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PET PACKAGING: DEPOSIT OR SEPARATE?

Plastic bottle battle rages in Slovakia

ECONOMY Minister Pavol Rusko is against the introduction of deposits on certain types of plastic bottles, which the Environment Ministry celebrates as the most effective approach to waste reduction.
Under the new deposit system, retailers will be obliged to collect deposits on currently non-returnable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and packages for recycling.
Rusko argues that the effect of collecting deposits is much weaker than the burden it puts on retailers. He warned Environment Minister László Miklós that if his department insists on implementation of this measure without the consent of the ruling partners, the coalition might slide deeper into crisis.

ECONOMY Minister Pavol Rusko is against the introduction of deposits on certain types of plastic bottles, which the Environment Ministry celebrates as the most effective approach to waste reduction.

Under the new deposit system, retailers will be obliged to collect deposits on currently non-returnable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and packages for recycling.

Rusko argues that the effect of collecting deposits is much weaker than the burden it puts on retailers. He warned Environment Minister László Miklós that if his department insists on implementation of this measure without the consent of the ruling partners, the coalition might slide deeper into crisis.

The four-party coalition has been paralysed by the rise of the Free Forum party and its leader, former Defence Minister Ivan Šimko, who has conditioned his support for the cabinet on the resignation of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.

The Environment Ministry plans to launch the new deposit system on April 1. However, Rusko's opposition might complicate the introduction.

Originally, this system should have been launched on October 1, 2003. But soft-drink retailers, producers, and importers raised objections, postponing its commencement. Opponents of the deposit system say separated waste collection is a better solution.

The ministry has already submitted its deposit directive for interdepartmental review. The amount of the deposit should be between four and five Slovak crowns, (€.10 or €.12) per PET bottle, the SITA news wire reported.

The deposit system could well press the producers and retailers of beverages to use refundable packaging like glass.

However, Miklós claims that public opinion backs his plans.

"We have only received positive reactions," Miklós told The Slovak Spectator.

An early December poll by the Focus polling agency claims that 57.8 percent of those polled support the introduction of deposits on PET bottles. Of this number, 29.4 percent are fully for the introduction, while 28.4 percent support the new system more than they oppose it. Opponents to introducing the deposit fee represented 38.7 percent of the polled public.

A Markant phone poll conducted in November indicated that 30.7 percent of respondents preferred the deposit system while 63.9 percent were in favour of waste separation.

"PET bottles are a plague on the environment. You can find them everywhere - from the Danube River to the very peak of the High Tatras, and in the forests and meadows - because they are so cheap, and so easy to carry around and then throw away," said Miklós in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.

The Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Association of Retailers claim that Slovakia is not prepared for the introduction of such a system.

The retailers strongly advocate the separated collection of used PET bottles through their joint-stock company ENVIPAK, which they established to meet their waste collection duties.

Representatives of the Slovak Association of Retailers, retail cooperative COOP Jednota Slovensko, and the Slovak Industrial Association for Packaging and the Environment claim that the deposit system would annually siphon off Sk1 billion (€24.59 million) from citizens' pockets and require an initial investment of Sk1.8 billion (€44.26 million).

"We do not think that, at the beginning, any supplementary source of money will be needed. A recycling fund is ready to provide the program initial support. But in the same way that the beer bottle deposit system is sustainable without any problems, the system could also effectively work in the case of PET bottles," Miklós claimed.

According to an estimate provided by Matej Bell University in Banská Bystrica, the deposit system would create costs for retailers ranging from Sk155 million to Sk222 million (€3.81 million to €5.46 million) annually.

There are also studies suggesting that if Sk4 (€.10) is collected on each deposit and roughly 20 percent of the deposits are not re-collected, the money would fully cover the expenses of the system, the Environment Ministry claims.

The ministry distrusts the effectiveness of the separated waste collection.

"Even the most perfect waste separation systems in northern European countries where environmental protection is very developed have not reached more than 30 percent effectiveness," Miklós said.

According to the retailers, Slovakia annually produces 8,000 tonnes of PET waste. Separated collection systems already run in 990 Slovak towns and villages, involving more than three million citizens. The annual cost of separated collection is Sk150 million (€3.69 million).

"Separate waste collection is a widely tested method in most of the European Union countries," Peter Mihók, chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the private TV channel Markíza on January 11.

However, the Environment Ministry wants to walk the path chosen by Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Germany, all of which have introduced the deposit system.

The retailers argue that in Austria 75 percent of used PET bottles get recycled, while in Sweden and Norway, where a deposit system is used, 80 percent is recycled but at costs that are three times higher. They claim that Slovakia lacks the infrastructure of Sweden and Norway and the deposit system would be too costly and thus ineffective.

Miklós' team also assumes that 80 to 85 percent of the PET bottles would return to stores.

"In fact, the deposits on PET bottles are the most perfect kind of waste separation system. Some argue that the deposit system goes against separated waste collection, but that is not true," Miklós said.

The Economy Ministry claims that it is not against the system of deposits on PET bottles, but argues that it should function on a voluntary basis.

The European Union allows free choice of waste collection systems to member countries, respecting their local specifics.

Eighty non-governmental organisations back the deposit system in retail outlets.

According to Ladislav Hegyi from the Friends of the Earth Society, used PET bottles make up 20 to 30 percent of household waste.

About 300 million PET bottles are used in Slovakia annually and their contribution to environmental devastation is increasing, experts warn.

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