Source: eKapija | Monday, 30.05.2022.| 16:00
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What Kind of Deposit System for Packaging Does Serbia Need and Will Once Again the Citizens Pay for Everything?

(Photo: Unsplash/Aleksandr Kadykov)
Would you return a plastic bottle to the store for 5 dinars? And would you agree to pay 30% more for a bottle of your favorite drink in the store in order to preserve the environment? For several years now, a deposit system for packaging has been announced in Serbia, but after the initial enthusiasm, not much has moved forward.

In Serbia, 218,662 tons of packaging waste were recycled in 2019, amounting to 62% of the quantities put on the market. However, the largest quantities are from industrial sources, whereas the municipal packaging waste is problematic. That should be resolved by the introduction of the deposit system.

However, many questions remain open - can a deposit system be developed if the process of primary waste selection does not exist, what should be the fee to motivate citizens to return packaging to the store, should the system include glass and tetrapack or only plastic bottles, whether the deposit system would eventually be paid by the citizens through an increase in the price of drinks, and in the end - who should run everything, the economic sector or the state.

We did not receive an answer from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which initiated the whole story of the introduction of the deposit system a few years ago. However, NALED has revealed to us that, in order to answer all the doubts stemming from the announcement of the introduction of the deposit system, they commissioned a study from the consulting company Eunomia. The conclusion of this study is in favor of the introduction of a deposit system because, as it is stated, the amount of packaging waste would be reduced from 37,000 tons to 5,000 tons. 1270 new jobs would thereby be created.

EPR or deposit system

As Slobodan Krstovic, Director for Sustainable Development at NALED, says for the eKapija portal, the deposit system should be an upgrade and supplement to the extended producer responsibility (EPR) system, which means that citizens sort packaging waste into special bins in order to recycle more efficiently. system, they put the packaging in special machines in stores or in some other locations and get back part of the money for that.

- The recommendation of the study is that it would be best for Serbia, as far as the range of materials entering the deposit system is concerned, to include PET bottles, aluminum cans, glass packaging, as well as cardboards - volumes in the range of 50ml to 3l. The recommended value of the deposit of 5 dinars (the fee that the consumer receives back when he hands over the packaging) would be a lump sum and subject to revision - says Slobodan Krstovic.


(Recommended value of the deposit is 5 dinars)

According to him, the introduction of the deposit system in Serbia would benefit absolutely everyone. As per his words, this is an extremely efficient system that reaches collection rates of over 90% in the first three years, and it is a highly pure substance, which can be almost entirely used for recycling and further use in the form of new packaging. On the other hand, as he states, the system of extended producer responsibility can reach a maximum of 80% in very efficiently regulated systems.

- A well-designed deposit system can help double the current recycling rate. It is important to develop the system in all its details in a very transparent way and with the involvement of all actors concerned by the system. Leave enough time for everyone to prepare for it, because it implies additional investments in the production process, but also later in the implementation of adjustments in the retail sector - says Krstovic.

SCC warns that the introduction of a deposit system would cost citizens 1.1 billion euros

The Serbian Chamber of Commerce agrees that it is necessary to increase the level of recycling and reuse of packaging, but warns that the introduction of a deposit system would cost citizens 1.1 billion euros. The head of the Center for Circular Economy of SCC, Sinisa Mitrovic, says for the eKapija portal that the effects of the deposit system in some countries were an increase in retail prices of over 30% for certain categories of products.

- The share of packaging waste in the total waste produced in Serbia is about 14%, of which only one part would be covered by the system of collection through the deposit. Additional investments are needed to collect and recycle other types of packaging. It is necessary to improve the existing packaging waste management system in Serbia by additional investment in the existing system of extended producer responsibility of about EUR 200m in the next 10 years, which will ensure the collection and recycling of about 64% of packaging waste (current EU target is 65%) - states Mitrovic.

Deficiencies of the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste

According to him, the experience in the application of the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste so far has shown a number of shortcomings, the consequences of which are far-reaching.

- The consequences are insufficiently developed infrastructure and lost investments of EUR 90 million, loss of employment opportunities for 7,000 - 10,000 workers, backfilling of landfills with packaging waste, import of packaging waste from neighboring countries amounts to EUR 20,000 per year, or EUR 10 million. That is why it is necessary to redefine or draft a new law - says Mitrovic.

The paradox is that we import glass packaging
The paradox is that we import glass packaging (Photo: Fotografiche/

He further statesthat this would more than double the number of recycled pieces of beverage packaging with deposits, reduce waste disposal and packaging waste to about a fifth of the current amount and reduce waste estimated at EUR 553 million per year.

- It is important that the changes that follow include all important aspects of the functioning of the system, in order to increase efficiency and transparency in this area, all in an open and transparent dialogue with the beverage industry, trade and citizens - says Mitrovic.

