Ireland’s newly launched Deposit Return Scheme - a testimony to the power of citizen action and campaign

View all news

It all started back in 2017, when the Sick of Plastic campaign was officially launched as we rallied together with Zero Waste activists, Uplift and VOICE Ireland to ‘Ditch Our Plastic at the Dáil’, calling upon the Government to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme - something that already existed in many other European countries. The combined effect of concerted citizen action, campaigning as well as work by Friends of the Earth, VOICE Ireland and Uplift over the past couple of years not only forced the Government to open its eyes to Ireland’s plastic pollution, but also demonstrated that solutions existed. Our campaigning is now forcing the Government to implement these solutions, the Deposit Return Scheme – which was rolled out across Irish supermarkets in February 2024 – being one of them.


Ireland’s first ever reverse vending machines opened to the public on February 1 to allow people to bring back their plastic bottles and aluminum cans and get rewarded with cash! The aim is to hugely increase recycling rates for plastic bottles and aluminium cans in Ireland.

Although we have been quiet on this campaign in recent times, it’s something we did a lot of work on over the years. This campaign is really special because it was not only made possible, it was also made powerful, because of the donations, participation and organising of so many of our supporters at Friends of the Earth.

The Sick of Plastic campaign, which entailed support from thousands of citizens and dozens of community action groups and a variety of approaches by all the organisations involved - from campaigning, to community action and showcasing of pilot schemes - is a perfect example of how campaigning and people power works. It was also a great opportunity to show how tackling plastic is an important part of the climate action puzzle.

Combined efforts by Friends of the Earth, VOICE Ireland and Uplift brought in over 30,000 signatures on a petition calling for Government action on plastic pollution, including the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme. From creating dramatic plastic pollution displays outside government buildings and supermarkets, to running Cup Return stations at festivals, our Sick of Plastic activists and volunteers pulled out all the stops and infused creativity and passion in this campaign.

While the Sick of Plastic campaign was officially launched in 2017, our work on plastic began some years earlier through our Green Messenger work at Electric Picnic where our team of volunteers ran the hugely popular Cup Return stations for four years running. And in 2018, our main campaign focus at both Electric Picnic and Body & Soul festivals was Sick of Plastic where the return stations also collected plastic bottles and we gathered thousands of petition signatures calling on the Government to act on single use plastic. We also generated a lot of awareness on the impact of plastic on our planet.


In 2018, we invited our supporters to form Sick of Plastic groups in their communities to campaign locally for supermarkets to act on plastic. These groups led and encouraged the public to ‘Shop and Drop’ as part of our national days of action on Earth Day in 2018 and 2019.

AldiCork-990000079e04513cWe mobilised our supporters again in 2019 for a ‘Plastic Bottle Drop’, where we collected plastic bottles that had been littered around Dublin, and displayed them outside the Department of Communications and the Environment to show the Minister all the plastic that could have been saved if we had a Deposit Return Scheme in Ireland.


Furthermore, to help connect the dots between the plastic crisis, fracking for natural gas, and climate justice, we hosted an online screening of the film 'The Story of Plastic' and hosted a fascinating panel discussion with gas, plastic and climate campaigners to bring different perspectives to the table. In this webinar, Andy Gheorghiu from Food and Water Europe, talks about the upstream approach to tackling these crises - instead of just focusing on the plastic itself, we need to also focus on the fossil fuel industry to keep fossil fuels in the ground. You can watch this webinar back here.

Watch the Story of Plastic webinar

Claudia Tormey, Head of Supporter Care & Fundraising, Friends of the Earth, said:

The Deposit Return Scheme coming to a shop near you is a real sign that campaigning for environmental actions works - and that ordinary people can make a real difference when we act together. The many, many volunteers who campaigned with us for a Deposit Return Scheme through our “Sick of Plastic” campaign with VOICE Ireland deserve to take a bow today.

If you’ve been inspired by this campaign story and would like to join in local community action, like our Sick of Plastic groups did with their local supermarkets, you should join Act Local so we can link you up with others that wish to take action on local issues in your area!

Sign up here to join Act Local!

Act Local gives you and your community the tools to make change, where local action can have a global impact. We want to help local activists be visible and vocal champions of bold climate action by decision makers. In a world where the urgency of climate change and biodiversity loss is felt more than ever, Act Local is your gateway to creating real change, starting where you live.

So, if anything, we hope this story has shown you that collective action and people power really do make our campaigns possible and powerful.

Tagged with:
Sick of Plastic