Danish can ban becomes tins in recycling bins

A Danish ban on cans for soft and alcoholic drinks is finally being lifted, with 2,000 new machines preparing to receive cans and plastic bottles in an integrated supermarket recycling scheme. From the 23 of September the Danes will be able to buy cans of beer and soft drinks, paying an additional deposit (incorporated into the price) returnable when the cans are disposed of in any of the recycling machines set up in supermarkets throughout the country.

The scheme is expected to be as successful as those operated in neighbouring countries. Sweden has been using the deposit and return system for cans, glass and plastic bottles for the last five years. After a weekend of partying, the Swedes gather up their empty containers and take a trip to the local supermarket where crushing machines guzzle cans, and plastic and glass bottles travel along mini-conveyor belts to be packed up and returned to the factories for re-use or recycling. With a five to twenty-five pence deposit per receptacle, a full bag of empty cans and bottles can earn you enough to buy the next round.

Sweden has reported consistently high recycling rates under their supermarket system, averaging a 90% recycling rate for aluminium cans. More than 95% of glass bottles and 90% of plastic bottles are recycled annually, with many bottles being re-used first. Hence the Danish Environment Agency’s prediction of a return rate of 90% within the first year, rising to 95% by the end of the second.

The Danes’ previous reluctance to allow cans into their country stems partly from their unique approach to packaging. While most countries are happy to sell it and recycle it, the Danish prefer to re-use packaging as much as possible. While glass and hard plastic bottles can feasibly be refilled, cans and soft bottles do not offer this option, hence the Danish stance against non-refillable bottles and cans.

In 1998 the country defended its position against European Commission accusations that the ban did not comply with the EU Packaging Directive. The Danes argued that their system was the most environmentally friendly. But the Swedish model appears to have caught on, and the country will hopefully be matching its cousin’s success in years to come.

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