Deposit-return schemes can save St Paddy’s Day – and the environment

Piotr Barczak, St Patric's Day, waste management, resources, EEB, deposit systems, recycling, circular economy, wasteless future, Ireland, USA,

Piotr Barczak

Today, more than 40 million people, mostly in USA and Ireland, celebrate St Patrick’s Day. So, I would like to introduce to my readers, Piotr Barczak, who has a good idea about St Patrick’s Day (and not only). Piotr is responsible for the waste policy of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), representing the voice of around 140 national NGOs dealing with environmental protection. He chairs the EEB Waste Working Group which consists of waste experts from Member States with hands-on experience in waste management and prevention measures. He also collaborates closely with the Zero Waste International Alliance as well as with municipalities, progressive industry and waste management organisations. I follow closely his interesting social media posts and I like his teaser “A real Circular Economy means that those circles have to be: long (long life of products), minimized (no superfluous waste), local (territorial hierarchy); clean (avoiding recycling of hazardous substances)”. Piotr explains why deposit -return schemes can save St Paddy’s Day, and the environment.

Don’t forget that the economic & environmental costs of St Patrick’s Day are huge

“March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day – a day of celebration for many people around the world. From Dublin to New York, partygoers flood the streets until the early hours of the next day. That’s when we all pay the price – and it’s not just because of the hangover.

St Patric's Day, waste management, resources, EEB, deposit systems, recycling, circular economy, wasteless future, Ireland, USA,

Revellers enjoy partying at St Patrick’s Day festivities in Temple Bar, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron

Every year city councils spend millions of taxpayer money to clean up the streets after major events like St Patrick’s Day. Beverage containers including bottles, cans and plastic cups are abandoned at almost every corner, and go way beyond cities. The economic and environmental costs, especially in terms of marine litter, are huge.

Luckily there is a solution to littering within a circular economy, namely deposit-return schemes. Such services simply make packaging way too valuable to be thrown away, turning waste into profits for communities, municipalities and enterprises.

Countries such as Germany, Finland, Estonia as well as some Canadian and Australian regions have successfully implemented deposit-return schemes. When buying a beverage, consumers pay a deposit fee on top of the regular price of the product. This is then discounted from the price of their next purchase if the empty container is returned. Not surprisingly, return rates in some of these regions can be as high as 98%.

It’s the logic of the market. It’s common sense.

St Patric's Day, waste management, resources, EEB, deposit systems, recycling, circular economy, wasteless future, Ireland, USA,

But governments need to work in concert with companies around the world to facilitate the implementation of progressive legislation. In a recent report, Greenpeace exposed the failure of major soft drinks companies to address ocean plastic pollution. The analysis of the world’s six largest companies “reveals a woeful lack of action by the soft drinks industry”.

Europeans know that all too well. On 14 March, the European Parliament approved key amendments to the proposed EU waste legislation. The proposed measures, which will undergo further negotiations with all three major EU institutions, include a broader use of economic instruments such as deposit-refund schemes. This would ensure the effective separation of waste, which is a precondition for the reuse and recycling of packaging.

The parliament also critically approved an obligation to make at least 10% of all packaging reusable.

Return schemes for reusable rather than single use containers are by far the best option for a circular economy. A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that shifting to reusable glass bottles would lower production costs by 20%. This would also have a minimal impact on the environment as containers can be reused instead of undergoing an energy intensive recycling process.

In general, deposit-return schemes can also help businesses fulfil their extended producer responsibility – according to which producers take over the financial or organisational responsibility for collecting or taking back used goods. This way, producers would collect sufficient resources to meet reuse and recycling targets. Such a system also brings major savings for the municipalities resulting from the reduced or avoided costs of collection, treatment and disposal of waste.

St Patric's Day, waste management, resources, EEB, deposit systems, recycling, circular economy, wasteless future, Ireland, USA,

Temple Bar, Dublin, just after the St Patrick’s Day party. Photo: Caroline Quinn

While the impact of such schemes can be impressive, it is worth noting that they have been part of our economy for a very a long time. We pay deposits when we use trolleys at the supermarket, when we rent a car or a house. Deposits are used to avoid theft or damage to someone else’s property – then why not applying them to prevent people from damaging the ecosystems we all live in, with serious consequences for people’s health, the environment and the economy?

Taking a step further, deposits could even be applied beyond beverage packaging to furniture, washing machines, tyres, mobile phones and so on, generating streams of useful components to make new products and ensuring that they are not scattered around, burned nor landfilled.

St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity to remind us all of the importance of litter prevention and control. But no miracle needed this time around, just common sense and political will to implement progressive deposit-return schemes for the people and the planet.

Now, put your hat on and make this day even greener.”

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