Return for Change: A 20-Year Journey Towards a Sustainable Ireland

As we stand on the brink of a significant milestone – the launch of the Irish Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) on the 1st of February 2024 – it's the opportunity to reflect on the tireless efforts VOICE has poured into advocating for its introduction over the past two decades.

For 20 years, VOICE has been a driving force behind this initiative, underpinned by a simple and compelling rationale: it's a practical, common-sense solution to elevate recycling rates and diminish littering.

Throughout our journey, we've been fortunate to receive substantial support. European legislations like the Single-Use Plastic Directive, mandating a 90% collection rate for plastic bottles (typically achieved in countries with a DRS), have made our job a lot easier. Additionally, the unwavering backing from community groups and Tidy Towns nationwide has been instrumental in advocating for this pivotal measure. A noteworthy example is the pioneering pilot program led by Carrickmacross Tidy Town, in collaboration with O'Gorman’s Supervalu and Shabra Recycling since October 2019, demonstrating the multifaceted benefits of such Scheme.

Launch of Carrickmacross Reverse Vending machine in 2019

In Ireland, an alarming 3 billion single-use plastic bottles and over 582 million aluminum cans are generated annually. Government-commissioned reports in 2019 revealed that a mere 55% of these items are collected for recycling, leaving approximately 45% either destined for landfills/incinerators or littering our natural landscapes. With these statistics at hand, there was no room for further delay or excuses.

VOICE takes particular pride in the work accomplished in the two years since the launch of the Return for Change campaign. Our efforts in raising awareness through our renowned Roadshows, spearheaded by our Program Lead, Colin O’Byrne, have yielded remarkable success. Our very own survey on people’s perception of the DRS indicated that 1 in 3 individuals were familiar with our campaign, a testament of its impact.

Throughout 2023, VOICE worked closely with Re-turn, the Irish Scheme Operator, fostering collaboration with retailers and producers. For those seeking insights into the Scheme, a visit to their website ( will answer any questions you might have.  

We asked the people of Ireland how they feel about a DRS...

To end the last year of an Ireland pre-DRS, we have commissioned a survey with over 1,000 people to ask them about their general perception of the Scheme, their intention upon its launch, and their motivation. And we were glad (but not surprised) to see that a whopper 86% of people declared they would participate to the Scheme, with an overwhelming 84% of them seeing it as a beneficial environmental measure.

Figure 1: People answer to the question “Upon the introduction of the Deposit Returns Scheme in February 2024, how likely or unlikely would you be to bring back your bottles/containers to shops?”

For more on this check the full survey (below)

As the Scheme's launch looms closer, we anticipate substantial progress toward our collection and recycling objectives. Rest assured, we will remain vigilant, monitoring the journey's progress and reporting on it. We eagerly await the day when we can confidently check off this "recycling” box on the beverage container waste hierarchy.

However, our commitment doesn't halt there. Our vision extends to exploring Ireland's future steps towards prevention and reuse.

Join us in this pivotal moment as well as in our next adventures to always push for stronger measures.

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