An effort to increase plastic bottle recycling in Europe is pitting packaging and beverage companies including Coca-Cola against waste management giant Suez, which supports the planned deposit and refund scheme.
UK lawmakers are considering a deposit and refund scheme (DRS) where shoppers are charged a small deposit at point of sale, and they receive the money back when they return their plastic bottles for recycling.
Other European countries that operate similar programs such as Germany and Sweden have seen their plastic bottle recovery rates increase to more than 85 percent, compared with less than 60 percent in the UK, the Daily Mail reports.
While beverage makers and the packaging industry have lobbied against bottle deposit and refund in the UK, arguing that a DRS would hurt profits and that it doesn’t really increase recycling rates, Suez, one of Britain’s biggest waste collection firms, has come out in support of the plan.
“Investing in a UK-wide deposit scheme for plastic bottles makes not just environmental sense but, importantly, economic sense too,” David Palmer-Jones, the British head of Suez, told the Daily Mail. “It puts pounds in the pockets of both households and business through reduced waste disposal costs and reduced need to buy virgin raw materials.”
Palmer-Jones said a bottle deposit scheme would save UK councils millions of pounds in waste collection fees while also diverting for recycling and reuse tons of plastic that would otherwise go into landfills. Suez has contracts with 60 UK councils, providing waste collections for 12 million Britons as well as street cleaning.
Last month leaked internal documents showed Coca-Cola planned to “fight back” against deposit return systems in the UK and other European states. Coke executives also held meetings with ministers in Westminster and Scotland to stress their opposition, the Daily Mail reports.
Meanwhile, a deposit return system page on the company’s public website says “Coca-Cola Company supports the collection and recycling of post-consumer packaging” but adds “we believe deposit systems are only one potential solution to increase collection and recycling, and they may not work in every societal and economic context.”
Coca-Cola has advocated for using closed loop approaches to increase recycling rates while achieving cost savings.
For example, Coca-Cola European Partners, the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler, partnered with labeling and packaging company Avery Dennison, waste management company Viridor and plastics processor PET UK to recycle waste PET liners from its Smartwater bottles and make new items.
The companies expect the circular economy initiative will save CCEP about £25,000 ($30,658) annually and say it reduced CO2 emissions last year by 180 to 200 metric tons.