Plastic pollution represents a major problem for the environment and has enormous negative impacts on the oceans, rivers and other ecosystems. Austria is no exception; 1.6 billion plastic bottles are placed on the market every year, which equals to 181 plastic bottles per Austrian. In terms of volume, PET bottles are responsible for the largest proportion of littered items frequently found in Austria’s natural environment.
The Austrian Federal Ministry of Climate Action and Environment is currently considering introducing a deposit return system (DRS) to achieve the new targets set out in the European Union’s (EU) Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive to tackle plastic. A government-commissioned study recently confirmed that a DRS not only achieves the highest collection rate for plastic bottles but is also the most cost-effective option, ensures the best material quality for subsequent recycling and has the strongest anti-littering effect.
Yet a powerful coalition of companies – including retail giants REWE Group (Billa, Merkur, Penny, Bipa, etc.), Spar, Hofer and Lidl, as well as beverage companies including Brau Union, Spitz and Pfanner – are working to influence the government’s decision against a DRS. They are orchestrating their lobbying efforts through the highly reputed Altstoff Recycling Austria AG (ARA), Austria’s largest extended producer responsibility (EPR) organisation. A closer look at the complex corporate structure of ARA reveals that companies under the ARA umbrella have a position almost like that of owners, with legal powers that allow them to use ARA for their own interests. In this case, to lobby against DRS legislation that would reduce litter and increase plastic recycling rates in Austria.
ARA is fighting to maintain its influence, market pool position and a large chunk of its income: it is currently the biggest EPR organisation in Austria, handling over 70% of waste. Losses from licensing fees for plastic bottles alone are estimated to be €24 million. If cans or single-use glass were added, the amount would increase significantly. In addition, taking into account market growth in plastic bottles, without measures to further reduce plastic packaging, just the value of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (r-PET) collected through a DRS in 2029 could be worth around €64 million annually.
This briefing explains why a DRS is the only legally, economically and environmentally sound method to implement the SUP Directive. It rebuts false claims put forward by the anti-deposit campaign and shows why other options to incentivise separate collection will not succeed in achieving the EU’s goals.
A recent public opinion poll showed that 83% of Austrians support the introduction of a DRS, and 86% believe more needs to be done to address plastic pollution. For all the reasons outlined above, it is crucial that the Austrian government puts in place a deposit return system for all single-use plastic bottles and other beverage containers. In addition, it should introduce measures to promote reuse, such as a specific sub-target for refillables. Such measures are backed by science and the public. They will increase reuse and recycling rates, reduce virgin plastic production, protect the environment and free up over €120 million of resources that are currently being spent on clean-ups.
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