Deposit systems have been proven to be very effective in promoting recycling, as can be seen in bottle bill states, and also can be very effective in promoting the return of reusable pallets and containers for reuse. Let's face it. Money talks, and the motivation of money can help shape human behavior in a way that promotes objectives such as recycling and reuse. In spite of this effectiveness, there seems to remain significant resistance to the expansion of these programs from beverage companies, retailers and others.
Take the case of bottle deposits. Bottle deposits used to work very effective for beverage containers, but in the 1960s, industry undertook a dramatic shift from refillable soft drink ‘deposit’ bottles to ‘no-deposit, no-return, one-way’ bottles and cans. Sixty percent of beer market share was in single use packaging by 1970, while one-way containers had grown from just 5 percent in 1960 to 47 percent of the soft drink market during that same period.
Currently, ten U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces have established deposit laws requiring refundable deposits on a range of beverage containers. They have proven to be extremely effective in keeping return of empty containers at top of mind, and as a result, helping to achieve high recycling rates for containers involved in the deposit program. In some jurisdictions, the scope of containers recovered has continued to expand, such as through British Columbia’s Return-It program.
In spite of this success, there remains significant resistance to the expansion of bottle bills. Campaigns to encourage recycling through rewards prizes and initiatives seem to have had modest success. While the used aluminum container recovery rate is 83.5 percent in British Columbia, for example, it is only 58.1 percent nationally in the U.S.
Reusable Pallet and Container Deposits
Not surprisingly, deposits can be very effective in helping promote the return of reusable pallets and containers also. When containers are not returned, however, and a trading partner is faced with paying for the missing assets, hard feelings can result. For this reason, many businesses choose to forgo the use of deposits as it can result in damaged relationships with customers. Ironically, customers who regularly lose reusable packaging may in the final analysis prove to be not particularly profitable, unless the cost of packaging replacement is built into the customer’s pricing.
In spite of reservations of many businesses to the use of a pallet or container deposit, the concept is used successfully by some businesses. There are two main reasons that a deposit system is employed. One of these has to do with generating revenue to pay for the cost of the reusables. The other has to do with motivating the customer to return them to the owner.
One professional in the reusable packaging arena, Gary Hudson of Returnable Packaging Services Ltd. observes that “Whether a deposit is applied or ownership retained the key steps to successful recovery are (a) clear statement that you intend to recovery your assets (b) take a pro-active approach to recover those assets and (c) measure and share the recovery performance with individual customer collection points.”
If a deposit system is employed, it is essential to have accurate information about the movement of the pallets or containers between trading partners. Accurate and efficient tracking software is essential, along with other important considerations. Trained personnel must be relied upon to follow procedures, including making sure that data entry information accurately reflects front line execution of transactions involving reusables. Likewise reconciliation of transactions should take place on a regular basis to ensure that any discrepancies do not get too far out of hand.
Bottom line, deposits can be a very powerful logistics tool, and a deposit system can be a tool used effectively with happy, loyal customers. In large part it comes down to how you sell the program to customers, and work with them in managing it.