If you visit Germany, you will probably be surprised at the lack of discarded bottles and packaging that you notice in the street: 98.5% of them are recycled. A far cry from Spain, where we only recycle 30%. The remaining 70% -packaging tossed into the street, or that have gone and blocked up other containers etc. - end up in landfill or incinerators. And it’s you, not the companies that have produced this packaging, who pays, through your local taxes, for getting rid of it because the bottlers only take responsibility for what goes into the yellow containers.
How do we turn this situation around? Well, by reverting to the system that we used years ago, when we returned the empty bottles to the shop where we bought the drink.
In Germany, when you buy a drink you pay the “contaminant cost” of the bottle (25 cents). The empties either have to be returned to a machine that gives you a receipt exchangeable for the value of the empties, or directly to the shop where you bought them.
The advantages of this system, called the Deposit, Return and Reimbursement System (DRRS) for packaging are by no means insignificant:
- From waste to resource: the empties deposit machines are cleaner and more efficient, which means that the empties can be turned into packaging of the same quality.
- Less rubbish in the streets: as the empty has an exchange value, it is rare to see bottles in the street.
- Municipal savings: by reducing waste in landfill and incinerators, the local councils save money since they are the ones who bear the cost. By having less rubbish in the streets, the council cleaning service can be reduced.
- Public awareness: the public is taking an active part in dealing with its rubbish; it sees what it is consuming and the value of the material that was often tossed carelessly aside.
- Generator of employment: DRRS have shown themselves to be generators of green employment owing to the quality and quantity of material that is recovered and to the efficiency of the system and widespread participation of the public.
- Fewer CO2 emissions: disposing of bottles using incinerators and landfill is dispensed with. In addition, by re-using, fewer disposable bottles are produced - also a cause of contamination. Did you know that in Spain 51 million drink bottles come onto the market every day?
How do we get to where Germany and 33 countries and regions round the world have got to? By lobbying the Spanish government to include in its Ley de Residuos (Waste Bill) a clause implementing the Deposit, Return and Reimbursement System (DRRS) for empties as an obligation, not an option.
To NGOs, unions and that part of the recycling industry that make up the Retorna association - we shall explain how!