Deposit with bail on bottles and cans, the Lithuanian example

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Plastics and microplastics, glass and aluminum, packaging and pollution. The Lansink scale-or waste hierarchy, on which thecircular economy is based-indicates Reduction and Reuse as the first goals to be pursued. This is followed by Recycling, whose rates are still far from the established targets. From Lithuania the winning example of the way forward, the deposit with deposit of food packaging.

Sustainability and recycling of packaging

The unsustainable growth in global demand for plastics (up 4 percent annually) may lead its production to account for 15 percent of planetary CO2 emissions between now and 2050. The very recent University of California study, moreover, showed how the looming environmental disaster can be mitigated by working on demand reduction, the use of renewable energy, and increasing the recycling rate. Total recycling of plastics would provide a significant reduction in their life cycle emissions (-25%), and yet the global recycling index is still very low (18% in 2015).

Glass recycling, as noted, can in turn result in significant savings in energy consumption. Due to the reduced melting temperature of recovered materials and savings on raw materials with a high energy footprint.

Aluminum-also widely used in the MOCA (Materials and Objects Intended to Come into Contact with Food) sector-is, like other materials, subject to the ‘ Circular EconomyPackage. And it still represents, like other materials, an environmental problem related to the scarcity of recycling.

Recycling and deposit with bail, the Lithuanian example

Lithuania is a small Baltic country, a member of the European Union since 2004, with a population of about 3/4 of Tuscany’s residents (less than 3 million citizens). And it is known, to some, as the home of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof. The Doktoro Esperanto (literally, he who hopes), who tried to introduce the international language of the same name, Internacia lingvo (whose flag appears in the background of the cover image), in 1887.

In February 2016, the government of Lithuania implemented a deposit system with a deposit amount of €0.10. To encourage consumers to actively participate in food packaging recycling by returning non-refillable glass and plastic and metal beverage containers (0.1-3 liter capacity).

Return rates have exceeded all expectations, reaching 93 percent on cans, 82 percent on glass, and 92 percent on PET in two years. Starting from a situation that was bordering on 34 percent for PET. This compares with an EU average of 42 percent, with negative peaks of less than 30 percent in neighboring Finland as in ‘big’ France. (1)

Deposit with bail, how the system works

The Lithuanian Minister of the Environment, at the proposal of the beverage industries, introduced the packaging deposit process in April 2013. It then initiated regulatory reform and in March 2015 gave the nonprofit Užstato Sistemos Administratorius (USAD) the management of the new deposit system. USAD was founded by the Lithuanian brewers’ and mineral water producers’ associations, as well as the association of Lithuanian commercial enterprises, under the rationale of extended producer responsibility. (2)

The system operator is responsible for clearing deposits, logistics and marketing of collected materials. In addition to transparent data management, communication, education of stakeholders and especially consumers. Its income comes from uncollected deposits, the sale of collected materials, and administrative fees paid by beverage producers.

The collection follows a ‘retail return’ model. (3) Shops larger than 300 m2 and those in rural areas where beverages are sold are required to receive used containers; others are allowed to do so. To this end, merchants have been equipped with Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs), kiosks with Internet connectivity to be placed inside supermarkets or installed outside stores, depending on their size. (4) Consumers receive a refund of the deposit in the form of cash or spending credit.

Win-Win

The financing model of the Lithuanian system is itself innovative, as the investment in the infrastructure was made by the same industry group that awarded the tender for the RVMs, the global leader TOMRA (Norway). Stores that request it receive a free RVM. USAD recognizes a management fee to the store, in proportion to the ‘voids’ collected (even in the absence of RVMs). And the provider of the RVMs gets back into the investment through the commission received by USAD on the collected materials.

‘We feel an obligation to take care of our country, society and nature. This is why we wanted to design a deposit return system that would work in the best possible way for citizens, manufacturers, importers and traders. We can be proud of our deposit return system, which brings us closer to the Lithuania we want to see. A cleaner, more beautiful and more modern country’ (Saulius Galadauskas, Lithuanian Brewers Association, president of USAD).

ConsumAtors have been able to grasp the favorable impact of the new system for the community and the environment. As early as the end of 2016, 99.8% of citizens were aware of it, 89% had used it at least once (58% on multiple occasions), and 78% considered it useful and necessary. And already in the first year, the overall collection rate for beverage containers increased from 33 to 74.3 percent, nearly twenty points above the target set by USAD (55 percent).

Italy, the bail that’s missing

The Association of Virtuous Municipalities (ACV) has been advocating for years for deposit systems for beverage containers. (5) Initiatives of this kind tested in more than 40 contexts, at the national or local level, have shown that there is no other system that is as beneficial to all the social partners involved:

1) Consumers do not incur any costs, as they recover the deposits by returning the empties. And they should receive a medium-term benefit, the reduction of waste bills, as the financing of the separate collection of beverage containers is effectively transferred from the municipalities to the supply chain,

2) distributors, in handling the collection of empties and refunds, make an albeit modest profit. And they derive the additional benefit, indirect but tangible, of offering consumers an opportunity to return to the trade area,

3) Municipalities reduce the costs of separate collection (now in Italy partially reimbursed by Conai), cleaning public spaces of abandoned containers, incineration or landfill,

4) Regions and the state in turn achieve direct savings, on environmental remediation costs related to pollution (of air, soil and water) caused by the disposal (licit and illicit) of waste. And indirect savings, on the resulting health care costs.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Lithuania introduces plastic deposit scheme and within 2 years has a 92% recycling rate, eNViro30, 19.2.20, https://www.enviro30.com/post/lithuania-introduces-plastic-deposit-scheme-and-within-2-years-has-a-92-recycling-rate

Why Lithuanians cash in on their trash. The Economist, 11.2.20, https://www.economist.com/europe/2020/01/11/why-lithuanians-cash-in-on-their-trash

(2) OECD (2001). Extended Producer Responsibility. A Guidance Manual for Governments, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/extended-producer-responsibility_9789264189867-en. Extended producer responsibility, as noted, was successfully introduced in Israel even before it was introduced in the European Union (see https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade .it/progresso/plastiche-e-microplastiche-nel-mediterraneo-una-sfida-culturale)

(3) Germany adopts a similar collection model in its deposit with deposit(pfand) system on PET (reusable and recyclable) and glass bottles. See paragraph 2.B in the previous article https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/imballaggi/plastictax-e-riutilizzo-diatribe-italiane-ed-esempi-in-europa.

(4) Recycling: Lithuania deposit system exceeds all expectations. Open Access Government, 6/24/18, https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/recycling-lithuania-deposit-system-exceeds-all-expectations/45003/

(5) Silvia Ricci. Deposit on bail: compulsory route to 90% collection targets for bottles. Comuni Virtuosi, 3.6.18, https://comunivirtuosi.org/deposito-cauzione-strada-obbligata-raggiungere-obiettivi-raccolta-al-90/