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Future of return deposit on cans in doubt as pilot project underperforms
A pilot project in Wallonia to encourage people to return empty cans in exchange for cash has been deemed a failure despite three million cans being collected from 19 municipalities.
An evaluation report on the experiment, which the region's environment minister Céline Tellier will present to the Walloon government on Tuesday, is expected to show that while three million seems like a lot, a total of two billion cans are sold in Belgium every year.
The pilot project, launched in 19 municipalities in 2018, offered people the chance to return empty cans and receive €5 per 100 returned after registering on an online platform. The project organisers stressed that these should be any discarded cans and not just those personally consumed.
The cans collected via this system represents just 0.08% of cans sold in Belgium every year. Even in relation to the population concerned in the 19 municipalities, it is estimated that the quantity collected must have represented 4% of the quantity of cans consumed.
Among these three million cans, 60% of the cans were reported by only 10% of users. A total of 3,729 people registered on the platform www.primeretour.be, but 2,158 participants reported returning at least 100 cans, or 1% of the total population of the participating municipalities.
The project organisers point to a slight downward trend in the number of abandoned cans in public spaces, especially along roads and in residential areas. But elsewhere, such as shopping districts, car parks and petrol stations, the reduction is less obvious and the impact of the premium is zero around schools, public transport stops, the surroundings of recreational areas and in the centres of towns and villages.
The total cost of the project amounts to €791,072, or €7,570 per tonne of cans collected. By way of comparison, the average cost of managing litter in Wallonia is €2,763 per tonne and the cost of managing PMD packaging waste by the Fost Plus recycling company based in Belgium is €481 euros per tonne.
All this data will be analysed by the environment committee on Tuesday and will be the subject of a wider debate on whether establishing a deposit system is worth it.
Tellier thinks it is. "My will is clear: I wish to implement all the appropriate means so that the situation improves efficiently and quickly on the ground,” she wrote in a letter to the mayors of the participating municipalities. “The introduction of a deposit on PET plastic cans and bottles is a solution that is currently being studied to possibly complete the toolbox of measures in favour of public cleanliness."
The minister is not alone in her thinking. Nearly three out of four Belgians (74%) are in favour of a deposit system on plastic cans and bottles, according to a survey conducted by Test Achats. This is an increase on the 66% recorded in the same poll conducted in 2017.
In addition, 89% of the 1,440 surveyed this year are ready to return their packaging to the collection point, while 44% of respondents are in favour of an amount of 10 cents per can or bottle.
"In Germany, where the deposit system has been in place for some time, cans now account for only 0.03% of litter," says Test Achats.
The consumer organisation asks the various governments of the country to introduce instructions on cans and plastic bottles, in order to fight against litter that continues to spoil roadsides, parks and forests.