Would Money for Empty Bottles Help Ease Littering?

On Monday morning in Ballyfermot’s Le Fanu Park, a pile of discarded plastic and glass bottles, and more than a few empty cans, crowd the daffodils growing at the foot of a tree. Nearby, more bottles and cans dot the grass near charred puddles of plastic.

Independent Councillor Vincent Jackson has lived near here his whole life. He says the litter problem is getting worse, and it doesn’t help that there are at least two off-licences by the park.

“We’re looking at about forty or fifty bottles and cans. A bit of drinking going on over the weekend. If there was 25c on each of those, like in Germany, Denmark, there’s literally ten to fifteen euros worth in view of where we’re standing,” says Jackson.

“This will be cleaned at some point today by the lads in the parks department, but unfortunately tonight, if the weather’s good there will be a similar amount,” he says.

At last Wednesday’s meeting of Dublin City Council’s South-Central Area Committee, Jackson put forward a motion for the council to lobby the Department of Environment, Housing and Local Government to introduce a refundable deposit scheme for all bottles and beverage cans, similar to the schemes in France, Germany, and Denmark.

People Before Profit Alliance Councillor Tina MacVeigh supported Jackson’s motion. “I think a scheme like this would work,” she said.

On a trip to Germany a couple of years ago, says Jackson, he saw a reverse vending machine at a Lidl, which read the barcodes on returned bottles, and gave a receipt that could be redeemed for cash or spent it in the store.

“It’s a very simple way of taking a lot of waste out of the waste stream and getting it responsibly dealt with,” he says.

The Department of Environment, Housing and Local Government “tell me they have a deal with Repak. Well, I challenge anyone from Repak to come out to the park in Ballyfermot today, I could show them. It’s not working,” says Jackson.

The Current Situation

Jackson says he has been pushing for a refundable deposit scheme since 1995, but that the response from government to him has been that it “doesn’t suit”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said by email that “packaging in Ireland is subject to a very successful Producer Responsibility Compliance Scheme operated by Repak”. (Under that scheme, producers pay fees based on the amount of packaging they put in the market, and that money subsidises waste collection.)

In 2014, the department reviewed the “producer responsibility compliance scheme” and considered a bring-back scheme – in other words, a deposit-refund scheme – for waste, including beverage containers.

But, the resulting report recommended against the scheme, finding it “inappropriate” given the Repak scheme existed. There would be high costs in introducing it, the report said.

More recently, the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 was introduced last summer by Green Party TDs Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin. Among other things, it would provide for the introduction of deposit and return schemes for beverage containers.

A report by the consultancy PMCA, prepared for Repak in 2017, recommended against the introduction of such a scheme for the same reasons as had reports in 2014, and in 2008. 

The main concerns raised in the debates so far are the cost of introducing the scheme, as well as the potential issue of double compliance for retailers, who already contribute to waste-management through Repak.

Based on a study of overseas deposit-refund schemes, the cost is estimated to be substantial, ranging from a minimum of €88 million, to €276 million. One study looking at a possible introduction in the UK estimated the cost at €790 million per year.

According to the department’s spokesperson, the minister is awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment on the bill before looking at next steps.

A “No-Brainer?”

“The kind of system I’m talking about brings it down almost to the household, it makes you more responsible,” says Jackson.

“If you knew that those bottles had an intrinsic value of 4-6 euro (for several) you’d be bringing them back, but you’d be doing it to get your refund,” he said.

Jackson says he remembers when there was a deposit-refund scheme in Dublin, but it went out with the advent of PET plastic bottles about twenty or twenty-five years ago, he says.

“When money was tight when we were kids, there wasn’t a kid around here that wouldn’t collect lemonade bottles. We didn’t do it for the environment, we did it to get the few quid,” he says. “Future generations will wonder why were we so dirty?”

Jackson is adamant that the effort would be minimal compared to the positive return.

“If people who will be reading the article could see what we’re looking at, it’s a no-brainer. You would take so much waste off our streets, and out of our parks,” he said.

“If we’re serious about the way we do things, and changing the environment, sometimes we have to add a cost on to make people become a little bit more environmentally aware,” he said.


Zuzia Whelan: Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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Geoffrey Greene
at 28 March 2018 at 12:39

I’m weird and pick up other peoples’ trash off the ground everyday in my walk to work. It’s sad to see the apathy about littering in Dublin and also how high a percentage of recyclables end up clogging drains and canals before they’re washed into the Irish Sea. A deposit scheme would certainly help to incentivize people to recycle. But, so, too, would public recycling bins like most other developed cities have. I end up carrying my discards with me until I can sneak them in somebody’s private bin or the recycling at home or work–which is exactly the norm in fastidious countries like Taiwan and Japan. (There is also the “cultural” aspect: nowhere else have I seen so many casually-discarded beer cans, alcohol bottles, and even empty glasses from the pub littering even “nice” streets). Having said that, Ireland should be commended for still having one of the highest recycling rates in the EU, and there has been great progress in pushing household recycling and workplace recycling. There’s a ways to go before Dublin is at the level of a Stockholm for eco-friendliness, but making it *easier* to do the right thing is key.

Melanie Adams
at 28 March 2018 at 13:20

Common Sense – In Yesterdays Guardian [https://www.theguardian.com/envir…

at 28 March 2018 at 13:26

A deposit refund scheme would substantially increase the cost of kerbside recycling as all the valuable items will be brought to a refund machine rather than put in the green bin. However it’s collected, we’d still have too much plastic and nothing to do with it afterwards, and even worse, with a new system people would now feel the plastics problem is resolved and buy more and more.

A deposit system has decreased recycling across other less lucrative materials in other countries. Basically people ceased recycling what they were not paid for. This is not the society I want to live in.

The cost of a deposit scheme reached over a billion in Germany, way over budget. It’s money we could more effectively use in our current system rather than ploughing it into the new shiny deposit return system.

Litter is disgusting, it is a social problem that we need to address. The most commonly littered items are cigarette butts and chewing gum. So it would be great that bottles would be taken out of that mix, but we’d still have a litter problem despite the huge investment.

The money should be invested in communications programmes to reduce litter.

at 28 March 2018 at 13:26

Also, France does not have a deposit return system.

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