Krstovic also believes that part of the problem lies in the Law on Packaging Waste, reiterating that in 2020 we were one step away from introducing a deposit system when the amendments to the Law on Packaging provided a possibility for the introduction of a deposit system, but without further elaboration of the main elements.

- This was a problem for both producers and bottlers, as well as for the retail sector, because it was not specified how all of them should prepare themselves in order for the system to function successfully. The legislature "left room" for the details of the system to be edited once the system was in place and this presented an obstacle. However, there was a complete lull in legislative activity due to the Covid 19 pandemic, and in the meantime there was a change in the head of the competent ministry - Krstovic explains.

What do the citizens say?

And what do the citizens think of all this? A survey conducted by the Serbian Consumer Center (CEPS) in the end of last year showed that as many as 85% of respondents perceive the deposit mechanism as a good way to encourage recycling. However, if the product they regularly buy becomes more expensive as a result of entering the deposit system, 40% of respondents would stop buying it. According to CEPS, this is one of the key reasons why the deposit system should be applied equally to all disposable packaging. Otherwise, packaging outside the deposit system could become a new consumer choice.

Citizens responded well to recycling
Citizens responded well to recycling (Photo: Miloslav Hamřík from Pixabay )

Recyclables that have been installed in several cities in Serbia also show that citizens want to recycle packaging when they are motivated to do so. Krstovic reiterates that the current percentages of recycling of packaging waste come mostly from the commercial sector and that it is necessary to include citizens in them.

- The deposit system would enable citizens to make recycling much more accessible to them, compared to what is the current case. According to the study, an estimated 28% of the population has access to recycling services. NALED, through its projects in which containers for packaging recycling were donated directly to local authorities and where continuous work was done with citizens to raise awareness, has confirmed that citizens are ready and willing to recycle under the right conditions. The infrastructure for the return of packaging within the deposit system would further bring the idea of recycling closer to the citizens, it would be available at often frequented places and directly ensure that citizens return part of the money they gave for the product in that very packaging that is part of the deposit system - explains Krstovic.

Sinisa Mitrovic refers to 3,500 illegal landfills where, according to the estimates of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, we "bury" over EUR 50 million of recyclable materials that can be reused. It is also a paradox that we import materials that we could recycle ourselves.

- According to the existing capacities, Serbia lacks 50,000 tons of broken packaging glass for the needs of the recycling industry, and every day we import huge quantities of glass packaging and spend significant funds and foreign exchange, instead of strengthening the domestic industry because broken glass is a material that can be recycled indefinitely. It is the same with plastic materials, where imports for the needs of the domestic recycling industry have skyrocketed, because our communal infrastructure does not have a primary selection of waste and there is a great loss in recyclable materials - warns Mitrovic.

Who manages the system - the state or the commercial sector

Apart from the question which type of packaging should be included in the deposit system, the question is also open about who should manage it. The Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste stipulates that the Government prescribes the types of disposable packaging for which a deposit system is established. Also, the Government determines the manner of functioning of that system, the amount of deposits and the manner of collection. However, NALED refers to the study of Eunomy, which recommends everything being run by an industry that would finance the entire system.

- The state has a regulatory and supervisory role in such a system. Such systems in the world work better in all aspects of the system, and Serbia should not be an exception in that sense - says Krstovic.

What about other countries - necessary innovations in packaging

On a side note, the adoption of the deposit system is not going smoothly in other countries either. According to NGOs, at least 10 EU countries are planning a transition to deposit systems in the coming years.

The system should also include aluminum cans
The system should also include aluminum cans (Photo: Pixabay/Rudy and Peter Skitterians)

In Germany, all shops that sell drinks have the obligation to take over the packaging and return the deposit to the customer, regardless of whether the drink was bought in that particular facility. The deposit for plastic bottles is quite high, 0.25 euros. The deposit for glass bottles is significantly lower - between 0.08 and 0.15 euros.

In Denmark, the value of the deposit depends on the size and material of the bottle. In Belgium, plastic bottles are collected in households together with other plastic waste, while glass bottles must be taken to a designated place. Although there are no deposits for glass bottles, Belgium has a high rate of glass recycling.

Innovations in packaging are necessary, experts agree, and one of the ideas is to encourage the use of glass bottles instead of plastic ones, although this idea also has opponents due to the production of disposable glass being relatively invasive in terms of emissions. Experts also suggest standardized glass bottles that would make reusable easier because any brand can pick them up, wash and reuse them.

The European Union`s goal for 2025 is for 65% of packaging to be recycled, and specific targets for glass and metal set the bar slightly higher, at 70%, while the target for plastics is 50%.

Marija Dedic

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