2021.

Similarly, aluminum can waste has decreased by 52%, with all deposit-associated fractions experiencing a collective decline of 49%. The 28% reduction for glass bottles was reported as the “smallest decrease” category compared to other packaging types.

Over the two years, Latvian citizens have demonstrated “impressive” participation, with 650 million units of empty containers being returned at over 1,400 automated and manual deposit points across the country, find the organizations. Furthermore, compared to 2022, last year witnessed a 74% increase in packages returned to the system.

Jānis Brizga, head of the Green Freedom association, lauds the deposit system’s success in curbing environmental pollution by noting that identifiable Latvian deposit-marked containers accounted for a minority of waste in monitoring efforts. But, challenges remain regarding unidentifiable markings and uncertainties surrounding specific fractions.

“The obtained data show that implementing the deposit system has significantly reduced littering of the environment. Containers with an identifiable Latvian deposit mark make up the minority – 18% in 2022 and 23% in 2023, respectively, of all beverage packages identified in the monitoring.”

“However, at the same time, the great uncertainty and the relatively high proportion of unidentifiable markings should be pointed out. It should also be noted that since the introduction of the deposit system, a reduction has been observed on the coast for other waste fractions related to the deposit system, such as plastic and metal bottle caps and fastening rings, as well as pieces of glass,” comments Brizga.

Validations and learnings
Various expeditions and audits further demonstrate the effectiveness of the deposit system. The “Mana jūra” expedition in 2023 revealed a 40% to 50% reduction in coastal pollution attributed to the three fractions — PET, glass and tin packaging — included in the system. woman depositing beverage carton packsThe distance that residents must measure to the nearest deposit acceptance point is small in Latvia, with only 1% living more than 10 km away.

Additionally, the “Waste brand audit” by the association Zero Waste Latvija highlighted the absence of beverage packages on beaches and dunes, previously familiar sights before the deposit system’s implementation.

Public opinion echoes these positive outcomes, with 54% of the population acknowledging a cleaner Latvia post-deposit system, according to research by DIO.

Regarding the biggest learnings in the past two years and how to implement these to keep up the success rate, Stūrītis tells us: “DRS operator is responsible for overall system operations and coordination of all involved parties — producers, retailers, consumers and government as policymakers.”

“Continuous improvement of consumer experience when returning is crucial — balancing RVM capacity, widening cooperation with HoReCa sector and targeting groups which currently still do not return all packages they buy.”

Accessibility for residents
Looking ahead, efforts continue to expand the system’s reach and efficiency. With nearly 100% coverage of trading places for accepting used packaging and minimal distances to deposit acceptance points for residents, Latvia is poised to enhance its waste management infrastructure further.

“The coverage of places for accepting used deposit packaging now covers almost 100% of the trading places on the market, which are subject to the mandatory requirements for merchants regarding the acceptance of used deposit packaging,” details Laura Anteina, deputy director general of the State Environmental Service.

“The distance that residents must measure to the nearest deposit acceptance point is also small in Latvia — 14% of the population live more than 2 km from the deposit acceptance points, 6% live more than 5 km, and only 1% live more than 10 km.”

“From the beginning of the system’s operation, the most active empty packages are still handed over in Riga (232.3 million), followed by Vidzeme (115.8 million), while the lowest amount of handed over packages was recorded in Latgale (63.8 million). In general, the assessment of the availability of the deposit system carried out last year reflects positive results.”

By Radhika Sikaria

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