EUROPEN has joined national governments, the European Commission and industry representatives in criticising mandatory deposits for non-refillable drinks containers.

The move follows the introduction of a mandatory scheme in Germany, where since January this year all non-refillable containers for beer, water and carbonated soft drinks have carried a deposit.

Questions have now been tabled in the European Parliament on these deposits and the problems they have caused.

Dutch MEP Antoine Manders, for example, queried whether the German deposit system is a proportionate way of achieving the environmental objectives of the packaging and packaging waste directive (94/62/EC).

The MEP questioned whether the scheme was “a disguised barrier to trade which should be exposed by bringing infringement proceedings against Germany”.

The aim of the German scheme is to promote recycling but EUROPEN point out that comprehensive and efficient recycling systems already exist across Europe. To single out non-refillable drinks containers for mandatory deposits, EUROPEN argues, is bad for the environment, as well as for consumers and trade.

The EU Packaging and Waste Directive has meant that since 1996 systems have had to be in place in EU countries for recycling all kinds of packaging, including non-refillable drinks containers.

There’s evidence that European consumers are already becoming good recyclers, particularly in Germany, where the overall recycling rate reached 79% in 1999.

To have a separate, compulsory scheme just for non-refillable drinks containers results in a duplication of effort, with more vehicles being needed to collect the empty containers for recycling. That means more fuel consumption and traffic congestion, which is bad for the environment.

At the same time, mandatory deposits mean extra costs for handling, sorting and storage. In most EU member states, packaged goods business already bears the expense of recycling. If the burden were increased, retailers would inevitably have to pass on the extra costs in the form of higher prices. Consumers and businesses would suffer.

Finally, mandatory deposits distort competition in a number of ways, not least by discriminating unfairly against the beverage sector.

EUROPEN is also concerned that mandatory deposit schemes create barriers to the free movement of goods, which is a fundamental principle of the EU. At present a consumer who buys a can of beer in Munich cannot even reclaim the deposit in Cologne, let alone Paris or Rome.

Since the introduction of the mandatory deposit scheme in January, the situation in Germany has been chaotic. Industry groups reckon that consumption of beer and soft drinks is down between 10 and 14%, with thousands of jobs being lost.

On 15 May, the EC officially warned Germany that the scheme might be creating illegal trade barriers. Faced with these costly legal uncertainties, German food industry association BVE announced on 3 June that it was no longer preparing for the full implementation of a nationwide deposit refund scheme on 1 October as had been planned.

So EUROPEN calls on the European Commission and Parliament, as well as legislators in member states and accession countries, to avoid the German mistake. Mandatory deposits for non-refillable drinks containers are a bad idea.