T&T Manufacturers' Association
Developed and non-developed countries across the globe have, for many decades, successfully operated closed-loop recycling systems for beverage containers. The guiding principle behind this is to ensure that once these beverages are consumed, the bottles are returned to their point of origin, either for recycling therein, for export, or re-use (where possible).
Effective operation of such a system in any country dictates that producers, retailers, consumers, and collectors are cognisant of what is required of them at each stage of what is often described as a “Deposit-Refund Mechanism”. Such cognisance is facilitated by legislation that is clear, well structured, clutter-free and easy to implement. Large countries such as Canada, as well as smaller countries such as Barbados, have demonstrated the effective interplay of sound legislation, supported by effective implementation and stakeholder buy-in. This creates an eco-system that allows the fundamental goal of beverage container waste minimisation to be attained.
What exactly is “closed-loop recycling”? This term was created to describe a system in which beverage containers, or any other form of recyclable products, move from, and back to, their original point of manufacture and are recycled. The deposit-refund mechanism legislatively mandates the manufacturer of the beverage container to add on a deposit (the amount of which is stipulated by the legislation) to the price of the final product that's contained in it. This deposit is then paid, all together, by the retailers that purchase the products from the manufacturer.
When the retailers sell the products individually to consumers, they would “relay” or pass on the deposit to the consumers. The quantum of such deposits, ideally, should be stated clearly on the label of each beverage container as a separate charge, for full disclosure to retailers and consumers. In particular, it would prove useful to consumers as a reminder that they can access a refund, once the container is returned appropriately. In addition, strong and effective consumer awareness campaigns regarding the deposit-refund would further aid in the desired goal of 100 per cent return of beverage containers by consumers.
The eventual return of the empty beverage container by the consumer, initiates the process of refunds being issued, essentially a reversal of the deposit mechanism. Consumers would return the containers to collection points and receive a refund of their deposit. This payment further substantiates the need for clear identification of the deposit to be paid on each container label (as mentioned above).
'Closing of the loop'
It follows that the retailer would return the empty beverage containers to the manufacturer and be refunded the total deposits attributable, based on the number of containers that have been returned. In some instances, the container manufacturer may receive them directly from the retailer and issue the total refund; in other instances, a “collector” may collect the containers, pay the refunds to the retailers, and transport them to the manufacturers, who would receive the refunds plus a “mark-up” for the service provided. Once the manufacturer has received their originally manufactured containers, this effectively brings to an end the deposit-refund mechanism. The “closing of the loop” takes place when the containers are recycled or re-used, an ideal scenario that benefits everyone through waste reduction and cost minimisation.
This description of a deposit-refund system is practical, yet somewhat simplistic. The unexplained complexity derives from the fact that the point of origin of a beverage container is not always easy to ascertain, as the manufacturers of the product and the beverages are not always one and the same. Some examples of divergence would be local or foreign container manufacturers who sell them to the manufacturers of the products. In such cases, the container manufacturer would hold final liability for payment of the refunds. In other instances, the finished product is imported into the country but is still governed by the local legislation and deposit-refund system. This may then bring a country's Customs and Excise Division into play at the point of importation, to ensure that the deposits are paid for all incoming products covered by the law.
Another point of possible uncertainty is the return of beverage containers without labels. This makes it difficult to determine which company originally manufactured the container and are therefore liable to pay the refund (unless there is a unique identifier engraved into the actual container itself). This may be overcome by consumers being directed, either by law or by the clearly stated policy of retailers, that containers would only be received for a refund if they are returned in their original condition (with the label intact).
There are, potentially, other considerations that can arise along the various elements of the deposit-refund system. For T&T, it is imperative that legislation is very well crafted, with all stakeholders being involved in the consultative process that informs it. Before legislation is implemented in our country, there must also be an effective plan to deal with existing empty beverage containers that are in the landfills, so as to prevent opportunistic “consumers” from presenting them for an undeserving refund. This would be a responsibility of the government ministry or agency that has jurisdiction over the deposit-refund system.
Most importantly, its worth reiteration that all stakeholders involved have a degree of responsibility in ensuring that they do what is required of them by law, if or when it comes into effect. Failure to do so should be punitive enough to impel the guilty party to take corrective action. In particular, consumer knowledge, understanding, and awareness is key to beverage containers being returned in an appropriate form; without this, the law will not have the capacity to fulfil its intended purpose.