The container return system would prevent 2,193 tons of bottles and cans from ending up in the wild each year

Basura, plásticos y botellas en la playa de la Malagueta de Málaga.
Garbage, plastics and bottles on the Malagueta beach in Malaga. JON NAZCA / REUTERS

Ten European countries currently have systems for deposit, return and return of containers (known by its acronym SDDR). This waste management model is based on the consumer leaving a few cents in deposit when buying, for example, a bottle of soft drink and that money is recovered when the empty container is returned to the store. In Spain, however, the implementation or not of this system is surrounded by an intense debate between its defenders – led by several environmental NGOs – and its detractors – led by Ecoembes, the company that manages packaging waste in Spain and in the that the interests of producers and businesses are represented. A report by the public company Tragsatec now highlights the environmental viability of this type of management and, among other things, points out that it would help Spain meet European packaging recovery targets. The Tragsatec study also figures in 2. 193 tons of plastic and aluminum packaging of beverages that would no longer end up in nature each year if the return system is implemented for these two types of materials, the equivalent of 122 trucks with loading capacity 18 tons each. If glass containers are also included in the SDDR, that amount would rise to 6. 752 tons of waste ( 375 trucks).

The implantation or not of this system is right now in discussion. An amendment to the waste law agreed in Congress between the PSOE and United We Can establishes that this model will be imposed in the event that Spain does not meet the objectives of separate collection of plastic bottles in 2023 and 2027. The waste law is still being processed in Parliament. But, in parallel, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition is preparing a royal decree on packaging and packaging waste. This Tuesday the department of Vice President Teresa Ribera has released the project of that royal decree to public information and is committed to the same conditioned formula for the implementation of the SDDR system as the one agreed by the socialists and United We Can in Congress: that will be imposed model if 2025 does not reach 70% of single-use plastic bottles recovered and at 85% on 2027.

More information

In the event that it were to be implemented, the system would be designed for single-use containers of plastic and aluminum for water, beer, soft drinks and juices of less than three liters. And companies would have two years to develop it.

Being such a sensitive issue and with such conflicting positions – this form of management it would oblige businesses to have machines to collect containers at their facilities – the Government decided to commission an analysis from the public company Tragsatec on its viability. In the introduction to this study it is already noted that there are several contradictory reports. That is why “it is necessary to have an objective and independent study on the viability of the implementation of an SDDR in Spain”, point out the Tragsatec experts in a document that the ministry has decided to disseminate this Tuesday together with the project of royal decree.

The study warns that with the current model, based on yellow containers, in Spain “it would not be possible to achieve none of the targets for the net separate collection of plastic drink bottles ”set by European regulations. Community directives establish that in 2025 the 77% of these packages must be collected separately; in 2029 you should arrive at 90%. The return system would allow Spain to comply. “The introduction of a DRS would not only increase the amount of material recovered, but also the purity of the collected and therefore the quality of the recovered,” the report also states. “This would allow the circularity of the materials,” he adds. In addition, the study estimates the savings in greenhouse gas emissions that would be generated with a return system at half a million tons of carbon dioxide. “This saving is mainly due to the increase in recycling of aluminum and PET (and other materials), which avoid the emissions associated with the primary production of these materials”, it is indicated.

In line with what the Tragsatec study proposes, the draft Royal Decree of the Government establishes a minimum of 10 cent as deposit per container. Dairy products, wines and spirits are excluded. According to Tragsatec’s calculations, in order to develop this system well, it would take between 12.146 and 28. 264 packaging collection machines in the country’s shops.

Fruits without plastic

The royal decree also establishes the obligation for retail businesses (from small stores to supermarkets) to “present fresh fruits and vegetables without using plastic containers”, as EL PAÍS announced a week ago. This veto on plastic would affect only sales of less than 1.5 kilograms and the ministry has decided at the last minute to advance its entry into force: it will no longer be in 2023, but one month after the royal decree is published.

This rule should serve to that Spain finishes transposing the European waste directives. Among its objectives is the reduction of the use of single-use plastic containers. And it establishes measures such as the promotion of drinking water consumption through fountains, which will be implemented in the Administration offices and in public spaces. The use of reusable alternatives to single-use packaging in cultural or sporting events that have the support of the administrations will also be encouraged.

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