France’s newly implemented deposit-return scheme receives strong criticism

Believing that they had been confronted with a 'fait accompli', the recycling industry expressed "their dismay and disbelief at the unilateral introduction of the DRS for bottles and cans alone" in an article published on 23 June in the French weekly newspaper le Journal du Dimanche.

A deposit-return scheme not yet launched in France is already being strongly criticised by local authorities and recyclers, who consider it ineffective and regret not having been sufficiently consulted about it. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Will the deposit-return scheme (DRS) ‘made in France’ apply to plastic bottles, glass bottles and aluminium cans? Who will own pre-approved packaging? Who will pay for the deployment of automatic collection systems? Who will compensate for the loss of revenue from communities that sell less material for recycling?

Initially launched to boost collection of plastic bottles and reach the 90% rate in 2029 set by the new European package on the circular economy (compared to 57% today), the DRS appears to pose multiple problems and has proven to be cause for serious concern among professionals.

“We do not know what would apply and what would not. It is a long task that needs to be subject to consensus,” said a French secretary of state during the setting up of a steering committee in Strasbourg on 19 June.

However, this was not enough to appease stakeholders.

Limited consultation

The agreement is likely to be difficult to reach, given the poor start to consultations.

Believing that they had been confronted with a ‘fait accompli’, the recycling industry expressed “their dismay and disbelief at the unilateral introduction of the DRS for bottles and cans alone” in an article published on 23 June in le Journal du Dimanche.

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They were only informed three days before the first meeting of the steering committee they had to work with a scheme that they consider totally unsuitable.

“No impact studies have been commissioned. In addition, the measure would only concern 400,000 tonnes of PET bottles (Polyethylene terephthalate) per year compared to two million tonnes of plastic packaging,” said Jean-Philippe Carpentier, the president of the French Federation of Recycling Companies (Federec).

Reversing the model

Federec wants to reverse the packaging sorting model, by proposing the message that “everything should go in the yellow bin except for everything wet” [in France, the yellow bin is used to dispose of cardboard and metal packaging, plastic bottles, paper and small electric appliances].

The idea is to streamline separate collection of four waste streams: bio-waste, dirty humid products, glass and the last bin for all packaging, including steel, aluminium, plastics, paper and cardboard. In other words, a large yellow bin that could even be extended to textiles.

This could be an effective system provided that instructions are harmonised throughout the country.

Outdoor waste is not on the radar

Federec’s president also called for “a so-called ‘Marshall plan’ for collection in dense urban areas,  both for indoor and outdoor waste,” as packaging thrown outside of one’s home represents 30% of used packaging but less than 5% of it is being recycled.

This is waste that should be collected as a priority for recycling. Rather than introducing an expensive DRS, which would lead to a drop in revenue for local authorities (around €300 million in PET resales) and could favour large-scale distribution (where collection machines would be installed) to the detriment of small businesses, and increase transport…

On the wrong track

“The deposit-return scheme is mainly supported by manufacturers – with the exception of water company Cristaline, whose cheap bottles will lose out by the fifteen cents increase – as well as by beverage distributors and the eco-organisation Citeo,” said Nicolas Garnier, general delegate of the energy transition association Amorce.

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The community representative also suggested that the government was on the wrong track.

“If the priority is waste prevention, then a DRS on the glass should be used to promote its reuse. If, on the other hand, collection and treatment are to be improved, the collection should also target hazardous waste, such as batteries and specific household wastes likely to contain chemical products that could harm one’s health or the environment,” he told JDLE.

“If we want to fight against plastic pollution of oceans, then we need to target all plastics and not just bottles,” he added.

Distorting the competition

For their part, can manufacturers have denounced possible distortions of competition if not all materials were covered by such a DRS.

For instance, glass beer bottles represent 72% of the market, whereas beer cans represent 26% of the market. “A deposit-return scheme that only affects metal packaging would generate real risks of volume loss,” said Sylvain Jungfer, the general delegate of the French can packaging group Boîte Boisson.

He is also calling for the modulation of the deposit price according to the container being used because the €15 would represent an additional cost of 12% for a 1.5-litre bottle compared to an additional 33% cost for a 33-centilitre metal can.

What will happen to glass?

Although making different arguments, the Zero Waste association has come to the same conclusion.

It calls for not neglecting glass when it comes to the DRS, as bottles are the easiest to wash and reuse (20 to 50 times depending on industrial applications). And it has a far better environmental impact than plastic recycling.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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