What do shoppers actually think about Deposit Return Schemes?

reverse vending machine

Suntory Beverage & Food has unveiled the initial findings of one of the most comprehensive surveys of how consumers view the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and how they see it impacting upon their lives.

By Antony Begley

With many of the key pieces of the DRS jigsaw in Scotland now falling into place like the start date and the retailer handling fee, Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF), has conducted some fascinating new deep-dive research into exactly how consumers view DRS, how they think it will impact on their lives and how well they understand it.

The ‘What’s in Store’ studies into consumer behaviours and attitudes found that it takes just seven weeks for most shoppers to rethink their relationship with plastic bottles (88%) and to appreciate their value after “living with” the scheme.

The white paper study involved four distinct behavioural studies involving almost 8,000 people across the UK. The research included placing over 5,500 people in a virtual reality shopping environment to see how they would react when a theoretical DRS was introduced. Further studies with another group were focused on understanding how consumers lived with DRS over an eight-week period.

Interestingly, the research revealed that shoppers experience “a three-stage mental shift” when required to pay a deposit on drinks, which SBF has categorised as Surprise, Review and Reset.


In this phase, shoppers simply experience surprise at being asked to pay more for soft drinks and return them for a fee, currently set at 20p per item in Scotland.

The questions that specifically need addressing – and that were raised by consumers during the research – centre around:

  • How exactly is the fee applied to the drinks that I buy (especially for multipacks)?
  • How do I transport the empty bottles/cans and where will they go?
  • When do I redeem and how long will this take (fear of slow or faulty machines)?
  • How do I encourage collection by the whole household (housemates, kids etc)?
  • How do I manage the integrity of the containers and where to store them?
  • How do I get my deposit back into my ‘wallet’ and in what form?
  • Can I still use my kerbside service?
  • What happens to my deposit if I don’t redeem the fee?


In the second stage, consumers begin to review their relationship with materials like plastic bottles and learn how to adjust to the new scheme rules after having to re-evaluate the value of their drinks packaging.

The report found that, for those retailers that have primed their customers and made their store into a “destination” for DRS, the ‘Review’ phase will be much simpler to navigate. Driving a dialogue in advance can help prime shoppers, helping navigate them towards potential solutions. The research showed that new routines will emerge quickly, so the window of opportunity will be short.

Some potential outcomes in this stage might be behavioural shifts, such as:

  • Some will buy more cordial, squash and other dilutes.
  • Some will think about refillable options, using no ‘disposable’ packs at all.
  • Some will buy less plastic.
  • Some will buy less bottled water.


In the final phase, shoppers actually reset and begin to change their behaviour towards materials like plastic bottles, resulting in new routines and different choices being made.

The research indicates that the key to these new routines is disruption, excitement and the optimisation of ranges, as well as a focus on pack sizes that will see less impact as the return fee is more “hidden”.

SBF advises retailers that they should expect to see new product development and new packaging innovations from manufacturers timed to land around this period, which will help drive shopper interest and ultimately keep them buying from the category.

If the ‘Surprise’ phase (and the lead up to it) is all about education of shoppers and marketing stores as a DRS destination, the ‘Review’ and ‘Reset’ phases are real opportunities to capitalise on changing behaviours commercially.

From a retailer’s point of view, there is one aim they should bear in mind to keep their shoppers coming back to store: it is about making consumers “happy” about the new systems that are in place.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of shoppers surveyed said they were not happy with their personal sustainability efforts, suggesting there is a majority desire to become more sustainable.

Changing perceptions

DRS is set to change consumer perceptions and local retailers are ideally placed to help shoppers feel happy about using their store as a DRS location.

The report states: “We discovered that people changed their relationship with drinks containers in just seven weeks. Shoppers were incentivised to return their empties and redemption rates hit 88% in this time.

“If retailers can get their shopper story, their range and their DRS messaging right at every stage, they can make DRS work for them, as well as the planet.”

Matthew Deane, Head of Customer Marketing at SBF, said: “DRS will bring about one of the biggest changes in shopper behaviour in a generation. Many people purchase on autopilot and will be surprised that they will have to pay more up front and then retain the items in good condition to get their deposit back.

“Lots of retailers selling any bottle or can in the schemes will have to offer a collection service. This will positively transform the shopper relationship with plastic and cans. However, it’s important retailers understand this shift so they are in the best place to adapt to these forthcoming changes. We’re on hand to help them on this journey.”

Keith Allen, Director for Commercial Sustainability at SBF GB&I said: “We are passionately committed to DRS schemes to ensure that the right conditions exist for a truly circular economy so that our bottles and cans are used again and again. They work brilliantly abroad but we need them to be as simple and similar as possible across the UK to avoid complexity and confusion for retailers and shoppers.”

Liz Nieboer, Head of Sustainability and External Affairs at SBF, added: “As part of our ‘Growing for Good’ vision, we are designing our products for circularity by making sure that 100% of our packaging is recyclable by 2025 and using more sustainable materials like rPET. Deposit return schemes will ensure that these materials are reused more effectively and for their intended purpose.”

How did it work?

This research engaged a total of almost 8,000 people and had four elements:

  • First Response: A small representative community of 25 people looked in-depth at how consumers reacted to a DRS over a two-week period.
  • In-store Behaviours: The second used VR technology to analyse how people shopped the soft drinks category with the addition of a 20p charge on drinks. A total of 5,534 people were tracked.
  • Household Habits: A community of 104 people were brought together to form a qualitative Mini Public study in a ‘DRS world’. The eight-week long project combined the learnings from the shopper behaviour with consumption and household habits and introduced socialising with DRS ‘rules’ in place. This fed into, and refined, an overall model to help predict consumer and shopper behaviour over time.
  • Product Preferences: A study of 2,267 people to look at whether there were preferences for different types of packaging and products.

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This website contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under 18 years of age.

This publication contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under the age of 18 years old.