Latvia introduced a nationwide deposit system for bottles to improve waste management

Latvian residents will pay an extra 10 cents for their bottles and will get a voucher or a refund when they hand over their beverage containers to the deposit system.

Latvia deposit system
Latvian residents will hand over the bottles and cans to be refunded a 10-cent deposit | © Depozīta Iepakojuma Operators

Latvia government inaugurated its nationwide deposit program for beverage containers on February 1.

From now on in Latvia, it will be possible to return glass, plastic (PET) and metal (can) non-alcoholic and alcoholic (below 6%) drinks to a deposit system.

Latvian residents will buy their products for an extra 10 cents (US$0.11). Once they return the container, they receive a voucher or get a refund for the deposit.

Bottles, cans and other drink packaging will need to be empty and with the bar code readable to receive the voucher.

For the Minister of Environment Artūrs Toms Plešs, “the introduction of the deposit system is a huge leap towards more sustainable, greener and more responsible consumption. Until now, we often considered plastic bottles, tin cans and glass containers to be waste. A large part of beverage packaging will be returned to the production and consumption chain in order to be reused and prevent further environmental pollution.”

The objective is to recover 90% of containers included in the program while the current proactive sorting of waste by the population only collects 45% of them.

At the moment, only 30% of beverage containers – 1,450 products – are part of the program because packaging needs to be labeled with a Latvian deposit mark. The transition will take a few months so that stocks with old labeling are being sold, according to the Latvian Federation of Food Companies.

All manufacturers and importers releasing more than 150kg of empty containers on the market a year need to participate in the deposit program and adapt their packaging.

Retailers forced to adopt the deposit system or charged a tax penalty

There are currently 1,350 deposit points across Latvia and a total of 1,500 are expected by the end of the transition period on July 31.

More than half of the deposits will be automated machines in outdoor kiosks or in stores. The other half will consist of stores manually accepting the return of bottles.

If stores collect more than 3,000 containers a month, they need to install an automatic collection point. Below that threshold, collection can be done manually.

Stores with an area larger than 300m2 (3,200 sq ft) in cities and 60m2 (646 sq ft) in rural areas are obliged to have a collection system. Stores not accepting the deposit system would face a penalty.

For the Latvian Traders Association, the government shifts the responsibility of collecting waste to retailers and consumers. It argues the deposit program in Latvia lacks transparency and “looks like a corrupt scheme implemented by global companies without public oversight”.

According to the trade association representing retailers, the Deposit Packaging Operator will only cover 50% of the cost of maintaining the deposit system in stores, which will eventually lead to price increases on top of the 10 cents. They expect prices to increase by 1%.

Retailers may however collect extra money if buyers never return containers or spend their vouchers.

The Latvian Traders Association points out the lack of recycling solutions for other categories like catering companies, sports clubs and other outlets.

It also criticizes the fact that collecting containers will take up space in stores and can also lead to an unpleasant smell. As such, the Latvian Traders Association “urges residents not to rush to the points of delivery so that there is no disappointment or anger against store employees”.

Such a deposit system has been in discussion for almost 20 years in Latvia. Lithuania and Estonia have already a deposit program in place.

Read more about Latvia

'The deposit system for beverage packaging has been officially launched',Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, January 2022, Free accessLatvian Traders Association, January 2022, Free access, Unsecure

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