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Recycling: 'This can't go on. I want refundable deposits on bottles and cans. It can be done'

The schemes that work in other countries can work here too, writes Victoria White.

Image: Shutterstock/urbanbuzz

THIS CAN’T GO on, it really can’t. I’ve been picking up bottles and cans from the banks of the River Dodder with the campaign group, Dodder Action, for the past five years.

At certain locations and at certain times, bottles, whether glass or plastic, and cans make up two-thirds of the junk we pick up. Hundreds of tin cans. Hundreds of glass bottles. Hundreds of plastic bottles.

Chucked by irresponsible people – or people who’ve gone beyond being responsible – beside one of the finest city rivers in Europe. Chucked there for someone else to pick up. Chucked there with no thought of the wasted resources.

The fifth Dodder Action Day kicks off on Saturday with clean-up points from Tallaght to Donnybrook, and this year we’re going to separate the bottles and cans and make a mountain of them to demand action from government.

Refundable deposits on bottles

We want refundable deposits on bottles and cans. We’re not interested in being told it can’t be done.

It is already done in different ways and to varying degrees in a huge number of developed countries such as Denmark, Iceland, Israel, Lithuania, certain Australian states, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Norway and eleven US states.

“Reverse vending machines” are common in most of these jurisdictions, taking in recyclables and spitting back cash.

Incredible return rates are achieved in some countries, such as 100 percent for beer bottles in Ontario, to Iceland where 90 percent of aluminium cans and 87 percent of plastic bottles are recycled, to Finland which recycles 94 percent of cans and 92 percent of plastic bottles.

Very small deposits are the norm in most countries, ranging from less than 10 cents per item to  a high of about 40 cents for large bottles in Finland. In some countries consumers are charged a deposit by the shop to which they return the item and recoup their cash.

“Bring” centres for recyclables

shutterstock_352477652 Source: Shutterstock/Francesco Scatena

In other countries there is more State intervention, with central “bring” centres for recyclable goods.

Each country is different, though all EU countries must contend with anti-competition legislation which means there must be a level playing field for domestically-produced and imported items. Ireland, with small shops and diverse shopping habits, needs centralised reverse vending machines in bring centres.

I think the government needs to charge the drinks companies a fee to run the deposits scheme, with financial support from the industry via the several bodies which represent them.

It just isn’t right that single use containers are sold cheaply in the shops and chucked into the environment with no consequences for the people who make the cash out of this trade.

I don’t care that such a scheme may impact on the commercial viability of Repak’s recycling services, as is suggested in their incredibly negative report into deposits in 2008.

People might recycle if there was a cash incentive

The people who drink in our open-air beauty spots mostly don’t recycle at all. The recycling is done by volunteer groups who clean up after the drinking parties. The cost to the quality of our local amenities is incalculable.

Scotland has just done a study to look at bringing in a deposit scheme and they had it paying for itself in two years, partly because of the massive cost of litter to the environment, with drinks containers constituting about 17 percent of litter.

The Repak report reckoned drink containers to constitute about 5 percent of our litter and warned that a deposit system would only improve our recycling rate by 1.4 percent overall.

But even if these statistics are correct, they don’t take into account the impact of open-air drinking on certain locations.

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The report doesn’t factor in the sad fact that the people who engage in this behaviour don’t recycle. But some of them might if there was a cash benefit.

Let’s debunk the myth

And if they don’t, there are plenty of less well-off people who would be more than happy to help pick up bottles and cans if it meant a little cash dividend.

I’m looking for a State-sponsored, State-run, mechanised deposit system for glass bottles, aluminium cans and plastic bottles in manned bring centres.

It’s time to debunk the myth that schemes which work well all over the developed world can never work here and clear the rash of bottles and cans off the face of this beautiful country.

Please join Dodder Action Day on Saturday April 22 at 11 am at any of these locations:

  • Donnybrook: Iron Bridge, Brookvale Road
  • Clonskeagh House
  • Milltown: Carpark opposite Wilde and Green
  • Orwell Road: The Kiosk
  • Rathfarnham: Footbridge to Bushy Park
  • Rathfarnham: Meadowbrook Leisure Centre, Brookvale Road
  • Knocklyon: Spawell Link Road car park
  • Firhouse: park entrance, Mount Carmel Park
  • Old Bawn: park entrance, near Homelawn Road
  • Whitestown Stream: St Dominic’s School

Details on or register at Dodder Action is on Facebook and Twitter.

Victoria White is a writer, journalist and chair of Dodder Action.

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