The overall verdict on the smart deposit return system pilot projects


Fost Plus has reviewed all the pilot projects carried out by the platform ‘Together for a smart deposit scheme’. Following the feasibility study in 2022, the pilot projects were designed to test such a smart, digital system in practice. The results must now be used by the relevant government ministers as input for a properly supported decision on the simplest and most effective deposit return system for the general public. The smart deposit return system initiative is part of our five-pillar approach to combating litter.

The context

We all know that waste management is a major challenge, which is why we strive to constantly search for innovative and effective solutions. The three governments of our country are keen to collect more drinks packaging and in this way reduce litter through a deposit return system. Our aim is to step up this effort thanks to a smart digital deposit return system. A smart deposit return system offers many advantages. It is based on a uniquely effective recycling system in Belgium, namely, the blue bag. Thanks to this system, we aim for convenience for citizens when it comes to sorting and collection, while also reducing litter. The vast majority of consumers who already sort their cans or bottles will not have to change their behaviour.

With the launch of ‘Together for a smart deposit scheme’, drinks producers and distributors, the federations Fevia and Comeos, and Fost Plus set up the various pilot projects necessary to test such a system from all angles. The results of the various tests are now known.

The first pilot projects

The initiative started with pilot projects at Corda Campus in Hasselt and at KBC’s offices in Leuven in the spring. These trials made it possible to evaluate several key elements for the proper functioning of smart deposit return systems, including unique codes on drinks packaging, the operation of the app, the ease of scanning the unique codes, the refunding of the deposit and the security of the systems to prevent fraud and protect personal data. The systems proved to be stable on all levels.

Extending the pilot projects

The pilot projects were then extended to other settings, in particular at Bobbejaanland, at Center Parcs De Haan and on certain streets and at a supermarket in the municipality of Wenduine in the autumn. This represented a considerable expansion on the first wave of pilot projects, not only in terms of the number of users, drinks containers and collection points, but also as regarded the technical complexity. For the first time, prototypes of home scanners were deployed, as were PMD bags for recovery at home and packaging with a unique code printed ‘on-pack’.

The preliminary findings are encouraging:

  • Operational robustness: The digital system has proved to be reliable, with 24/7 availability and a problem-free code scanning rate of over 99%.
  • Positive reception: More than 60% of users rated their participation in the system favourably, highlighting its acceptance by the community.
  • Protection of privacy: No complaints or breaches were recorded with regard to protection of user privacy.
  • Impact on litter: Although the data is still being analysed, initial observations point to a positive impact on litter.

Inclusiveness at the heart of the design

The ultimate objective for the project partners has always been to offer the simplest and most effective system for every citizen. We are aware of the importance of digital inclusion in this process. This is why we have also worked on solutions to bridge the digital gap. In order to examine the accessibility and inclusiveness of digital deposit return systems, ‘Together for a smart deposit scheme’ organised sessions with specific discussion groups in Anderlues and Brussels. The two sessions brought together people with various types of disability. This study was carried out in collaboration with Altéo, the social movement for people with disabilities or long-term illnesses. A session of the same type was held with young people from Molenbeek, in collaboration with Toekomst Atelier de l’Avenir (TADA) in Brussels, a non-profit organisation which works for the emancipation and inclusion of young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

The results are encouraging:

  • People with disabilities: Thirteen out of 16 participants expressed a desire to use the smart deposit return system in the future, highlighting the range of tools available to get their deposit back. A comment often made by participants was: ‘The traditional deposit return system isn’t feasible for people like us with reduced mobility, because we then have to bring the plastic bottles and cans to the store. We’d like to be able to validate deposits at home.’
  • Young people in Molenbeek: Thirty-two of the 36 participants expressed an interest in digital deposit return systems, highlighting the ease of use of the system.

The next steps

The results of this qualitative research and of the pilot projects have been submitted to the Brussels, Walloon and Flemish governments and to the pilot project steering group at OVAM with a view to a decision being made by the end of the year.