To some of us it is second nature, to others it seems odd taking empty wine bottles back to the shop we get them from.
Perhaps that is why at times lawmakers as well as private manufacturers care to incentivise people to be more conscientious about the way they dispose of used glass.
In New York and other parts of the USA, for example, there are so called ‘bottle bills’ in force. These are state laws, formally known as Returnable Container Acts, which make it actually mandatory to charge a small deposit of a few cents on wine bottles (but also on other containers of carbonated soft drinks, beer and water). To encourage customers to return and beverage producers to reduce, reuse and recycle, both refillable and non-refillable containers carry an obligatory deposit.
In Malta, wine enthusiasts that regularly purchase Maltese wine brands are probably aware that most local wine bottles are returnable and a nominal deposit of €0.25 per empty glass bottle is refunded. Eco-friendly reusable bottles are collected by the nearby winery for sterilisation and then checked and refilled with wine, time and again, for numerous cycles until the end of their lifespan.
However, although very similar, the Maltese wine bottle recollection system is different from foreign bottle bills in at least two ways.
Firstly it isn’t imposed by law as is the case abroad but organised on a purely voluntary basis by the major wineries. They freely go the extra green mile to reuse as many bottles as possible so as to reduce and ultimately recycle as much glass waste as possible. With local wineries’ consideration for each one of the three Rs, the strain on limited resources is lessened as are the potentially environmental damaging effects of disposal.
Secondly, the local system isn’t institutionalised to cover all wine bottles. None of the imported ones are collected for reprocessing. ln sharp contrast with local wine bottles that are returnable to be reused, each year millions of bottles of foreign wineries which all are just one-way end up being thrashed with worse adverse ecological implications as a result. Heaps of bottles end up in Malta’s landfills and will never be decomposed. The rest is transported to overseas plants to be recycled but this is still a less effective and costlier way to deal with discarded glass and increases the carbon footprint of drinkers of foreign wine.
Studies have shown that returnable bottle deposit schemes work because they provide a financial incentive to recycle and a disincentive to pollute; they are far more effective than other systems such as imposed direct and indirect taxes and even publicly funded recycling plans.
The beauty is that, with a little help from consumers, retailers and catering establishment, we can champion this system in Malta. It makes perfect sense for our small archipelago where distances are short making it relatively easy to collect empty bottles whereas in larger countries handling returns is logistically more difficult and saves less wasteful resources.
This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 3 June 2016