Government must have the bottle to mend faulty deposit scheme

A legal loophole means retailers can sell drinks in small plastic bottles but don’t have to take the empty bottles back. That is not exactly consumer-friendly,  says Rob Buurman, director of environmental NGO Recycling Netwerk Benelux.

From July 1 this year most small plastic bottles have carried a deposit. But during the negotiations over the introduction of the scheme the cabinet scrapped the legal requirement on the part of retailers to take the bottles back.

This has already led to cinema chain Pathé (among others) selling, and charging a deposit, on millions of small drinks bottles  and then, once the film is over, refusing to take them back and returning the deposit to their clients.

But things are about to get more curious still. From December 31 2022 cans will carry deposits too, as the government decided in February. But to collect empty cans, the Dutch Food Industry Federation and the Central Food Trade Office are betting on a system which does not involve supermarkets, even though they sell around 80% of cans. This means empty cola and beer bottles can be handed in at the supermarket but cans containing the same stuff will be refused.

Local councils

Supermarkets prefer redemption points for cans in public spaces. According to calculations by research bureau CE Delft, that would mean that local councils would have to find room for some 3,600 to 6,000 deposit machines, a time consuming and uncertain process.

Caretaker junior infrastructure minister Steven van Weyenberg and MPs still have time to close the loophole and prevent the introduction of a deposit on cans from becoming an embarrassment.

The obligation for retailers to redeem cans and small bottles must be restored and established in law. And perhaps supermarkets will realise that enabling customers to return their empties will increase traffic and customer loyalty.

Deposits do not figure in the government spending plans because the cost is the responsibility of the manufacturers, and rightly so. Deposits schemes have always enjoyed broad public support and that is one of the reasons they are finally being introduced. It is now the task of politicians to make sure that support is not lost because of a legal blunder.

This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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