BUSINESSES say they worry Slovakia will become a junkyard.
The law's backers say it stems from European Union (EU) environmental directives and is aimed at decreasing the amount of waste from bottles and other packaging, as well as stimulating recycling efforts. The law, passed during the last week of June, must still be signed by the president before taking effect.
"Slovakia produces 350,000 to 400,000 tons of waste packaging every year," estimated Ladislav Hegyi, head of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, enlisted by the Environment Ministry to co-author the law.
"With the recycling ratio in the new law set at 80 per cent [for drink packages, both plastic and glass], the amount of waste will be 35 to 40 thousand tons lower per year."
The law's main tool for encouraging recycling is the introduction of deposit fees for non-returnable plastic drink bottles, as well as an obligation for stores exceeding 100 square meters of retail space to supply returnable bottle alternatives for every kind of drink they offer.
Producers and distributors of single-use bottles say that they approve of the law in general, but disagree with its current form, because of the practical and technical difficulties they say the legislation will cause.
"The introduction of deposits for non-returnable bottles and the creation of a duty to re-purchase such packages is a poor attempt by a certain influential green lobby to address a given problem through false means," said an ad hoc committee made up of representatives from the Slovak Business and Industrial Chamber, Slovak Trades Union and domestic chain-store operator COOP Jednota.
In the communist era, Slovaks were accustomed to paying deposits for bottles of drink they bought in shops, receiving refunds when the bottles were returned. However, over the last decade, Slovak consumers have grown increasingly used to the convenience of non-returnable plastic bottles.
While the Environment Ministry sees the law as "moving the responsibility for collecting waste packaging, its use and recycling to those entities that introduce it to the market," the business groups affected argue that the law contains too many imperfections, such as the fact shops are unprepared to provide repurchase services.
"Grocery stores will have to address not only financial but also technical questions when providing this service - what to do with repurchased single-use bottles, where to put them, how to protect hygiene, etc.," producers' representatives said in common press statement.
"Moreover, there is a threat that Slovakia will become the junkyard of central Europe, because surrounding countries do not have similar legislation, and it is quite realistic that waste gold-diggers will take advantage of this business El Dorado," the statement continued.
Environmentalists, however, dismiss these claims and say the law will implement a EU standard, which will not only have positive ecological effects, but also provide new economic opportunities.
"If a tourist brings a bottle into the country, of course it is negligible - our tourists export bottles too," said the head of the Environment Ministry's legislative department Božena Gašparíková, discounting the possibility of Slovakia's attracting waste from surrounding countries.
"It's not possible to do this on a mass scale, because it is our ministry which gives permission for the import of waste.
"For secondary [recycled] material like this, there is high demand abroad. Slovakia might even export it. For example, China imports a lot of this material," said Gašparíková.
According to Friends of the Earth, similar measures in EU countries have led to new job opportunities.
"Legislation in many European countries supports returnable, reusable drink packages," said Hegyi.
"The impact of this law on employment should be positive. There are no exact studies on this topic in Slovakia, but they were done in the EU. In general, the use of returnable packages creates more job positions than one-use packages," he said, describing one study predicting that 100 per cent use of returnable bottles in Germany would mean recycling sector employment for 80,000 people.
Moreover, added Hegyi: "If the ratio of reusable bottles grew only by 10 per cent, consumers would save Sk50 to 60 million every year."
Business leaders continue to claim that the proposal is unfeasible, and stress that similar laws have been implemented only selectively and with varying results in EU countries. They say they will urge President Rudolf Schuster not to sign the measure into law.
However, environmentalists remain confident that the law will come into practice. According to Gašparíková: "Many of the arguments they [the business groups] use are simply not credible."
The packaging law will require:
* shops exceeding 100 m2 to sell all drink types in reusable bottles
* shops to collect deposits for single-use bottles
* fast food restaurants to decrease use of disposable utensils
* marking and record-keeping of all packages by producers
* limits on production materials for packaging
15. Jul 2002 at 0:00 | Miroslav Karpaty