Is it time we got the bottle to return to deposit schemes?
A recent poll shows that the public are in favour of a revival of deposit-and- return systems. The chief bottle washers, however, remain unconvinced
God be with the days when we used to go back to the shop with our empty bottles of Taylor Keith lemonade and get refunds.
It may have been just a few pence for each bottle returned, but every little helped, and the extra coins could be used to supplement our pocket money so we could buy more sweets – or more red lemonade.
A recent opinion poll carried by Coastwatch Ireland found that many people from the over-40s bracket are nostalgic for the days when Ireland still had deposit- and-return schemes for drinks containers. It also found there is overwhelming public support for the return of the deposit and return.
The poll of 1,426 adults and children over 10 found that 89 per cent were positive about such a proposal, with just 6 per cent against and 5 per cent giving it “conditional approval”. The over-40s said they had “fond memories” of the good old days when they could get money back on their bottles.
According to an analysis of the poll by Maxime Masini and Fionn O’Brien of Coastwatch, incentives were the first choice for measures to reduce drinks-container litter, with 50 per cent support, followed by stricter law-enforcement (35 per cent) and more clean-ups (21 per cent).
Unlike in the past, Ireland now had a “one use and dispose” drinks-container regime, with only a small number of containers – mainly bottles from pubs – actually reused, says Coastwatch director Karin Dubsky. This has knock-on consequences in terms of litter.
Marine litter, whether in the sea or on the shore, is still a problem. Plastic waste poses a particularly serious threat to fish, seabirds and marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins. One of the aims of the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive is to reduce such risks.
“Drinks containers are the convenience packaging for outdoor recreation,” Dubsky told a recent workshop in Trinity College on implementing the EU directive. “With more than 7,000km of seashore, coastal tourism is likely to grow and drinks-container litter is likely to rise.
“With unemployment high here, Coastwatch is making the case that the conditions are right in Ireland to introduce a job-intensive litter-prevention scheme, such as deposit-and-return on drinks containers,” she added.
The crunch issue is whether anyone in authority will listen. Mindy O’Brien, a US-born co-ordinator of the Voice environmental group, told the conference that the classic Thwaites soda-water bottles – with their thick glass and chromed spouts – were the first in the world to be subject to a deposit-and-return scheme, dating back to 1799.
Moving forward to the modern era, she had some bad news. She said that 61 per cent of plastic PET bottles in Ireland – amounting to 43,000 tonnes – were still being landfilled, while only 55 per cent of valuable aluminium cans were recycled here.
This compares unfavourably with countries that have bring-back regimes.
Repak, the voluntary compliance scheme under which producers take responsibility for the packaging waste they generate, is not buying the bad news. It maintains that a Central Statistics Office report from last year shows that our recycling performance has been impressive.