Lithuania Recycles

With plastic pollution reaching record levels worldwide, many countries are searching for creative ways to combat litter and increase recycling rates. The small country of Lithuania is leading the way with its wildly successful “deposit refund scheme,” which has resulted in a whopping 92% recycling rate for all bottles and cans.

The system relies on financial incentives and simplicity to get the job done. Consumers pay a small deposit on any drink sold in glass, plastic, or metal containers. Once finished, the customer can return the used container to a “reverse vending machine” for a refund.

Any store that sells beverages is provided with the reverse vending machines, encouraging customers to recycle on the spot, or to return the containers on their next shopping trip. The refunds are issued as vouchers that can be redeemed in the store as cash or credit toward their shopping bill.

Not only is the program good for the environment and consumers, it’s good for business too, as people return with their deposits and buy new products, bringing in additional foot traffic to stores. There are now over 1,000 machines in retail chains across Lithuania as well as 1,800 smaller shops that accept returned packaging.

Before the deposit refund scheme was initiated in 2016, only about 30% of all plastic drinking containers were recycled. In just two years, that rate had hit 92% and raised awareness about plastic recycling in general, which has increased by nearly 20%.

By working together at all levels, this little country has collected over two billion containers and 56,000 tons of material since its inception, an amount equal in mass to six Eiffel Towers.

And that’s only the beginning. Lithuania is now looking to expand the program to include more reverse vending machines – a big win for consumers, businesses, and the environment.