Opinion: Bottle mania

POSTED: 06/14/14 12:19 AM

We are unable to come up with a single initiative – from the government or the Parliament – over the past four years that has something to do with the protection of the environment. Ah, sure, there were motions in Parliament to ban single use plastic grocery bags, and if we understood it correctly, the initiators – MPs Frans Richardson and Johan Leonard – even managed to put together a draft initiative law. However, the issue seems to be all but forgotten and nobody is pushing it anymore.

There is a private sector initiative to collect plastic and glass bottles, as well as cardboard. On the Pondfill, near the entrance to the doomed ring road turned unpaved parking lot there is a trailer where citizens who care about the environment are able to deposit bottles, and a container for the collection of cardboard. It is a small step, but at least it is pointing in the right direction.

In the meantime, our supermarkets are allowed to sell bottled products without taking any responsibility for the waste these products create – mountains of glass and plastic waste.

Elsewhere in the world, there are deposit systems in place, not only for bottles but also for soda cans. If every empty bottle were worth a dime, plenty of people would throw themselves as volunteer environmentalists on the stray bottles that litter beaches and other places right now to turn them into real money. So why are we not doing this? Good question – and we do not have the answer.

In the Netherlands, there is a huge debate about the deposit on large PET-bottles that are made out of polyethylene terephthalate. There is a huge recycling industry for this material. In 2011, European countries recycled 51 percent of all PET bottles on the market, a total of 1.6 million tons. In 2012, Switzerland recycled more than 80 percent of the PET-bottles in the country. The recycled material, known as PET-flakes, is turned into fiber (for clothing production), new bottles, APET sheets (for packaging), and strapping material.

In St. Maarten most bottles – glass and PET – end up on the dump. If there are fires – and this happens on occasion – this material emits the highly toxic dioxin.

In the Netherlands, the industry has been pushing for years to abolish the deposit on large PET-bottles. Successive governments have agreed to do this, on the condition that the industry puts compensating measures in place, like collecting plastic wrappings, reducing the use of plastic bags and combating the use of harmful PVC-packaging material in supermarkets.

Those agreements were made nine years ago, but according to an analysis in Trouw written by Hans Marijnissen en Bart Zuidervaart, the industry failed to fulfill its promises year after year. Remarkably, there has never been a state secretary with enough guts to call the industry on this – until now. Sometimes the agreements were adjusted (in 2010), sometimes the state secretary said that everything was going to be alright (2012), but now, six months before the abolition of the deposit on these bottles is going to be put into practice, State Secretary Mansveld has jumped on the brakes.

Here reasons seem sound. Supermarkets were supposed not to use PVC-packaging anymore, unless there was no alternative, but the inspectorate still found PVC in 101 of 1,324 examined packagings. Mansveld’s conclusion: if that is so, the abolition of the deposit system is off the table as well.

Dutch politicians are divided on the issue. The liberal VVD thinks that the abolition will be postponed for maybe one year, while the leftwing PvdA is now convinced that the system will remain in place for years. It is the most effective way to collect plastic bottles, the party reasons, and it thinks that the industry will still need years before it has an alternative ready.

TNO examined the only two reports that exist about the effectiveness of the deposit system. Conclusion: both reports are useless because they are incomplete and completely outdated. There is no scientific basis for a decision in favor or against the deposit system.

TNO is surprised that there is no new research after 2012, because the conditions have changed dramatically. The value of returned PET-bottles has risen sharply and therefore calculations would now be favorable to the deposit system.

The industry will not do new research, because it simply wants to get rid of the deposit system. Mansveld is not ready to commission new research either because she finds that the costs for the collection of empty bottles is a matter for the industry. In a letter to the Second Chamber she noted that she does not care how the industry collects the empty bottles, as long as it meets the agreed upon targets.

Marijnissen and Zuidervaart find Mansveld’s attitude disappointing. “One may expect more from a state secretary of the environment, especially if she is from a party that wants to brush up its green reputation.”

So far, the green reputation in political parties in St. Maarten has been restricted to the party colors of the UP. To be fair, independent MP Frans Richardson has over the years made clear that he has a certain interest in the preservation of our environment. In 2007, he was a strong proponent of the protection of the Emilio Wilson Estate. He is also the only politician to ever propose an additional head-tax for cruise passengers to create a fund for environmental groups. And Richardson is a proponent of the abolition of single use plastic grocery bags.

There is however a difference between being a proponent of something and making things happen. With those darn plastic bags, we see nothing happening at all – reasons unknown. What will the next move be? A proposal to establish a return-deposit system for empty bottles?

If it does not come from Richardson – currently the only environmental beacon of light in the political arena – it may come from the new kid on the block, Rueben Thompson’s Citizens for Positive Change.

Let the debate begin and let initiatives become a reality.


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