Malta followed in the footsteps of 12 other EU member states when in November 2022 it introduced a 10c deposit return scheme for single-use drinks bottles and cans to boost the country’s low recycling figures.

Collection and recycling rates of single-use beverage containers have already improved significantly, while our environment has become noticeably cleaner. The plastic and glass bottles, as well as cans that previously littered our streets and the countryside are being picked up by entrepreneurial people, while NGOs are offering to collect the containers and using the return for their different causes.

But, as with all measures benefitting the environment, making the necessary changes requires a cultural shift. 

Here you can find answers to some common questions about the BCRS scheme, which is designed to help Malta to reach its environmental targets… one bottle at a time.

Why was BCRS introduced?

In its pursuit of an effective circular economy, EU member states must recycle at least 77 per cent of single-use plastic beverage bottles by 2025, and up to 90 per cent by 2030, besides additional targets for other packaging materials. 

Malta generates an estimated 230 million drinks containers every year, yet it manages to recycle an extremely low fraction of these – falling way short of the current EU average by a whopping 41 per cent, according to the latest Eurostat data.

That is nowhere near good enough, so the government decided to introduce a beverage container refund scheme and awarded the licence to BCRS Malta, a not-for-profit private operator made up of the island’s beverage producers, beverage importers and beverage retailer associations.

Apart from ensuring that containers do not end up in the sea or littering the countryside, BCRS ensures that millions of plastic, metal and glass single-use drinks containers placed on the market are retrieved, separated and – crucially – fully recycled.

Had the government not acted, the EU is proposing legislation that would in any case oblige member states to have deposit return systems in place to ensure each country adopts the principles of what is known as the circular economy.

What is the circular economy? 

The circular economy is a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible to reduce waste to an absolute minimum. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended because they can be used productively and efficiently again and again.

BCRS is a circular economy initiative as it collects containers in a clean manner – separate from any other material waste stream – which allows these containers to be fully recycled and used to make new containers in accordance with the principles of a circular economy.

What are BCRS’s targets? 

BCRS Malta has set ambitious targets to recover 70 per cent of the total number of containers placed on the market by 2023, and 90 per cent by the end of 2026.

In spite of some teething problems, the scheme is already proving to be very successful. More than 33 million containers have been collected February 21, 2023, and more than 1,300 tons of material have been exported for recycling; which means Malta is moving in the right direction to reach its targets for the first year. But we need to keep working at it. 

Why is BCRS a not-for-profit entity?

Since the circular economy places the onus for retrieval of single-use drinks containers on beverage producers, importers and retailers, Malta’s three beverage associations representing these entities decided it would make sense to get together and operate the scheme themselves on a not-for-profit basis, and the lowest cost principle. This is the same business model in operation in similar successful schemes abroad.

BCRS Malta has set ambitious targets to recover 70 per cent of the total number of containers placed on the market by 2023, and 90 per cent by the end of 2026.BCRS Malta has set ambitious targets to recover 70 per cent of the total number of containers placed on the market by 2023, and 90 per cent by the end of 2026.

They invested €18 million in this project, which involved the construction of Malta’s first privately funded Clearing Centre and Sorting Plant solely dedicated to beverage container waste, as well as 320 reverse vending machines equipped with smart technology.

If for whatever reason empty drinks containers are not returned, every 10c deposit charged on those bottles is reinvested into the scheme. Not a cent is retained by the BCRS shareholders. 

Not only do beverage producers and importers not make any profit from BCRS but, in line with the running principles of such schemes, these companies pay what are known as ‘Administration fees’ to BCRS on every single container placed on the market. These administration fees go towards running the operation.

Additionally, BCRS risks facing hefty fines if local collection and recycling targets are not met – so it is in their full interest that the bottles are returned and recycled. As well as in Malta’s interests of course!

How do I get back my 10c deposit?

The 10c deposit is returned to the consumer through a deduction from the bill of the next purchase at any retail outlet taking part in the scheme. There are three ways you can do this:

  1. By taking the used container to one of the reverse vending machines set up in supermarkets and retail outlets. A voucher will be issued by the Reverse Vending Machine, which can be redeemed against the bill only at that retailer hosting the machine or its chain of outlets.
  2. By returning the used container to a reverse vending machine installed at a public recycling hub. A voucher will be issued by the machine, which can be redeemed against the bill at any retailer taking part in the scheme.
  3. By handing the used container over the counter to retailers taking part in the scheme through manual collection – the amount will be deducted from the bill at that retailer accepting the used containers.

The first two options also give you the option to forgo your refund and instead donate your refund to the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation directly from the reverse vending machine.

What containers can I recycle?

Bottles or cans between 0.1 litres and three litres made from either PET plastic, steel, aluminium, or glass can all be returned. These include:

  • Non-carbonated and carbonated soft drinks
  • Ready-to-drink coffee beverages
  • Dilutables
  • Water and flavoured water
  • Flavoured alcoholic beverages with an alcoholic content level not exceeding five per cent
  • Ciders, beers and other malt beverages

What can’t I recycle?

  • Wine and alcoholic spirit bottles
  • Bottles with a capacity exceeding three litres
  • Juices and dairy products
  • Food jars, oil or vinegar containers
  • Drinks that come in refillable containers, cartons or pouches

What do I do if the machine rejects my container?

There are times when the barcode cannot be read or the bottle is not included in the scheme, so the machine rejects the container. If this happens, you can just dispose of it in the skips or bins that have been purposely placed next to the machines or check out the BCRS website to establish what is included in the scheme.

Will you be introducing more machines to minimise queues?

To date, 320 machines have been set up across Malta and Gozo. BCRS Malta is in the process of adding more machines. The company is also looking to install bulk-feed reverse vending machines where people can deposit a number of bottles at one go. This is especially useful for those who deposit containers in large quantities.

What’s the situation with bars and restaurants?

As with any system, retailers, bars, restaurants as well as consumers need time to adjust. However, it is important to know your rights to ensure you’re not being overcharged. The rule of thumb is simple:

  • If you consume the drink at the establishment and leave the container there, you should not be charged the 10c
  • If, on the other hand, you take the drink with you and consume it elsewhere, then you will be charged the 10c and can reclaim the deposit through the three different methods previously described: either manually or through a reverse vending machine

What happens to the containers once I return them?

Once the drinks containers are returned manually or through a reverse vending machine, they are collected and transported to the Clearing Centre and Sorting Plant in Hal Far, where they are sorted and compressed into bales ready to be exported to fully certified recycling companies in Europe.

The recyclable materials (plastic/PET, aluminium, steel and glass) are then sent to European recycling plants where they are regenerated into new material and resources.

This is what circular economy is all about. But we cannot do it without you!

Learning new ways of recycling, together!

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