Plastic bottles could cost Austria dearly

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According to a legal opinion, there is a risk of infringement proceedings and fines of up to 45 million euros.

Plastic bottles could cost Austria dearly

By 2029, 90 percent of all plastic bottles should be collected. How this should be implemented is still unclear.

The EU recycling targets for plastic bottles will not have to be achieved for a few years, but the implementation deadline for the directive will end at the beginning of July. This means that by then measures must be taken that make it possible to expect that the goals will be achieved.

Austria is threatened with infringement proceedings if no appropriate steps are taken in the next four months, said Teresa Weber from the University of Salzburg. The European law expert prepared a legal opinion on the subject on behalf of the environmental protection organization Greenpeace. Accordingly, Austria could face annual fines of 20 to 45 million euros.

In autumn, Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) presented a “three-point plan against the plastic flood”. In addition to a minimum quota for reusable packaging and a manufacturer tax for plastic packaging, it also provides for the introduction of a one-way deposit.

Resistance to the one-way deposit comes from the Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ), which wants to avoid an additional burden on its members. In an economic crisis in particular, the additional expense would not be reasonable for retailers.

Paths to the goal

Instead of a deposit system, the WKÖ suggests expanding the existing recycling system. Yellow sacks and yellow bins for one-way packaging with recycling value are to move into Austria's homes and businesses across the board. There should also be alternatives to the residual waste bin in public spaces. The consumers would have to bear the costs for this through the garbage fees.

According to Greenpeace, this would be inadequate because there is “no country that can manage a separate collection rate for PET bottles of over 90 percent without a deposit”. Bottles consumed en route in particular would continue to be disposed of in the residual waste.

Sorting these out would be costly and only conditionally effective. Because contaminated plastic bottles can only be recycled into products of inferior quality, Weber said the measure would not comply with EU law. The example of Germany, however, shows that a deposit leads to a high return rate (95 percent) and is also compatible with retailers.

The EU's measures aim to generally push back single-use packaging. Half of all plastic packaging (including PET bottles) will have to be recycled by 2025. In Austria it is currently only about a third. As the implementation deadline expired in 2020, infringement proceedings against Austria are already ongoing in this matter.

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