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Bottling It Up

Currently, Finland generates the lowest packaged waste of all European countries. This could in part be due to the nation’s bottle law, which requires the use and return of refillable bottles.

Beginning implementation in the mid 1970s, the law requires that all take-out drink and alcoholic beverages produced in Finland be packaged in returnable bottles. Consumers of these beverages pay a small deposit fee upon purchase, which is refunded once the bottles are returned.

The packaging ordinance has resulted in Finland’s soft drink and beer manufacturers conforming to design parameters to ensure all bottles can be reused, and refillable plastic and glass bottle designs have become standardized throughout the country. Suppliers also employ uniform washing and refilling machinery.

Around 650 million liters of beer and other beverages are consumed every year in Finland. Of those beverages, 90 percent are packaged in refillable bottles. Meanwhile, wine and liquor bottles have a refill rate of more than 70 percent. And, according to BottleBill.org, the overall recovery rate of refillable containers is between 95-98 percent.

Similar programs exist for fruits and vegetables, which are placed in reusable transport packages, ready for distribution. Although these packages are used primarily for locally produced fruits and vegetables, even imported items are repackaged in reusable containers to replace single use containers.

Altogether, of the 1.2 million tons of packaging material generated each year in Finland, more than 800,000 tons of it are reused. Other countries have adopted similar programs, including those in Europe and Scandinavia. Some believe the success of this program is aided by Finland’s small size, along with the sparsely distributed population of the country.

However, such programs can be adapted to larger, more densely populated countries as well. If needed, multiple, separate programs could be created to cater to individual states or regions exclusively. This has been shown in the use of similar programs in the United States, where each bottle bill is implemented by the state. States that have adopted a bottle bill in the U.S. include New York, California, Michigan, and Hawaii. All have a success rate of over 66 percent, with Michigan enjoying an overall redemption rate of 95.9 percent.

Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, Daniel Imhoff, Sierra Club Books, copyright 2005

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