Organisation - March 22, 2012

‘Deposits are an effective way of collecting bottles'

Secretary of State for the environment Joop Atsma wants to scrap the deposits on plastic bottles. He has agreed on this with the packaging industry and the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG). Good idea?

‘I detect two contradictory trends', says Gert Spaargaren, professor of Environmental Policy. ‘The Dutch are environmentally aware and like to sort their garbage, dutifully bringing their glass to the glass container and their plastic to the plastic container. We deal with waste materials economically and the recycling system we use is reasonable effective. We understand the cradle-to-cradle principle, which bottle deposits support.
And on the other hand, new techniques come out which can make it attractive for industry not to sort waste. For a while we separated tins from the rest, until it turned out to be easier to extract the tins from the garbage with a magnet. People understand that.
I look at the abolition of deposits on plastic bottles in the light of all this. Of course I don't know all the arguments but I do know that collecting those large bottles takes up a lot of space at supermarkets. But you could solve that by shredding them at the collection point. I gather that's what they do in Germany and Sweden. The deposit system is working well and I see no reason to change it. On the other hand I am not afraid the ruling will lead to a lot more litter, as some critics believe. The Dutch are not indifferent to litter; they like to dispose of it tidily.
The municipal councils are in favour of extending the deposit system. That is logical because it means they don't have to collect the bottles. The question remains: is garbage collection the responsibility of government or of private individuals? Without deposits on bottles at the supermarkets, the municipal councils have to collect more garbage. Large-scale collection of waste by supermarkets has not been a success. People are more used to seeing it as a public service. But that comes at a price for consumers. I am paying more and more in waste disposal charges to the council.'

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