Europe’s beverage sectors have long led the way in packaging sustainability and circularity. Over the past decades our industries have been actively involved in the setting-up and financing of packaging recovery organisations across the continent, and now PET drinks bottles have the distinction of being the EU’s most recycled plastic packaging.
We want to maximise the collection and recycling of all beverage packaging – including glass, carton, cans and PET bottles. The EU’s Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive, for example, requires that by 2029, 90% of plastic beverage bottles are collected. It also stipulates that PET bottles must contain 25% recycled content by 2025 – rising to 30% in 2030. To meet these targets Europe will need highly effective packaging collection schemes. To date however, levels of collection and recycling of PET beverage bottles have varied widely across the block and, based on current collection performance, it is unlikely that all member states will be in a position to achieve the SUP targets.
So, what is the answer? EFBW and UNESDA believe that well-designed Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) could hold the key – and a growing number of EU member states are coming to the same conclusion and considering their introduction. Coca-Cola European Partners SVP Public Affairs and Government Relations, Hans van Bochove, also agrees that “Well designed DRS would enable the EU to reach its collection targets for beverage bottles faster – and would also secure the food-grade quality rPET that our beverage industries need. In delivering closed loop recycling, DRS would also reduce the quantity of virgin materials needed – thereby lowering the EU’s CO2 footprint and contributing towards its climate objectives.”
To be efficient, DRS need to meet some important design criteria: They should be national in scope, should be as wide as possible and in principle include all beverage categories and be set up and run by the obliged industry in a not-for-profit structure. In addition, DRS should be convenient for the consumer, with deposit amount and scope clearly communicated and accessible redemption locations provided. Deposit fees should incentivise a bring-back culture, and finally, DRS should allow beverage producers to secure access to recycled material for use in closed loop (ie bottle to bottle).
The European Commission could play an important role in making DRS a reality by developing guidelines for their implementation. Guidance that is similar to the minimum requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, adopted in the 2018 revision of the Waste Framework Directive, would be a good start. These guidelines could be developed as part of the Commission’s work in the coming months in implementing the Circular Economy Action Plan and the EU Recovery Funds.
Europe’s natural mineral and spring water as well as soft drinks industries are committed to meeting SUP targets and investing in collection infrastructures that will ensure that we get all beverage containers back for recycling. By collaborating with stakeholders throughout the supply chain in the setting up and running of efficient collection schemes we are confident that we can realise our goal and achieve circularity for all EU beverage packaging.