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May 2, 2008

PRW.com

Germany axes deposit on bioplastic bottles
Decision raises waste stream contamination fears among plastics and recycling groups.
By Chris Smith

The German government is to exempt bioplastic bottles made from more than 75% renewable resources from its compulsory deposit scheme for single-use beverage bottles.

Germany’s federal government sanctioned the move earlier this month in the 5th amendment of its packaging directive. The exemption will come into effect at the end of 2008 and will run until the end of 2012.

The bioplastics manufacturers’ trade association European Bioplastics said the exemption will help encourage the use of renewably-resourced materials and will support wider introduction of bioplastics in the beverage sector.

Exempting a single-use bottle from the deposit system immediately gives the brand owner a 25 euro cent pricing advantage over its deposit carrying competitors on the supermarket shelf.

However, PlasticsEurope Deutschland and PET recycling association PETcore – neither of which was consulted on the amendment – have both expressed concerns over the decision, which they say could compromise PET recycling efforts by encouraging replacement of PET with PLA.

PLA is the only bioplastic on the market today that can both produce an acceptable bottle and meet the packaging directive requirement of more than 75% renewable content.

However, earlier this year PETcore published the results of a technical study which it claimed showed that recycled PET containing PLA at levels below 0.1% was rendered unsuitable for many secondary applications.

The amendment exempts bioplastics from the deposit scheme, but manufacturers will still be obliged to take part in a bottle recycling scheme. Initially collection and recycling is expected to take place within the dual recycling system, with bioplastics bottles directed into the yellow bags/bins.

“This will mean the bottles will be generally fed into energy recovery and, based on the fact they were created from renewable resources, will contribute to a reduction in CO2 emissions,” said Joeran Reske, who is vice-spokesperson with responsibility for environmental issues at European Bioplastics and a biologist at Interseroh, one of the two German dual system operators.

The amendment mirrors a decision by the German government in its 3rd amendment of the packaging directive back in 2005, when it enacted an opt-out from the dual system recycling levy system for bioplastics packaging until 2012.

Exempting bioplastics from the bottle deposit system will not in itself compromise recycling of PET. But PlasticsEurope and PETcore are concerned that the German government may not have fully considered how the exemption may work in practice.

“The success of the new system will depend on human beings. How well will they be able to distinguish a PET container and one made from a biopolymer? And how scrupulously will they separate them?” said Mike Neal, who chairs PETcore’s technical and expert evaluation committee.

“Separation is at best very difficult – one PLA bottle could effectively remove 1,000 PET containers from the stream and reduce its value to incineration only,” he said.

The deposit scheme has helped Germany achieve a very high rate of PET recycling. Neal said in 2006 there were 375,000 tonnes of PET containers on the shelves in German retailers and the recycle rate achieved was just over 70%.

The German government decision could also require a rethink on the part of bottle collectors in the country. There has been a move, at least on the part of the larger retailers, away from open collection systems in the store to automated “reverse-vending” systems which identify a PET bottle by features such as the neck ring before crushing it and refunding the deposit charge.

“The question is: ‘Are these collecting machines intelligent enough to tell what is a PET bottle and what is a PLA bottle?’” PRW.com was told by one company currently buying and recycling PET bottle waste.

“These questions are exactly the ones that should have been put to the German government at the beginning of the 5th ordinance revision,” said Ingo Sartorious, environmental specialist at PlasticsEurope Deutschland.

“Legislators are putting in place rules for niche products. The crucial part for PET recyclers is how much will it upset the recycling process,” he said.

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