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EU Directive threatens Finland’s bottle return system

A stipulation that the cap must always remain with the bottle will lead to an increase in the use of plastic.

Under the terms of the new directive, the cap must remain with the bottle. Image: Riikka Pennanen / Yle

A new EU directive (siirryt toiseen palveluun) aimed at tackling plastic waste may lead to major changes to Finland's bottle return system, according to Palpa, the company responsible for the collection, recycling and reuse of beverage packages.

The directive requires that caps are connected to bottles at all stages of the product life cycle, thereby necessitating a new design.

"There is a big risk that the current well-functioning bottle return system will be jeopardised and consumers' willingness to recycle may be weakened," Palpa's director of services Tommi Vihavainen told Yle.

The directive will be introduced over the next 5 years and aims to reduce the amount of plastic in the world's oceans and seas, currently estimated to be about 150 million tons.

However, a loose swinging cap on a bottle placed into a returns container could potentially compromise the bottle's identification. If the bottle is not recognised, the consumer will not receive the deposit.

In Finland, where 460 million plastic bottles are returned every year, this could potentially lead to consumers finding alternative means of disposing of unwanted plastic.

Vihavainen pointed out that Finns are generally in the habit of returning plastic bottles with the cap still attached.

"According to our survey, almost all returned plastic bottles have a cap, only 4 percent are returned without it," Vihavainen said.

Increased use of plastic

Finland's Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry also issued a response to the EU's directive, warning that the new design will lead to an increase in the use of plastic.

"According to our calculations, the directive will increase the use of plastic by at least one gram per bottle," Riikka Pakarinen, the Federation's CEO, told Yle.

This represents an increase of almost half a million extra kilograms in the consumption of plastic, according to Pakarinen, or the equivalent in weight of about 300 cars.

For the brewing industry, the new directive may not only mean an increase in the use of plastic, but will also require major further investment. For example, the entire beverage production and transportation system may need to be overhauled.

"This means huge investment for companies", Pakarinen said.

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