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  • Writer's pictureJulie de Vaan

Deposits on cans: the effects on consumer behaviour

Updated: May 12, 2023

From 1 April 2023 there will be a deposit on cans in the Netherlands. The aim is to separate waste better and to reduce litter. Understandable, because waste collection and separation is important for proper recycling, and because the number of cans in the environment is only increasing.

In 2024, 90% of all beverage cans must be collected. But will the introduction of a deposit ensure this? These are the effects we expect on consumer behavior:

A slow start, not immediately the desired effect

Too much uncertainty

At the moment (one and a half weeks before the introduction of the deposit), many consumers are not yet aware that there will be a deposit on cans. Although environmental organizations are doing their best to inform consumers about it, the industry is keeping a low profile. While, for example, supermarkets and producers are an important link in reaching the less conscious, less sustainable consumer. The previous discussion about deposits on cans and the postponement of its introduction have also caused confusion and indifference among consumers.

Only direct effect on the price-conscious consumer

In addition, due to the current inflation, consumers are more accustomed to price increases and it is therefore less noticeable that the price of a can increases with € 0.15. Only price-conscious consumers will notice this increase in price and will be motivated to return their cans because of this measure. Although the group of price-conscious consumers may have increased during these expensive times, consumers generally pay less attention to price when buying a can. They know that cans are relatively more expensive than, for example, a large package, but are willing to pay more for it. This reduces the chance that this group of consumers will hand in their can to get 15 cents back.

Fewer sales of cans, more purchases in bottle(s)

Consumers who buy small packages such as cans often do so because it is convenient. Holding on to an empty can to return it later is less convenient than holding on to an empty bottle. Especially if the can should not be dented when you return it. It is therefore more likely that consumers who intend to keep and return their deposit packaging will buy a (small) bottle instead of a can. Especially on the go, where they have to store or hold their empty packaging in their bag, for example.

Enough and easily accessible return points can counteract this effect. To this end, local enterprises should also offer facilities to collect cans. But for small businesses, implementing a return system can of course be very difficult. However, they can choose to collect cans separately in a bin. They can then donate the proceeds of their collected cans and bottles to charity or have them paid out. This can also encourage consumers who are not sensitive to the financial incentive of €0.15 to return their packaging correctly.

Consumers will be driven less by convenience and more by sustainability

The introduction of a deposit on cans will not automatically ensure that all cans are returned in the correct manner. This is because not everyone is driven by a financial incentive or by sustainability. For some people and in some situations, for example, convenience is simply more important.

But the introduction of a deposit on cans (and other packaging) does make the value of the packaging more clear. In addition, it provides a clear statement from politicians and the industry: we must deal with packaging more consciously. This way, we are slowly changing the way we look at packaging.

The rise of (plastic) disposable packaging has made consumers accustomed to convenience. But nowadays consumers find sustainability increasingly important. The negative consequences of (plastic) waste and our excessive use of raw materials are also becoming increasingly clear. As a result, consumers are increasingly open to alternatives, such as reusable packaging.

Before we all switch to sustainable packaging, a lot still needs to be done, both in the systems of the (food) industry and in the attitude and behaviour of consumers. But the introduction of a deposit on packaging will stimulate these system changes and changes in attitude and behaviour.

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