Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Lotta Bottle - Recycling in the Netherlands

Photo: Martin Boose
Last September, expat American author Bill Bryson called on Britain to return to the bottle recycling of old to save resources and reduce littering. Until the end of the 1980s this was common practice in the UK and for every bottle of drink you bought you paid a penny or so extra and got it back when you returned the bottle. In fact, I can remember the 'pop' man coming round the streets with his lorry and we'd regularly get our bottles of drink from him in a plastic crate and the bottle deposit was a normal thing. Ach, those were the good old days of dandelion and burdock in a glass bottle delivered to your door.

And then plastic bottles and cans increased in popularity and the bottle deposit system died out in England. Instead there are kerb collections for recyclable materials such as cans, plastic and paper. Bill Bryson's comments however seem to have reopened the debate.

According to the Recycling Netwerk, 90% of beer bottles with a deposit on them are brought back by shoppers in the Netherlands. The system works here just fine, at least from a consumer point of view. One of the concerns about re-implementing such a system in the UK is that shoppers will have to pay a bit more for their drinks and not everyone will be able to get back to the shop they bought the bottle from - the Netherlands has an answer.... a universal system so you don't have to return to the exact shop you bought the bottle from. You can even turn in bottles bought in other countries in some cases - that beer you buy in the Belgian supermarket for example is often accepted in Dutch bottle recycle machines. Small beer bottles have a statiegeld (deposit) value of 0.10 cents, large beer bottles 0.25 cents and a full crate earns you back your 3.95 euro.

There has been pressure on the system over the past few years - for the same reason the system in the UK stopped - because of the increasing market share of cans and small bottles which are not subject to the statiegeld scheme. However, this may change to meet plastic recycling targets set for the Dutch government by including small plastic bottles in the scheme. Maybe that will also help the littering problems around schools.....

What has surprised me about recycling in the Netherlands is that cans are not recycled and in my area the recycling of general plastic packaging has only very recently been introduced. Both materials have been standard in the UK for many years now. Different everywhere you go it seems.

What do you think about the bottle deposit system? Is it in force where you live? Does it help the litter problem?

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