Europen voices concern over mandatory deposits on drinks containers

Related tags European union

Mounting animosity to mandatory deposits for non-refillable drinks
containers has been highlighted by criticsm from Europen, the
European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment, in an
address to the European Commission and Parliament.

Mounting animosity to mandatory deposits for non-refillable drinks containers has been highlighted by criticsm from Europen, the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment, in an address to the European Commission and Parliament.

Yesterday Europen joined national governments, the European Commission and industry representatives in voicing it concerns over the issue.

The move follows the introduction of a mandatory scheme in Germany, where, since January, all non-refillable containers for beer, water and carbonated soft drinks have carried a deposit. Questions have since been addressed in the European Parliament on the deposits, and the problems they have caused to the packaging industry.

Dutch MEP Antoine Manders, for example, queried whether the German deposit system is a proportionate way of achieving the environmental objectives of the packaging and packaging waste directive (94/62/EC) and whether the scheme is not in fact "a disguised barrier to trade which should be exposed by bringing infringement proceedings against Germany".

The aim of the German scheme is to promote recycling. But in a recently published paper​, Europen pointed out that comprehensive and efficient recycling systems already exist across Europe. To single out non-refillable drinks containers for mandatory deposits, the organisation argues, is bad for the environment, as well as for consumers and trade.

The EU Packaging and Waste Directive has meant that since 1996 systems have had to be in place in EU countries for recycling all kinds of packaging, including non-refillable drinks containers. Further to this, Europen points out there is evidence that European consumers are already becoming good recyclers - particularly in Germany, where the overall recycling rate reached 79 per cent in 1999.

Europen argues that to have a separate, compulsory scheme just for non-refillable drinks containers results in a duplication of effort, with more vehicles being needed to collect the empty containers for recycling. That means more fuel consumption and traffic congestion, which in turn is bad for the environment.

At the same time, mandatory deposits mean extra costs for handling, sorting and storage. Europen highlights that in most EU Member States, packaged goods businesses are already bearing the expense of recycling. If the burden were increased, the organisation says, retailers would inevitably have to pass on the extra costs in the form of higher prices and further to this consumers and businesses would suffer.

Europen has also pointed out its belief that mandatory deposits distort competition in a number of ways, not least by discriminating unfairly against the beverage sector. The body claims that mandatory deposit schemes create barriers to the free movement of goods, which is a fundamental principle of the EU. At present a consumer who buys a can of beer in Munich cannot even reclaim the deposit in Cologne, let alone Paris or Rome.

Since the introduction of the deposit scheme in Germany, the situation confusing. Industry groups reckon that consumption of beer and soft drinks is down between 10 and 14 per cent, with thousands of jobs being lost. On 15 May, the European Commission officially warned Germany that the scheme might be creating illegal trade barriers.

Faced with these costly legal uncertainties, the German food industry association BVE announced on 3 June that it was no longer preparing for the full implementation of a nationwide deposit refund scheme on 1 October, as had been planned.

Whether the scheme will continue in Germany only time will tell, but, as in any scenario such as this, there are winners. PET manufacturers across Europe are reporting accelerated interest in their beverage solutions, thought to be largely driven by the changes in the implementation of the deposit scheme in German.

Related topics Soft drinks

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