A container return scheme is a system for managing used packaging, which consists of separating the price of the packaging, called the container return deposit or return guarantee, from the price of the product content at the time of purchase.
In this system, the packaging remains the property of the manufacturer or distributor, and the consumer can at any moment, return the packaging for which the deposit was paid in exchange for a full container, for which the consumer only pays for the content, or in exchange for the return guarantee deposit (in cash or vouchers).
The purpose of this system is to prevent packaging from being abandoned in public spaces or in the country, as well as to support the reuse of packaging by avoiding energy costs incurred by recycling the raw material.
According to several studies and ecological footprint reports, the interest of container return schemes is mainly conditioned by the distance travelled by thepackaging. Thus, the external costs (environmental costs) of container return schemes are not favourable unless this distance is less than 100 km for a recycling rate of 91 %.
Furthermore, the internal costs (economic costs) avoided by local authorities, who are in charge of selective collection, are lower than those incurred by the distributors in charge of collection of the packaging for which deposits were paid. This is explained by the constraints, in terms of checking the condition of the packaging, its storage (volume), its transport (fragility) and its cleaning (health safety).
Used in several European countries, container return schemes are no longer used in France, except for certain products such as gas bottles. In fact, the French market, with its geographic size and dispersed residential areas, does not allow the lowering of external costs to counterbalance the increased internal costs.
Besides, this market is also characterised by wine marketing and significant export activity which is unfavourable to container return schemes, while the recycling system has proven to be an effective way to reach the objectives set by the European Union.
Gas bottles are an example of the container return scheme still used in France. © Guy Rougier CC by-nc-nd 3.0