Major retailers back deposit return scheme as decision nears

Ljubljana, 26 May - As the Environment Ministry is finalising its decision on introducing a deposit return system (DRS) for plastic bottles, an expanding coalition of stakeholders is voicing support for its implementation. Notably, the majority of prominent retailers backed the initiative, under which they would serve as primary collection point organisers.

Plastic bottles.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA
File photo

While intensive talks with the Environment Ministry have been under way for two years already, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) urged the government early this week to promptly introduce the system to see its appeal echoed by several environmental NGOs.

Most of the biggest retailers in the country have now confirmed support as well, with Lidl for instance describing DRS for single-use beverage packaging as "the solution for the future."

Citing international experience demonstrating high environmental targets achieved primarily by nations adopting such schemes, a company representative stated at a recent press conference: "We see an opportunity for both retailers and beverage producers to meet ambitious goals in Slovenia, clean up the environment, and eliminate packaging waste."

Spar Slovenija confirmed its endorsement to the STA as well. It highlighted that customers have long been able to return empty bottles and crates to dedicated reverse vending machines at its stores. Online shoppers can return refillable bottles too. Between 2021 and 2023, over 8.3 million refillable bottles were collected.

Tuš also underscored its support for a system "ensuring efficient packaging collection through collaboration between producers and companies already engaged in packaging collection and processing."

At Hofer, they announced adherence to national legal requirements regarding a DRS for single-use beverage containers. Currently, under its Today for Tomorrow sustainability initiative, various Hofer measures align with the The Hofer Packaging Mission: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle project goals, including a 15% reduction in total packaging by 2025 while ensuring all packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable.

Meanwhile, Mercator reportedly remains opposed. "As far as we know, Mercator is the only one currently opposing the deposit system, while all others lean towards recognising its advantages," the STA was told by Petra Medved Djurašinović of the Chamber of Agricultural and Food Companies. The STA approached Mercator for further clarification but has received no response.

Meanwhile, unresolved issues continue to include the cost of implementing a DRS. The Chamber of Public Utilities, which opposes the scheme, claims the current separate waste management system costs EUR 27 million annually, while a deposit system would cost EUR EUR 34 million.

However, the Beverage Industry Association and the NGO Eko krog, both DRS advocates, assert this figure is inaccurate, as the association includes refundable deposits in the system's establishment costs despite their return to consumers. Erika Oblak of Eko krog deemed it unfair that the chamber issued such "far-fetched estimates".

Association President Marian Šefčovič explained that beverage producers and retailers would finance the system's establishment, but concrete figures remain impossible to discuss without adopted legislation. He suggested an optimal deposit rate of EUR 0.10-0.15 per returned beverage container.

According to Medved Djurašinović, the initial investment burden would primarily fall on beverage producers and retailers, who could play dual roles as service providers and beverage manufacturers. "If the system is designed as non-profit, retailers acting as primary collection point organisers will recover part of their investment in reverse vending machines," she added.

Regarding system management, Šefčovič stated beverage producers and retailers are prepared to assume this responsibility jointly. Supporters advocate a non-profit European model, with proceeds reinvested into system development and innovation rather than distributed as profits, Oblak said.

The Environment Ministry told the STA that it plans to organise an early June consultation involving all stakeholders to "present available data and arguments for and against a deposit system" before reaching a final decision.

The Beverage Industry Association estimates an 18-month to two-year timeline from potential legislative passage to system implementation, envisioning an ideal scenario of launch by early 2027.

© STA, 2024