Beer cans on a table in November 2019. In Finland, cans and bottles returned to so-called reverse vending machines are crushed and pressed before being transported to facilities that use them to produce raw materials. (Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva)

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A PROPOSED EU DIRECTIVE on packaging and packaging waste could undermine the deposit-based recycling system for cans and bottles in Finland, warns the Finnish Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry.

The directive would decree that 10 per cent of certain beverages – beer, juice and soft drinks – must be sold in reusable containers.

The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the directive later this spring.

Helsingin Sanomat in mid-March reported that Finland has called for an exemption from the target for reusable packages, arguing that the proposal fails sufficiently to account for the over 85-per-cent recycling rate for containers covered by the deposit system. When Finnish consumers return empty cans or bottles to the reverse vending machines, the containers are crushed and squeezed before being transported to facilities that recycle them into raw materials.

The proposed directive would require changes to the recycling system, Tuula Loikkanen, the managing director of the Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on 18 March.

The problem stems from the cans and bottles themselves: the cans cannot be recycled and refilled as such, whereas the plastic bottles in circulation are too thin to withstand recycling.

The facilities attached to the reverse vending machines, meanwhile, have been designed based on the assumption that the containers are crushed. If the containers had to be moved to the next point in the recycling chain, the facilities would have to be expanded significantly.

“You’d also have to transport containers a lot more. You’d have to constantly haul out bottles. We don’t really believe this can succeed,” said Loikkanen. “We also don’t have standardised bottles. It’d require manual labour to figure out which bottle should be sent to Olvi and which to a microbrewery.”

The overhaul would additionally necessitate considerable investments in the industry, in bottling and washing lines, for example.

“This’d be challenging especially for microbreweries. There are many microbreweries that only have a can line. They’d have to build new bottling and washing lines,” she told.

The Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry and the Finnish Food and Drink Industry in October estimated that companies in the industry would have to invest around 400 million euros in order to satisfy the obligations set forth in the directive. Loikkanen predicted that, ultimately, the costs would fall on consumers.

“If you think about it logically, that’s what’d happen,” she said to Helsingin Sanomat.

It remains premature, she added, to speculate on how the change could affect the deposit-based system in general.

“The deposit payments are something we haven’t talked about yet. They’re what make our system attractive also to consumers, so it’d be a shame if we’d have to do something to them,” commented Loikkanen.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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