What the issue is

We drink from around two billion glass, plastic, metal, paperboard and other single-use drink containers each year in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many end up in landfills or littering streets, streams, beaches and other public spaces. These ‘lost’ containers represent a lost opportunity for recycling.

About container return schemes

Container return schemes incentivise consumers and businesses to return beverage containers (eg, bottles, cans etc) for recycling and/or re-use. They do this by including a refundable deposit (eg, 10-cents or more) in the price of purchase.

Consumers get their deposit refunded when they return their empty beverage container(s) to a designated scheme drop-off point for recycling.

International schemes provide deposits ranging from 7 to 49 cents (NZD equivalent value) per container.

Container return schemes help to increase recycling rates, reduce litter, and reduce emissions by decreasing the need for virgin packaging production. There are over 50 schemes operating globally including in Australia, Canada, the USA and Europe. However, individual scheme design and outcomes can vary considerably. 

Overseas evidence suggests that once implemented, container return schemes can reduce beverage container litter by 60 per cent or more.

This is noted on the following websites:

Container return scheme co-design project

Reflecting the growth in Container return schemes internationally, a Government-funded New Zealand container return scheme investigation and co-design process was undertaken in 2020. it was co-led by Auckland Council and Marlborough District Council. This project involved a wide range of industry, local government, community and sector stakeholders and was supported by a technical advisory group.

The co-design project produced substantial research, modelling and cost-benefit analysis. It identified design options for a container return scheme for Aotearoa New Zealand. There were differing stakeholder views on some key issues.

Find out more about the co-design project [Marlborough District Council website].

The Ministry’s work following the co-design project

Building on the work produced through the co-design project, the Ministry has undertaken further analysis and engagement with stakeholders to develop comprehensive advice and options for Ministers.

The following issues and options are being considered.

  • The scope of containers included within a scheme (eg, glass, plastic, metal, liquid paper board).
  • The deposit level.
  • The network design and convenience.
  • How the scheme could work (including governance structure, financial model, etc).
  • The costs of operating a scheme.

Next steps

Work on the option of a New Zealand container return scheme is underway. Options are being presented to Ministers. Subject to their decisions, public consultation on proposals is likely to take place in 2022.