The eternal life of a beverage containers

More than 2 billion empty beverage containers with a deposit are returned in Finland every year. After they are returned, the journey of the containers continues through processing back to the shops and restaurants as new beverage packaging or other materials for industrial use.

When you return a beverage container, you will receive a deposit. But do you know how the journey of the container continues from the reverse vending machine? The return system has been developed down to the last detail to make packaging recycling as efficient as possible.

1. Design and product development

The packaging is designed to be 100% recyclable. The containers included in the return system are individually identified and can thus be sorted by material. The material of the collected empty packaging is clean and suitable for food. Returned packaging does not mix with other materials at any point in the recycling chain.

2. Returning

The consumer returns the empty beverage container to the return location and gets back the deposit that was included in the price of the product they paid for. A restaurant sells drinks packaged in containers with a deposit and collects empty containers. The restaurant will deliver empty packaging to the return system for recycling.

3. Packing

In the store, in the bottle room behind the reverse vending machine, the machine sorts the packages according to their material. Empty cans and bottles are packed in return sacks, boxes and glass containers for further processing.

Finland is a sparsely populated country and therefore the logistics of empty returned beverage packaging are designed to be as efficient as possible. The earlier in the process the packages are crushed and sorted, the more efficient they are to transport. For example, crushed bottles and cans take up only one-sixth of the space they would take without crushing. This way more can fit in one transport car.

4. Transport

Empty packages are transported away while new ones are brought up for sale. In addition, some packages are picked up directly for further processing. There are handling plants in different parts of Finland to make transport journeys as short as possible.

5. Processing plant

At processing plants, cans and plastics are baled into huge bales. The bales are sent on to material recycling plants. The processing plant also receives and sorts packages returned without a reverse vending machine. These include bottles and cans from restaurants, gas stations and kiosks.

6. Further processing

Each package is sorted and further processed in its own way. Read more about recycling different packaging here.


Consumers, trade, logistics and recycling operators, beverage manufacturers and importers – Finnish beverage packaging recycling is teamwork.

This is how the deposit-return system works

The return system is based on a deposit that travels together with the beverage package. When the beverage container is delivered to be sold in a shop, the shop pays the deposit to the manufacturer or importer of the beverage in the price of the product. The beverage manufacturer or importer pays Palpa the deposit for the product. The consumer pays the deposit when buying the product and receives it back when returning the empty package to a return location.


Empty packages are delivered from the return location to the packaging processing plant from where the material continues to the reprocessor. The return location and the processing plant report the returned packages and the transporter reports the transport units to Palpa. Eventually, the deposit cycle ends when Palpa pays the deposit to the return location.


The majority of beverage manufacturers and importers have joined the return system managed by Palpa. Joining is worthwhile, as it guarantees exemption from the beverage packaging tax.


The Finnish beverage packaging recycling system is an excellent example of a circular economy: Most of the materials received from beverage packages return to use as new beverage packages as well as other products. The most important work is done by Finnish consumers who return more than 90% of purchased beverage containers back into circulation.


What is Palpa?

Palpa, Suomen Palautuspakkaus Oy, is a non-profit company whose task is to manage and develop return systems of beverage packages in Finland. It is owned by franchising groups and the beverage industry. An effective return system is based on close cooperation between Palpa, consumers, beverage manufacturers and importers, retail, and an extensive network of partners.

Recycling in Finland and elsewhere

It is easy to recycle beverage packaging in Finland. The deposit is a key factor in effective recycling, but it alone is not enough. Finns are environmentally conscious and recycling is natural – in kindergartens, schools and at home, people learn to recycle and avoid unnecessary waste. 

A deposit-return system is not the only viable model for recycling. In Switzerland, for example, in addition to beverage packaging, many other packaging is recycled efficiently and accurately. Instead of a deposit, the recycling activity there is based on avoiding a sanction, as unsorted wasteis fined. 

Other alternatives for the recycling of beverage containers include retail chains’ own deposit systems, voluntary sorting in the same way as other household waste, and sorting at the waste processing plant.

Even deposit-return systems are not the same around the world. There are differences in the deposit systems of different countries, for example, in recyclable materials and deposit values.



The recycling of beverage packages effectively saves natural resources as materials are reused over and over again. What happens to a beverage package after return depends on what material it is made of.


A can is reborn again and again

Canned aluminium can circulate almost indefinitely. Empty cans are transported from the return location to a processing plant where they are compressed into large bales. The bales are delivered to recycling plants where they are melted into blocks. The aluminium blocks are compressed into thin sheets that are used to manufacture new cans.

