The bottle deposit refund system can further help us reduce plastic waste

A child with a plastic bottle sitting on top of a pile of garbage at the Gioto landfill. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Talking about ending single-use plastics and tackling plastic waste has become a melody that almost every Kenyan knows. The urgency to find a sustainable solution to plastic waste has driven policy approaches to reduce or eliminate it. The most memorable policy instrument was Kenya’s ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017.

Plastic waste is a global problem that we cannot completely avoid, but we can design solutions that will enable economic development while promoting environmental sustainability. Several approaches exist. One is the can and bottle deposit system, also known as the deposit refund system. This is a widely applied mechanism in many countries, especially in the developed world.

Simply put, the deposit refund system works differently in different countries. Scientists and sustainability experts agree that a standardized methodology is impossible and unachievable. Therefore, policy makers and businesses need to contextualize the scheme to a country’s socio-political and economic patterns.

This is how the deposit system for cans and bottles works; when a consumer buys a reusable or single-use container or can, part of the money paid includes a deposit that can be refunded when the container is returned. The reimbursable costs depend on the type and size of the container, for example, metal or plastic. A 1000ml bottle has a higher value than a 500ml bottle. Reimbursable expenses are always printed on the container.

Take the example of Sweden. The deposit refund system dates back to the 1980s, with the current system dating back to 2006. Deposit vending machines are mainly installed in supermarkets and stores where shoppers often use the refund receipts to pay for their items instead of taking money although we are free to do so. The system is popular in that it has a Swedish vocabulary called Pantamera. This scheme has been popularized by several parties, including media advertisements and artists.

Is this a perfect solution for Swedes? No, single-use containers are still being generated. However, it causes a change in user behavior, promotes cleanliness and paves the way for sustainability. Sweden aims to go further by designing long-lasting products that can be reused and repaired while forging a zero-waste economy.

How does this apply to the Kenyan situation? Managing solid waste, not to mention plastic waste, is a significant challenge in most of our urban areas. The problem is due to the negligent behavior of citizens. While there are many ways to address the threat, a can and bottle deposit refund system would be a viable solution that can motivate citizens to take individual initiatives to sort waste at home and business. manufacturing to produce cans and bottles that can be collected for recycling. according to the guidelines stipulated by the government. It is more or less a circular concept creating a closed loop within the production-supply-consumption chain.

Notably, this is not a new concept in Kenya. We have had the cash refund for glass drink bottles for a long time. There was a sense of responsibility not to break or lose the bottle.

With cashback in mind, it’s obvious that the majority of people will want to be refunded each time they return the bottles or cans. This would result in a reduced accumulation of single-use containers in our environment; oceans, beaches, rivers and parks. Careless disposal would reduce. The effect ripples up to a global awareness of waste generation.

The single-use container deposit system would reinforce the 2017 ban on single-use plastic bags and the 2020 presidential directive banning single-use items in protected areas.


Bryce K. Locke