Sunday, March 18, 2012

Returnable bottles and cans

Every day, 51 million containers are consumed in Spain, and figures keep on increasing. There are less and less products sold loose or by the litre, there are more and more disposable containers, and we consume more and more canned or bottled drinks (water, soft drinks, beer, juice…).
Fortunately, selective recycling has been going on for more than 20 years and everybody knows, more or less, where to dispose each container. However, this recycling system which should make us reduce our ecological footprint is not working well: at present, in Spain only 35% of containers are properly disposed. People usually throw containers with the rest of rubbish, so that they end up cremated or forgotten in huge dump sites.
Our laziness to recycle has environmental consequences, but also economic consequences. Taking and treating bottles and cans disposed in the wrong container costs 68 million euros every year, and the value of missed raw materials (metal, plastic, aluminium, glass, etc.) amounts to 65 million euros. Summing up, we waste a total of 133 million euros every year for just being too lazy to separate our residues. It is the same cost as the Spanish plan to make Internet available to everybody, with one-mega connections around the country.
Therefore, we’d better pay attention to our rubbish. On the other hand, besides improving our current residue selection system, we can introduce new parameters: we could go back to returnable bottles and cans. The process is quite simple: when we buy a drink, we pay for the bottle or the can, and this money is refunded when we return the empty container. It used to be that way, and this system has many advantages:
1.- Some of these containers (especially glass) can be refilled, so we spare the recycling costs.
2.- Those containers which cannot be refilled can be recycled separately, avoiding the loss of value of the material, so that it can be recycled many more times.
3.- Consumers would not throw empty cans on the street or in our woods (they are refundable!), so our environment would be cleaner.
At Retorna website, an initiative promoted by several NGOs, consumer’s associations and the recycling industry, you can find some videos and articles about the advantages of returnable bottles and cans. It includes very interesting data: in Spain, only 30% of manufactured containers are recycled, whereas in Germany the percentage amounts to 98.5%.
Needless to say, if citizens are lazy to dispose bottles and cans in the correct recycling container, they will be even lazier to go back to the shop and return them, but refunding is likely to be encouraging... The impact of this new return system would be great because 50% of our containers are drink cans or bottles.
Is it a utopia? No way. This system is working well in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Israel, Scandinavian countries and some estates in the US.

  1. Recycling game at Delivering Data:
  2. Post at Delivering Data about Third World dump sites:
  3. Our recycling problems:
  4. What can be done with 133 million euros:
  5. Retorna website:
  6. Retorna video about the advantages of returnable bottles and cans:


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