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Saturday 14.12.2019 | Name days: Gaisma, Auseklis
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Lithuania’s beverage packaging deposit system draws lavish praises, but contested in court

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Few things in Lithuania have ever worked as well as the beverage packaging deposit system. Although pretty new, it is simple, nearly shortcomings-free and highly popular with the population. Put into effect in the spring of 2016, it is also transparent – one can track the number of returned packages on the website grazintiverta.lt As of past Wednesday noon, the number on the digital clicker stood at an impressive 1 billion 365 million 836 thousand and 861 packagings.

«Indeed, the system has been off to a nearly impeccable launch, with the numbers of returned packagings being between 70 and 90 per cent, according to different estimations. However, the best indicator of the system’s success is can and bottle litter-free lawns, forests and parks. Just a couple of years ago, there was quite another picture out there,» Linas Balsys, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and former chairman of Lithuania’s Green Party, told BNN.

Laurynas Vilimas, director of Association of Lithuanian Trade Enterprises shared the notion, saying that the deposit system works very well and it is adjusted to the expectations of local breweries. He, however, noted to BNN that the packaging collection costs are on a higher end in Lithuania.

«In ideal variant, it would be good for all to have the deposit system cheaper and functioning across the Baltic region,» he said.

Latvia and Estonia are working on a single deposit system.

The deposit system has also been questioned over its exclusive, competition-free status in packaging collection sector.

Užstatas, a company that has been long applying for license for the kind activity, was denied it citing legislative loops.

Since the launch of the system, Užstato Sistemos Administratorius, administrator of the deposit system, known as USAD, has been staving off accusations of favouring large breweries, which as members of a brewery association, are among the founders of USAD.

Some smaller beverage market participants, like Kauen craft, Druskininku Rasa, Gubernija Italiana LT and some others, challenge the deposit system‘s administrator in court, claiming it is favouring large breweries. The smaller players were especially angered about an increase of the fees for collection and management of metal packaging. As a result, they had to increase their beverage prices.

The deposit system covers metal, glass and plastic beverage packaging that bears the appropriate deposit mark. Returned packaging must be empty, with its original shape maintained, its labels undamaged and the barcode clearly visible. Whether the one-way packaging is part of the deposit system and can be returned to the so-called reverse vending machines (RVMs), or taromatai (this is how the machines are called among Lithuanians) one can look up on the afore-mentioned website having entered the barcode of the packaging.

Used packagings can be returned throughout most of Lithuania via taromatai placed in small kiosk-type annexes at larger food supermarkets.

Returning packaging in Lithuania is worth the effort because one can receive 10 euro cents back for each piece at a till of a supermarket or a store. If your shop does not have a reverse vending machine but is part of the deposit system, the packaging can be returned at the till, where the deposit will also be refunded.

The founding members of Užstato Sistemos Administratorius (Administrator of Deposit System, USAD), a non-profit organisation that is entrusted with the deposit system as indicated in the Lithuanian Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste, are Lithuanian Association of Breweries, Association of Lithuanian Trade Enterprises and Lithuanian Natural Mineral Water Manufacturers’ Association. The founding members release more than 80 per cent of the packaging covered by the deposit system to the market, according to the official website of USAD, grazintiverta.lt

Approached by BNN, Gintaras Varnas, director of Užstato Sistemos Administratorius, said he sees only «big pluses» of the deposit system.

«To our estimate, roughly 90 per cent of all cans and bottles bearing the deposit mark are returned and processed through the packaging deposit system. As a result, we have a much cleaner environment. Before only third of 600 million bottles in circulation would be returned to stores. With the number now at 90 per cent, we’ve seen a huge improvement,» Varnas accentuated.

Asked about possible shortcomings of the deposit system, he hushed for a second before admitting that there have hardly been any.

«It is very rewarding to know that some of the economically advanced countries follow our example and seek our consultations in implementing the deposit system back at home,» the company head said.

