The unintended consequence of The Netherlands’ bottle/can deposit scheme

The Netherlands reintroduced a deposit scheme (‘statiegeld’) on plastic bottles (PET) in 2021. We get € 0.15 back on returning a bottle smaller than a litre and € 0.25 for a bottle 1 through 3 litres. As of April 2023, the scheme has also been extended to aluminium cans. Most cans now carry a deposit of € 0.15. Field studies show that this scheme has been very successful in reducing littler as well as the amount of these bottles and cans that people throw into non-recyclable waste. And oh, this being a developed country in western Europe, there isn’t a human at the grocery store collecting your bottles and issuing you small change - it’s all done through automated deposit machines.

However, some people still throw them away. Especially tourists who:

  • might not know about the deposit scheme in The Netherlands

  • might not find the hassle of keeping the empty bottles or cans on them for getting back small amounts worth it

  • might not have means to get their deposit money back - while stores like Albert Hijn have machines that’ll print you a coupon upon returning the bottles that you can redeem against your next purchase, at Amsterdam Centraal station the deposit machines credit the amount to your bank account - meaning you need a Dutch bank account number.

This means enough of these bottles or cans still end up in trash. Municipalities are now reporting that people are rummaging through trash cans, salvaging the PET bottles and cans and simply leaving the rest on the street. This is exacerbating the cities’ litter problem especially in and around busy tourist areas like Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.

I’ve already seen this phenomenon with my own eyes twice this weekend - though my scavengers were careful enough to put back the rest of the trash.

An unintended consequence I wouldn’t have seen coming.

The municipality is exploring a few solutions of varying degrees of cost and feasability. Most bins in Amsterdam have locks that are apparently easily opened by a generic triangle key available at utility stores. So the city is looking to updgrade the locks on bins. They are also putting dedicated bins for bottles and cans to encourage tourists to not throw them in the trash. Finally, the city is also issuing fines for littering, but given the labour intensive nature of such enforcement, I don’t see that going very far here.

June 11, 2023