The European bottled water industry has thrown its weight behind the deposit refund system, a plastic recycling scheme that pays a small cash sum to consumers who return plastic bottles, in order to meet the new collection and recycling targets. 

In a press statement released on 2 June, the European Federation of Bottled Water stated that the deposit refund system, commonly shortened to DRS, and separate collection are needed “to meet the above targets while ensuring quantity and quality”. 

The UK implemented a DRS system in March of last year, and Germany started their own analogue programme in 2003. Advocates claim the DRS systems assist in increasing the recycling rates of cans and bottles by a significant amount, pointing to recycling and waste data in Germany to support this claim.

In 2015, the German government held a 79% recycling rate, far higher than most EU countries, according to Eurostat data. Since the UK’s programme is still relatively new, there’s little data available to demonstrate how the DRS has changed the UK’s recycling habits.

Despite the support and success of Germany’s DRS system, the idea hasn’t picked up enough steam for widespread use in more EU countries.

The water bottling industry believes separate collection and DRS are “essential” and advocates for an introduction of DRS systems across the EU.

According to the June press statement, the industry organization said  “Deposit Refund System has the benefit of yielding very high return rates in a separate “clean” stream for PET beverage bottles.” PET is a form of polyester used in manufacturing plastic water bottles.

The support for DRS comes immediately in the wake of the Single Use Plastic Directive, approved by the European Parliament in May. The directive set a 90% separate collection standard for plastic bottles by 2029 and a target to use 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles by 2025.

Plastic remains a major challenge in the fight against climate change, but water bottling companies are not going to resort to using other materials to manufacture water bottles. With irregular access to public tap water to refill bottles across the EU, the problem of plastic bottles will not go away easily.

Euromonitor reports that humans produce almost 20,000 plastic water bottles a minute. In Germany alone, over 700,000 plastic water bottles are discarded every day. DRS and other separate collection schemes are not the only solutions for reducing the impact of plastic waste across the EU, but the wider implementation of DRS, as advocated by the EFBW, could still make a significant impact.