Each year, Canadians return about four billion refillable beer bottles, thereby diverting over one million tonnes of waste from landfills and averting the release of some 187,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Brewers of Canada. As Germany demonstrates, a similar program can also be effective for carbonated soft drinks and other beverages. A number of factors have contributed to the success of Germany’s EPR focused waste management system, and provide Canadian provinces with invaluable lessons on how to reduce waste. (See cover story and sidebars by Clarissa Morawski in the previous edition.)
In 1991, Germany developed an innovative waste management strategy commonly known as the Packaging Ordinance that has since been recognized as pioneering in environmental policy. The Ordinance is significant because it promotes extended producer responsibility (EPR), requiring industry to take full responsibility for the container waste it produces. The Ordinance has been revised several times since its creation and uses a combination of policy instruments including: mandating EPR, use of quotas, and a compulsory deposit-return system for single-use ecologically unfriendly packaging.
Less than 10 years after its creation, Germany’s carbonated soft drink market was using 75 per cent refillable containers. In addition, “the mandated refillable rates for beverage containers… have prevented the generation of 1.2 million tons of waste a year.”
Germany’s EPR system is unique; many other states have bent under lobbying pressure and withdrawn their refillable container policy. Statistics Canada last-published numbers on Canada’s refillable soft drink market reveals the share is less than five per cent. Earlier this year Prince Edward Island was the last Canadian province to withdraw its ban on single-use soft drink containers; thus, the market’s share will only decrease.
Factors in success
Germany’s policy has been effective, a number of factors have contributed to its success:
1. Extended producer responsibility: A goal of the ordinance is that 80 per cent of the beverage volume should be packaged in refillable or ecologically friendly single-use packaging, but allows industry to design the system to meet the standard.
2. Effective enforcement: The government oversees an industry self-auditing system. Penalties are significant and, historically, the quotas have been enforced.
3. Government able to re-evaluate: The German government has ad- justed its quota as it has learned from experience.
4. Withstanding industry pressure: The German government has withstood a great deal of pressure from industry to soften the legislation.
The Ordinance has successfully reduced waste; KcKerlie et al. explain that “design changes such as an increase in the use of reusable packaging, a reduction in the use of composite and plastic packaging, and changes to container shapes and size have achieved a reduction of approximately 66 per cent in weight of packaging waste going to landfill and incineration.” If Canadian provincial governments wish to reduce waste and promote a refillable system for other containers akin to that of the beer industry, they should consider adopting some or all of the particulars that have made Germany’s system successful.
Kate Leighton is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. Contact Kate firstname.lastname@example.org
“The German government has withstood a great deal of pressure from industry to soften the legislation.”