The new life of the can starts from the can factory, where paintings, barcodes and deposit markings are made in accordance with the beverage brand. Before ending up on the store shelf, the can is filled at the brewery.


PET plastic circulates from bottle to bottle

Most of the returned PET plastic bottles are made of clear plastic. Clear plastic is best suited as a material for new bottles.

Empty bottles are transported from the return location to the processing plant where they are compressed into large bales. The bales are delivered to recycling plants, where they are sorted by colour into clear and coloured plastic. The bottles are milled and the flakes are made into granulate, small round pellets. New blank bottles are made from the granulate. The blank bottle is a small bottle-shaped plastic stick with a finished cap. The blanks are blown to their final shape at the  beverage factory and finally filled. In addition to the new bottles, clear PET plastic is used to make other packaging for the food industry. Coloured plastic is used to make other plastic packaging and textiles, for example.


Many uses for glass bottles

Returned recycled glass bottles are sorted by colour. In addition to new glass bottles, other glass packaging and jars are also made from recycled glass. A recycled glass bottle may also end up in the construction industry for use as materials such as building insulation or foam glass.

Empty bottles are transported from the return location to the processing plant from where they are transferred to the recycling plant. At the recycling plant, they are crushed, cleaned and sorted for recycling by colour. Clear glass is the most suitable for making new bottles, and new bottles can also be made from coloured glass. In addition, recycled glass is used to make other glass packaging.


Refillable glass bottle circulates a long time

Refillable glass bottles have their own return system. More information about this system can be found on the Ekopullo website.


1. What happens to cans and bottles that have a deposit after they have been returned to the shop?

CorrectIncorrect Beverage containers with a deposit continue their journey from the reverse vending machine to recycling. The method of recycling depends on the container. The cans are taken to an aluminium melting plant to be made into new cans. Plastic and glass bottles are milled or crushed and made into new bottles and containers as well as other items and materials. Refillable glass bottles are washed and refilled.

2. What percentage of all cans and bottles is returned and recycled?

CorrectIncorrect More than 90% of the cans and bottles sold within a year are afterwards recycled. The returning rates of beverage containers have, indeed, broken world records in Finland. Go us!

3. How does a reverse vending machine identify a bottle or can having a deposit?

CorrectIncorrect A reverse vending machine identifies the cans and bottles based on their shape, dimensions and barcode and pays the correct deposit fee. The machine has a camera for identifying the shape and measures and a beam of light for scanning the barcode. The deposit marking tells the amount of the deposit to the consumer, but the machine cannot read it.

4. Minkä juomapakkauksen valmistusmateriaalista syntyy kierrätyksen tuloksena muun muassa reppuja, paitoja ja kyniä?

CorrectIncorrect Muovisista pulloista saadusta muovirouheesta valmistetaan paitsi uusia pulloja, myös esimerkiksi reppuja, paitoja ja kyniä. Tölkkialumiinista tehdään uusia tölkkejä, ja lasipulloista saatavasta lasimurskeesta syntyy esimerkiksi rakennusteollisuuden tarvitsemia täyte- ja eristemateriaaleja.

5. How can someone buying a beverage know whether there is a deposit on the can or bottle?

CorrectIncorrect All the options are correct. Some glass bottles do not have a deposit marking, and in these situations, the deposit can be checked from the price tag on the shelf or the receipt.

6. What is the correct recycling destination for cans that are not included in the Finnish deposit system?

CorrectIncorrect The reverse vending machine and metal collection are the correct answers. For instance, cans without a deposit that have been purchased from abroad can be returned to a reverse vending machine just like any other cans, but the deposit will not be paid. Glass bottles without a deposit can be taken to a glass collection point, and plastic bottles without a deposit are recycled as energy fraction or put in mixed waste.

7. Why must bottles be returned so that the label is intact?

CorrectIncorrect The reverse vending machine recognised whether the bottle has a deposit or not on the basis of its shape, dimensions and barcode. The barcode is on the label, which means that without a label, the bottle is not identified and the machine is not able to pay the correct deposit. This is also why the machines cannot identify crushed cans.

8. What could be the problem when a reverse vending machine does not work?

CorrectIncorrect All the options can disrupt the functions of a machine. Remember that only empty bottles or cans should be returned in a reverse vending machine. The liquid splashing from the containers can dirty the camera, barcode reader, or conveyor belts of the machine, which may slow it down or otherwise disrupt its functions.

9. The value of the deposit is stated at the centre of the deposit marking. What are the different deposit values used in Finland?

CorrectIncorrect There are four different deposit values used in Finland: 10, 15, 20, and 40 cents. The minimum deposit values are set out in the Government decrees on deposit-return systems.