Deposit Return Scheme, the Danish excellence in the recycling of beverage packaging

Deposit Return Scheme, the Danish excellence in the recycling of beverage packaging

By: Marta Strinati  13/02/2023

From: GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade)

Original article

The danish Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is a worldwide excellence in the recovery and recycling of beverage packaging. So efficient that it has enabled extended producer responsibility burdens to be eliminated as of 2023. (EPR,  Extended Producers’ Responsibility).

Deposit Return Scheme, the Danish model

The management of beverage bottles and cans in Denmark is entrusted exclusively – and strictly – to the deposit system (Deposit Return Scheme), the introduction of which in France is now the subject of a lively debate. (1)

According to the classical scheme, the consumer pays an extra amount on drinks, in which case up to 3 Danish kroner (DKK), 40 euro cents. The amount can be recovered by placing the packaging in a special automated collector, which issues a ticket to cash out or credit the amount to an app.

The system is entirely managed by Dansk Retursystem, a company with majority shares held by the giant Carlsberg and two other Danish breweries (Thisted Brewery and Royal Unibrew). The service has been running on a non-profit basis for 20 years, on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment, which evaluates every three years whether to renew it.

Rigorous standards

The terms of the service are dictated by an ordinance implementing the Environmental Protection Act. (2) The text clarifies the deposit terms and also highlights the obligation of accepting empty bottles and cans from consumers as well as outlines the Dansk Returnsystem’s terms of service, which includes a requirement to ensure that 90% of the single-use packaging collected is recycled.

All disposable packaging beverages intended for marketing in Denmark are subject to registration to Dansk Returnsystem. The process involves providing labels that will be attached to the packaging to indicate the appropriate deposit type, which varies depending on the material used. This regulation also applies to importers, who must comply at least four weeks prior to importing.

Advance deposit

At the first registration the operator is required to pay a deposit to guarantee the payment of deposits and commissions. The advance is repaid within two years.
The amount of the deposit can reach 500 DKK (67 euros), reduced to 100 DKK (13.4 euros) for operators who market, exclusively or mainly, drinks in disposable glass packaging.

Collection points

Collection it is organised both in public areas and in commercial establishments that decide to offer this service under the following conditions:

  • registration with Dansk Retursystem, upon payment of a small annual fee (DKK 500, equal to 67 euros).
  • reimbursement of expenses incurred,
  • responsibility for any impediments to the collection (e.g. inadequate packaging of the collected materials, failure to clear the snow, etc.) with heavy penalties. In such cases, Dansk Retursystem charges the retailer with all charges related to non-collection (fuel, personnel, equipment and any other cost items for the empty round trip).

Clean streets

Dansk Retursystem in return, each year pays the Danish Environmental Protection Agency an amount (in 2023 set at 100 DKK, equal to 13.4 euros) to cover the costs of collecting, transporting, sorting and treating of disposable plastic packaging waste dispersed in the environment or given by citizens to municipal collection points. 

The description details of the tasks and charges to be borne by each actor involved in the collection of the packaging to be sent for recycling leaves no room for uncertainty, generating efficiency.

A profitable system

The fluidity of the Deposit Return Scheme – in supermarkets and in dedicated areas, where the new machinery receives up to 120 bottles per minute – has yielded increasing collection percentages, up to the current 93% of the released for consumption. Of 100 bottles or cans sold, 93 are returned and can be recycled.

The quality of the material collected with the deposit system turns into good income, through the sale to recyclers. This has been so successful that the burden on producers, under the extended producer responsibility heading (Extended Producers’ ResponsibilityEPR), has been eliminated this year, as announced by Lars Krejberg, CEO of Dansk Retursystem. (3).

Containers intended for reuse

Containers intended for reuse such as glass and plastic are also subject to the deposit system but are not directly handled by Dansk Returnsystem.

The producers must autonomously guarantee the reimbursement of the deposit to the consumer and return them washed and recharged. Alternatively, they can outsource the task to Dansk Returnsystem, who offer a service ‘turnkey’: registration, labelling, storage management, collection and sanitisation or disposal of containers intended for reuse.

Golden Share

In 20 years of activity, Dansk Retursystem has developed a business that is impressive and constantly improving. The company reports the adoption of their first two trucks Electric Mercedes-Benz for the transport of materials, the start of recycling treatment as well for green plastic bottles, previously excluded. And it promises to continue on the path it has taken, aiming for the goal of becoming a 100% circular system and generate zero carbon emissions by 2030.

In order to protect such a value – and a service that is already crucial for Denmark’s circular economy goals – the Ministry of the Environment has reserved for itself the right of first refusal on the shares and material assets of Dansk Retursystem.

Marta Strinati


(1) Marta Strinati. Deposit Return Scheme on plastic bottles. The debate in FranceGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.2.23

(2) BEK nr 1568 af 19/12/2022 in force since 5.1.23

(3) Nu er det gratis at pante. Dansk Retursystem press release. 24.1.23

Leave a Comment