Waste management specialists from as far as Australia, China, France, Scotland have visited Lithuania and USAD with the single goal: learn more of the Lithuanian packaging deposit system.

«Until now we were discussing various packaging management schemes. However after being acquainted wth the Lithuanian accomplishments in the field we tend to conclude that the deposit system Lithuania has employed is especially efficient to manage used packagings,» Siu Zhuisheng, deputy governor of the Chinese city of Guangdong with the population of 104 million people, is quoted as saying in a USAD press release. The Chinese delegation visited Lithuania in mid- July.

«Every country seeking to introduce an effectively operating packaging deposit system wants to see how it works elsewhere. Virtually, one looks for a combination of two things: who introduced it recently and where it works best. We can offer both,» Varnas, director of USAD, says.

«Albeit our packaging gathering results are not the highest yet, we however succeeded in reaching indicators over the last couple of years that are unsurpassed by anybody. Thence our results are seen as a success story,» he added.

According to him, USAD reached significant milestones already in the first year alone – the amount of packagings collected and recycled was 6,000 tonnes of plastic (PET) packaging waste, 1,500 tonnes of metal (aluminium) packaging waste and 6,000 tonnes of glass packaging waste.

USAD aims at 93 per cent collection of packaging this year, up 1 per cent from last year. At the start USAD aimed at 92 per cent benchmark for 2020.

«Although our results are excellent, a single per cent of uncollected packaging means that roughly 5,5 million packaging units are left in our environment», Varnas accentuated.

Another surprise of the deposit system in Lithuania is the public‘s extremely high support for it.

A survey carried out by pollster Spinter tyrimai last summer established that a whopping 97 per cent of respondents believe that the deposit system is «very necessary». As many Lithuanians pointed out that they were satisfied with how it functions.

«The deposit system is one of very few exceptions when a novelty is accepted so favourably,» Ignas Zokas, the head of Spinter tyrimai, noted upon the release of the poll results.

According to the poll, 87 per cent of Lithuanian inhabitants use the packaging deposit system. Those who did not use it explained it by the buying few cans and bottles marked with the deposit mark or by being too busy or lazy to bring the packaging to a nearest taromatas.

Importantly, part of respondents pointed out that, with the reverse vending machines available, they started to «more carefully and responsibly» sort other waste too.

An impressive 95 per cent in the poll claimed that, with the deposit system in effect, they see less litter in the surroundings.

«The results speak for themselves,» Varnas, of USAD, concluded.

However, respondents pointed out to some shortcomings of the deposit system too. Among them are often too filled taromatai, foul odour lingering in the premises and, in rare cases, failure of the machines to scan the appropriate deposit mark. Besides, it turned out that some of the reverse vending machines accept Latvian beer packagings too, a clear omission. As a result, for some it created an opportunity to profit as Latvian shops do not collect 10 euro cents when selling the beer cans and bottles marked with the deposit mark.

For Linas Balsys the deposit system looks a little too expensive.

«The costs would certainly be lower if there was a competitor to the packaging administrator, USAD» he emphasised to BNN.

Disagreeing, Varnas, of USAD, argued that costs of support of the deposit system administration are 5 euros per citizen a year.

«Around 60 per cent of the survey respondents claimed the charge is reasonable and 15 per cent were ready to pay even more to have the system more efficient,» the USAD head underlined.

Remigijus Lapinskas, chairman of Lithuania‘s Green Party and founder and CEO of Lithuania‘s Green Policy Institute, also praised the deposit system in Lithuania.

«Today you will not find a glass or metal beverage packaging on the outskirts of a town or a forest. The question however is about the operational costs of the system: are they justifiable and can they be reduced,» he told BNN. «To my observation, the system is on the more expensive side, but its efficiency and the support of the public outweighs it,» the «green» activist claimed.

In the EU the system of deposit-subjected beverage packaging is being used in Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania and Croatia. Also, Iceland and Norway are using a deposit system. The same system is planned to be introduced in Latvia, Malta, the UK and France.


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