Denmark promises support for returnable bottles

Government pledge to combat rising costs seen as opening the door to one-way packaging

The Danish government is to support brewers and retailers' efforts to sort reusable beer and soft drinks bottles by requiring all traders and importers to make financial contributions, environment minister Svend Auken said yesterday. Mr Auken was briefing journalists on the plans as Danish parliamentary proceedings restarted after the summer break. The government is to put forward a new regulation late this year or early next, government sources confirmed today.

Danish law requires all beer and soft drinks packaging to be refillable, but sorting costs have soared since the mid-1990s due to increasing diversity of approved bottle designs sparked largely by the introduction of PET plastic alongside glass.

In May, brewers and retailers agreed to create a new joint Danish Return System designed to reduce costs by introducing automatic bottle sorting machines. Mr Auken's pledge is designed to assist this initiative by clamping down on "free rider" firms that benefit from the system without paying their share.

What has excited Danish newspapers far more, however, is that the government's move is being seen as preparation for an eventual acceptance of one-way drinks packaging such as metal cans, which could also be sorted for recycling under the new system. Denmark's long-standing "can ban" is currently being contested by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice (ENDS Daily 21 April).

Government sources denied any shift of position on the can ban today, and said that Denmark continued to believe that refillable systems were better for the environment. But they accepted that the possibility of a European Court condemnation had played a part in the decision. "The minister believes it is sensible for the market to prepare itself... it's the best way out of a bad position," an official told ENDS Daily today.

Follow Up:
Danish environment ministry, tel: +45 33 92 76 00; Danish Return System, tel: +45 43 32 32 32.

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