What the issue is

We drink from over two billion glass, plastic, metal, paperboard and other single-use drink containers each year in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is estimated that over half these empty beverage containers end up in landfills and unused stockpiles or littering streets, public spaces, streams, beaches and the ocean.

About container return schemes

Container return schemes encourage 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, 20-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 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 or in the process of being established 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. The Ministry was also supported by an independent technical advisory group.

The co-design project undertook substantial research, modelling and reporting. This was supported by independently peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis.

The co-design project recommended a number of design options for a container return scheme for Aotearoa New Zealand, in accordance with the project’s terms of reference. This body of work is substantial and thorough. However, there were differing stakeholder views on some key matters. 

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

A range of reports were developed and submitted to the Ministry at the end of 2020 [Marlborough District Council website]

Read the report [PDF, 15 MB] from the CRS Technical Advisory Group which provided final advice and independent feedback on the co-design report and recommendations for a design of a CRS. 

The Ministry’s work following the co-design project

Building on the work produced through the co-design project, the Ministry undertook further analysis and engagement with stakeholders during 2021 to develop comprehensive advice and options for Ministers.

The following issues and options were considered.

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

About the recent consultation

We began consulting on a container return scheme for New Zealand (NZ CRS) on 13 March as part of the Transforming Recycling consultation. the NZ CRS was one of three proposals we consulted on. 

For full details of the NZ CRS proposal, the problems we are trying to solve and the options we have considered read the:

The consultation closed on 22 May 2022.

What happens next

Officials are analysing submissions. We received well over 6,000 submissions on the three proposals from stakeholders including the general public, councils, NGOs, businesses and the beverage industry. 

The summary of submissions is likely to be published later this year. It will include how many submissions were received for each proposal. The expected timing of Cabinet decisions is late 2022. 

If the Government decides to implement a NZ CRS, there is likely to be further targeted consultation at the legislation/regulation development phase. Pending consultation outcomes and the legislative development process, we anticipate a CRS could be operational in New Zealand by 2025 at the earliest.

Indicative timeline for the proposed Container Return Scheme

crs timeline
crs timeline

Description of image: Timeline for the proposed Container Return Scheme

2020: CRS co-design project begins; CRS co-design produces final report and recommendations

2021: Further stakeholder engagement; Advice to Cabinet on key design options; Cabinet direction

2022: Public consultation on a NZ CRS design; Submission analysis and advice to Ministers; Cabinet approval of policy options and decisions on scheme legislative pathway

2023: New Waste Legislation Bill (currently underway) introduced to the House; Select Committee process

2024: Bill passed into law; Regulations developed and implemented

2025: Likely NZ CRS implementation period

Additional analysis and supporting material