Let’s not compromise waste collection in Europe just to accommodate a few

By Nicholas Hodac, Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

 

The latest draft General Approach from the Council of the EU on the proposed EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is nothing but alarming when it comes to beverage packaging waste collection. With the EU Environment Ministers meeting on December 18 to adopt their position on the PPWR, we urge Member States to maintain the obligation on Member States to set up a Deposit and Return System (DRS) for beverage bottles and cans unless a very high collection rate is achieved by other means.

The European soft drinks sector, represented by UNESDA, appreciates Member States’ support for the mandatory roll-out of DRS in the EU. However, we are deeply concerned by the Presidency’s latest proposal to lower the collection threshold granting an exemption from the DRS obligation to 78% as opposed to the proposed 85% by the European Parliament and the 90% from the European Commission.

This implies that countries achieving only a 78% collection rate by 2026 will potentially be exempted from setting up a DRS until at least 2032! Such a provision will affect Member States’ ability to meet their collection, recycling and recycled content targets, thereby undermining the European Union’s ambitious goals for a circular economy.

Clearly, this is just a politically-driven decision which originates from countries with poor collection rates. For instance, in France research indicates a 60% collection rate for PET bottles, with limited ability to reach the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive’s 77% target by 2025. 40% of plastic beverage bottles and 55% of cans are not collected, making it one of the worst performers in Europe. This represents 8 billion units that are incinerated, buried, or abandoned every year.

It is very disappointing to see countries that proclaim themselves to be leaders in circularity being reluctant to endorse a well-established solution like DRS, which is probably the only way to actually get to the collection levels required by the legislation.

The reality is that the current collection performances across the EU indicate that many Member States are unlikely to achieve the EU’s collection targets unless they implement a well-designed DRS.

DRS have a key role to play in supporting those countries in achieving a circular economy for beverage packaging. European countries with long-established DRS (such as the Nordics) usually report collection rates up to 95% and countries that have recently implemented DRS (Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta) already see high collection rates, going up to 90%.

 

Setting up multiple DRS at the sub-national level is not the way forward!

We are also concerned by the possibility provided to Member States to allow more than one DRS operator in the same country or to set up any new DRS at a sub-national level.

Such an approach could create internal market fragmentation, issues of interoperability, confusion of consumers (especially if a packaged product bought in one region cannot be returned under the same conditions in another region of the same country), variable consumer incentives, risks of fraud, and overall jeopardise the efficiency and economic sustainability of the DRS.

 

We therefore call on Environment Ministers to maintain the obligation to set up DRS in each Member State and to only provide exemptions based on a 90% collection rate.

We also call on them to remove the possibility to set up multiple DRS at a sub-national level.

 

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