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April 27, 2009

The New Zealand Herald

Bottles, not bags, the real villains

Forget plastic bags, drink bottles are the biggest source of waste for the average shopper, says a packaging-waste expert.

Waste-reduction consultant Warren Snow wants New Zealand to revive the bottle money-back schemes that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rather than going straight to landfill or recycling plants, the recovered bottles could be taken back to retailers or a central collection point and refilled several times before being melted down for new packaging.

Ministry for the Environment spokesman Paul Kennel said people should tell the Government what they thought about bottle deposits by commenting on the ministry's waste minimisation discussion document.

Container deposits could extend to other types of containers, not just drinks, he said.

United States legislators introduced two bills to cut down on packaging this month.

One would add a 5c refundable deposit to drinks prices and the other would add a 5c tax to single-use plastic shopping bags.

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The 5c drinks deposit will be refunded when bottles are returned for recycling or reuse.

Mr Snow said unlike longer-lasting items, such as cleaning products, a person might get through between 4 and 6 drink containers a day.

In Germany, drinks companies were refilling bottles up to 18 times, under a law requiring 70 per cent of bottles to be recovered - vastly reducing household waste, said Mr Snow.

A 2007 report he co-authored found nearly 1 billion containers a year could be diverted from landfill if a refundable deposit of 10 cents were put on all drink bottles.

However, a ShapeNZ report commissioned by the Business Council for Sustainable Development shortly afterwards found that although many people supported a charge, most wanted to pay too little to make the scheme work.

Sixty per cent of 1387 people surveyed wanted to pay either nothing or as little as 5 cents extra as a deposit.

New Zealand had a successful container deposit system in the 1970s and '80s. The beverage industry used bottle banks to ensure bottles were returned to be washed, refilled and sold. The scheme died out when manufacturers started using more disposable containers.

The Glass Packaging Forum said reintroducing the scheme "makes no sense economically and would have a very small reduction on the amount of glass recovered".

General manager John Webber said New Zealand consumers would face an extra annual cost of between $48 million and $90 million.

"[That's] around $1600 for every additional tonne recycled."

He said 95 per cent of New Zealanders had access to recycling facilities so introducing an extra collection method "would simply reduce the economies of scale".

Submissions on the Ministry for the Environment's discussion document close on May 15.

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