Return point operators are a vital part of the processes associated with the collection of scheme articles from return points across Scotland.

As a return point operator, you will decide on the safest and most accessible location for your collection areas. You will also sign the Return Point Operator Agreement, which sets out the joint obligations with Circularity Scotland Ltd.

Together, we can ensure everyone in Scotland has access to a local return point. And by making it as easy as possible for people to return their empty drinks containers, we can achieve our goal of collecting 90% of Scotland’s single-use drink containers.

In exchange for this, all return point operators and closed loop hospitality providers will receive a return handling fee payment, as well as the return of the 20p deposit.

All return point operators must:

  • Accept returns of scheme containers from consumers
  • Pay back the deposit for each scheme container returned
  • Retain these containers for collection by Circularity Scotland's logistics partner
  • Clearly display information at the return point about how to make a complaint to its operator
  • Display SEPA's contact details

A return point is where a consumer can exchange their empty scheme container for their deposit.

It should be just as easy to return an empty drink container as it is to buy a drink. This means that all retailers and hospitality businesses selling drinks to take away are legally required to operate a return point, unless awarded an exemption by Zero Waste Scotland.

A manual return point is when a retailer accepts returned containers over the counter and repays consumers from the till.

Step 1: The manual return point operator scans the returned container(s) through the app to ensure it is a scheme article. You may be able to use your existing EPoS for this.

Step 2: Once the item is confirmed as a scheme article, the operator will issue the consumer with 20p per eligible item.

Step 3: The operator then places each scheme article in the correct receptacle. Glass containers should go into totes boxes carefully, so as not to break them. Whole and uncrushed PET and metal containers should be placed into plastic sacks.


Once the sack or tote box is full, it must be closed and sealed with barcoded tags. These are then collected by the designated waste removal company on the designated uplift day. 

The collections driver will scan the barcode and take the plastic sacks and tote boxes to the nearest counting centre to be counted. An email notification will be sent to the return point operator to confirm this.  

Once the scheme articles have been counted and verified, the deposits and handling fees for the scheme articles are then returned to the manual return point operator. The counting of scheme articles will be completed 7 days from collection, with payment issued the following Friday.

An automatic return point is one where an operator has installed a reverse vending machine. These machines can automatically identify drink containers inserted before refunding a customer’s deposit. The reverse vending machine can generate deposits as retail vouchers that can be used to pay for shopping or to get a cash refund at the till. In some cases, consumers will be able to donate the refunded deposits to charity.

If a container is not recognised as a scheme article by the reverse vending machine, it will be returned to the consumer. No deposit will be paid on these items. A valid scheme article may also be returned to the customer if it exceeds the weight limit for liquid contents.

Please note, it is up to the return point operator to choose a reverse vending machine, but it must be one that complies with the specifications issued by Circularity Scotland. Once a reverse vending machine has been procured, the installer must set it up with specific data provided by Circularity Scotland. The installer should contact for this information.

Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) Specifications

The branding of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme needs to be consistent and easily recognisable for consumers wherever it appears.

Several reverse vending machine manufacturers have provided visual assets to demonstrate how the branding on your chosen reverse vending machine could look. Although we are not in a position to advise or recommend a specific supplier, the following list details the reverse vending machine manufacturers that Circularity Scotland is aware of.


Reverse vending machines are sophisticated equipment, capable of automatically sorting containers by material into separate areas. This will be determined from the data collected via the barcode. 

  • Plastic and metal containers can be collected together or separately
  • Glass must be collected in its own wheelie bin
  • Glass can be allowed to break naturally or, if broken mechanically, in fragments greater than 10mm. Mechanical breakage must be agreed with Circularity Scotland beforehand

Small return point operators may choose to use a reverse vending machine for cans and PET bottle collection only, taking glass bottles in manually.

Bins for reverse vending machines will be provided by their manufacturers to individual specifications.

Deposit Repayment

For the repayment of the deposit to consumers from automatic return points, there must be a cash-equivalent option available. 

The reverse vending machine must pay out the sum equal to the deposit paid (20p) for each empty scheme article it accepts. 

The return point operator may offer consumers other options alongside the cash equivalent as to how the deposit is returned, such as a charity donation or retail vouchers. The automatic return point operator must liaise with the reverse vending machine manufacturer to establish their preferred repayment method. 

Circularity Scotland must be provided with details of the repayment method to help with VAT calculations.


Reverse vending machines must produce a receipt of the deposit given. This can also be used as a voucher for the redemption of the deposit and can be provided in print or electronically. 

All reverse vending machine receipts must contain:  

  • RVM identifier
  • Number of containers returned
  • Number of non-scheme containers returned
  • Total deposit paid
  • Payment method used
  • Date and time of deposit

A voluntary return point is one that has no legal obligation to operate as a return point, but still chooses to do so. 

Anyone can apply to operate a voluntary return point if they can prove they have significant and comprehensive financial and operational plans in place to set up and run the return point for at least one year. 

It is then up to the voluntary return point operator whether they wish to use a manual process or an automatic process.

Find out more and apply to be a voluntary return point on the Zero Waste Scotland website.

All return point operators and closed loop hospitality providers must register for the deposit return scheme

As part of the online registration process, return point operators need to confirm their location and whether they are planning to operate a manual return point, closed loop hospitality or an automatic return point. 

During the registration process, return point operators will be asked to provide the following details in order to help the logistics services provider create an efficient collections schedule.

  • Location operating hours
  • Location availability to out-of-hours collections
  • Access to the collection point and any constraints
  • Details of collection area, space availability and secure storage
  • Any local council restrictions for vehicle access, vehicle parking and loading
  • Reverse vending machine sorting configuration
  • Expected volume of weekly returns