How does it work: For people in Scotland

History of Deposit Return in Scotland

Returning empty bottles to the shop is an idea that has been around in Scotland for a long time. Indeed, when soft drinks first came on the market in the late 1800s, they were all sold in glass bottles that customers took back voluntarily.

By the early 1900s it became clear that more of an incentive was required to maintain high return rates, and ensure that bottles were returned in a good condition. So in 1905 drinks companies got together and, through their trade bodies, agreed to implement a deposit return system where customers were refunded half a penny for every bottle they brought back.

Scotland led the way with the introduction of this system in the UK, and within twelve months of its introduction, it had advanced by ‘leaps and bounds’!

This system was successful for fifty years, until the packaging of drinks began to change. With the introduction of cans in the 1960s, alongside non-returnable glass bottles, this original deposit system covered fewer and fewer of the containers people bought. The final straw came with the introduction of plastic bottles in the 1980s, which were unable to work with that existing system. Only one company continued to offer a return for empty bottles, but even that came to a stop in 2015.

Our goal is for Scotland to lead the way again, and bring in the sort of comprehensive, efficient and modern deposit return system used in so many other places around the world.

Deposit return won’t cost you a penny

Unlike a tax, with a deposit you get it back in full when you return your empties to any shop that sells them. Smaller shops will simply take them back over the counter in return for credit or cash. Larger shops and supermarkets will have easy-to-use ‘reverse vending’ machines that give you a credit note to redeem.

And if you buy groceries online, the delivery van can take your bottles away just like it does with carrier bags.

In places with deposit return, taking cans and bottles back quickly becomes second nature, as it was here when there were deposits on bottles in the past. If there’s somewhere near you where you can buy drinks cans and bottles, there’ll be somewhere to return them, and survey after survey shows how important it is to people to live somewhere with less litter (in addition to lower Council Tax bills!).

Returning your drink containers is quick and easy. Most people take bags to the shops with them at least some of the time, especially since the carrier bag charge came in. With deposit return, you can just take your empties back to the shop when you go or give them to the delivery driver if you order your groceries online. And if you’re out and about, just take your empty can or bottle into a shop rather than putting it in a bin.

What are the benefits?

Deposit return reduces litter very effectively

Drinks packaging makes up roughly 50% of litter by volume, and in many places deposit return achieves container return rates of over 90%. The reduction in bottles and cans littering our countryside will be visible.

Deposit return systems greatly improve recycling rates

In Germany, 98.5% of plastic bottles are recycled. In Norway, Sweden and Finland it’s over 90%. There’s absolutely no reason that can’t happen in Scotland too. The Scottish Government wants to hit overall recycling rates of 70% by 2025, yet the most recent figures showed our household recycling rates had inched up by just 1% to 42% in 2013. We need to do something about it – and deposit return can play a huge part.

Would it work here?

Deposit return on drinks containers is the next step towards a cleaner Scotland

Many drinks are consumed away from home, so a deposit makes it more likely they’ll be recycled by being brought back to a shop.

Drinks containers also use up huge amounts of energy in manufacturing, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The more we recycle, the better for our environment and our economy.

Plus, drinks packaging is responsible for up to 50% of litter on land and 80%-95% of the litter in our seas by volume or weight.

Does it work elsewhere?

45 countries or regions in the world have introduced effective deposit return systems including Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Finland. It’s also used in most of Canada, 10 US states and large areas of Australia.

Over 144 million people in the EU alone live in countries with deposit systems, with more member states announcing plans for deposit return every year.

Support from the majority of people in Scotland

The Scottish public strongly support deposit return

A Survation poll commissioned by APRS in 2015 showed that nearly 79% of people in Scotland are in favour of DRS. (Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules).

We asked 1,000 people in Scotland this simple question:

Elsewhere, including in Denmark, Canada and Germany, a small deposit is paid to retailers when you buy drinks cans and bottles and fully refunded by retailers when you return the container, in order to increase recycling and reduce litter. To what extent would you support or oppose the introduction of a similar type of system in Scotland?

41.1% were ‘strongly supportive,’ 37.3% were ‘somewhat supportive’ – meaning 78.8% of those surveyed support a Scottish deposit return system. 5.2% were ‘somewhat opposed’ and 3.3% were ‘strongly opposed,’ totalling just 8.5%. Those numbers make clear what people in Scotland want.

About our campaign

The people behind the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign

The campaign is led by The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, and other organisations have quickly joined as partners. Right now, we have over 100 supporting organisations across business, the non-governmental and community sectors, including Changeworks Recycling, Triathlon Scotland, Whitmuir Organics, Eco-Congregation, Cornelius Beers, Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society, WWF Scotland, Spokes, Surfers Against Sewage, Ramblers Scotland, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and many more.

Most importantly, we’re the voice of the 79% of people in Scotland who support introducing a deposit return system.


As children in the 60s and 70s we used to collect glass bottles to take back to the shops for just a few pennies which we used to buy Anglo Bubble-gum or Black Jack chews. We are confident that a reintroduction of this initiative for all bottles and cans would help solve the global crisis on bottle refuse. People would make several pounds every morning just from collecting bottles along our beautiful Ythan Riverside! We wholeheartedly support the Have You Got The Bottle? Campaign.


Our Partners