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November 16, 2009

Denmark: No Environmental Benefits in Collecting Disposable Plastic

A report by Denmark's environmental protection agency (EPA) concludes that there are no environmental benefits in collecting disposable plastic bottles and other plastic containers, and that the costs of recycling them are unacceptably high. The findings appear to confirm the results of similar studies in other European countries.

The German environment agency reported earlier this month that small lightweight packaging items might as well be incinerated as recycled on environmental grounds (ED 02/07/02). This spring Austria's environment agency released similar findings (ED 09/03/02).

According to the Danish EPA, even a "pared-down" collection system involving delivery to recycling centres and export for recycling - which would be cheaper than recycling in Denmark - would cost about DKr300 (?40) per tonne more than simply incinerating the material for use as energy.

The EPA is concerned that the higher recycling targets recently proposed by the European Commission in proposed changes to the EU packaging waste directive could force Denmark to pursue the recycling option "even if environmentally this is not a good idea".

The current minimum recycling level for all packaging materials under the 1994 packaging directive is 15%, but last December the Commission proposed raising this to 20% for plastic packaging from 2006. The other EU institutions are currently scrutinising the Commission's proposals. In a common position reached in June, EU governments agreed to raise the recycling .

Danish EPA spokesman Helge Andreasen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper yesterday that one absurd consequence of enforcing the new targets at all costs could be that soft drinks, most of which are currently produced in returnable bottles, would in future be sold in disposable bottles instead.

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