Beverage bottlers label EU’s draft reuse targets for beverage containers ‘existential threat’

EUROPE – European beverage associations have warned that the mandatory reuse targets for beverage containers set by the European Commission may be ‘discriminatory’ towards some industrial players and cause harm to existing businesses and sustainability efforts.

The European Fruit Juice Association, The Brewers of Europe, Natural Mineral Waters Europe and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe have jointly expressed their ‘profound concern’ on the legislation.

They claim that the proposed mandatory reuse targets for beverage packaging at 20% by 2030 and 75% by 2040 would dismantle the recycling infrastructure industry has invested in and developed for years.

It is a move thought to threaten small and medium-sized enterprises lacking the resources to achieve these goals, as well as causing established business models to become unsustainable and potentially creating large-scale financial issues if consumer uptake is lower than anticipated.

The companies also express their fear that existing recycling streams may be forced to be dismantled as reusables are enforced.

They assert that, while the availability of reusable beverage packaging is already a focus point within their sectors, the Commission’s legislation overlooks efforts they are already making towards circularity through collection, recycling, and the incorporation of recycled content into their packaging.

It is also argued that no environmental impact assessments have been carried out to support the idea that the targets will protect the environment, and that no relevant data to suggest that reusables will be commercially successful on such a wide scale currently exists.

“Our sector is already achieving high rates of collection for recycling and is steadily progressing towards full circularity,” says Patricia Fosselard, secretary general at Natural Mineral Waters Europe.

“Introducing unrealistically high reuse rates will significantly compromise this progress and jeopardize the sector, while the environmental benefit of this policy measure is yet to be demonstrated.”

Nicholas Hodac, Director General at UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe added: “Over the last years, we have been investing into more recyclability, more collection, more recycling, and more reuse to make our packaging fully circular by 2030.

“It is totally incomprehensible that the European Commission is disregarding it and asking us to switch entirely to reuse.

“We can achieve the Commission’s goal in a much more realistic way that is less harmful to the industry and that makes sense for the environment.’’

The associations are also calling into question the environmental benefits of reuse systems.

According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), reusable beverage packaging has additional environmental costs compared to single-use recyclable packaging.

“This is due to increased utility consumption from operating additional machinery and washing bottles and higher fuel consumption from increased logistical complexity,” explains Hodac.

“A completely new set-up is required for returning empty bottles and crates from the retailer (possibly through a wholesaler) back to the original bottler, rather than collecting shredded plastic for recycling.”

The associations emphasize that the EC’s U-turn would render years of infrastructural development, research and investment obsolete.

The PwC report estimates a shift to 20% reusable beverage packaging for the soft drinks sector alone would cost upwards of €19 billion (US$19.1 billion).

“We cannot imagine what the cost will be to move toward 75% by 2040,” says Hodac.

The companies, however, commend the EC for its contributions towards circularity, yet call for a reconsidered approach to environmental policy that uplifts serve ‘as an opportunity to accelerate the circular economy for beverage packaging through enablers that support industrial policy.’

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