The findings will provide ammunition for manufacturers that have been severely affected by the highly criticised scheme.
Commissioned in May 2003 and conducted by the renowned IFEU institute in Heidelberg, Germany, the study examined the prerequisites imposed on the German packaging market by UBA, the national environment agency.
The UBA made refillable glass the benchmark for "ecologically favourable" packaging, and any packaging not able to meet this standard fell victim to a mandatory deposit regime.
This has severely affected the economic performance of beverage manufacturers who package their products in materials other than refillable glass. Many German retailers have removed one-way containers from their shelves as the scheme, introduced on 1 January, placed large deposits on non-refillable plastic and metal containers and made them unattractive to consumers.
"If you bought a container in Hamburg and went by train to Frankfurt, you couldn't return it," Rexam group communications director Per Erlandsson told FoodProductionDaily.com earlier this year. "Customers can only return a container to the shop in which they bought it. As a result, many retailers have delisted one-way containers."
IFEU experts compared all one-way PET bottles with market relevance with refillable glass. In Germany, one-way PET is dominated by the 1.5-litre bottle, competing with the dominance of the 0.7-litre refillable glass bottle.
Each of the eight environmental parameters such as greenhouse gases, use of natural resources, acidification, and the use of natural space (priorities set by UBA) were calculated back to 1,000-litre units, and the study concluded that without deposit, one-way PET is as "ecologically favourable" as refillable glass.
Under source-separated collection conditions such as DSD, the report suggests that the environmental effects of one-way PET are similar to those of refillable glass. Under deposits, the environmental performance of one-way PET deteriorates.
This is mainly caused by the fact that most German one-way PET deposit bottles are shipped to the Far East for recycling. This difference would disappear if deposit bottles were to be recycled in Europe, as is the case with DSD bottles.
Critics of the study will point out that it was commissioned by Petcore, the European trade association that represents the interests of the PET beverage sector. The study also received support from a range of German beverage industries.
But Petcore says that it does not, as a matter of principle, take position for or against any particular collection system, be it bring, kerbside, or deposit. Each system has its own unique place determined by culture and infrastructure, says the organization, which should be respected, provided it is economically, ecologically, and socially sound.
And the organisation believes that the IFEU study undermines the relevance of the discriminatory classification of one-way PET.
"Ecologically equivalent packaging sectors should no longer be disadvantaged compared to refill systems," said Frank Koelewijn, director general of Petcore. "PET should return to DSD kerbside collection, as is the case with other favourable packaging systems."
According to Koelewijn, one-way PET is now proven to be "ecologically favourable," and thus should be exempted from a deposit, or, at least, be categorised within the same fee structure as the one applying to refillable packaging.
The study, which was completed in August 2004, used new 2002-03 production data and for the first time included all recycling outlets relevant to PET, from production to final recycling into various new products. The IFEU study met all German and international LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) standards and was peer-reviewed under the chairmanship of Prof Dr. Walter Klöpffer, an established LCA expert.
According to his judgment, the study is "innovative, thorough, according to LCA standards, and as detailed as ever". He also stated that "refillable glass was treated very fairly" and "no attempts to smooth out PET data were observed".
The mandatory deposit on disposable drinks packaging has been met by almost unanimous opposition from the packaging industry. The Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL) claims that the system has cost a drop in industry turnover of €1.2 billion and a loss of €50 million in beer tax revenue.