How can we recycle hard cash

AAt THIS point, it seems every town and village in Ireland has a corps of volunteer waste pickers. So, on a recent visit to Copenhagen, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see similar activity. The gatherers in the Danish capital, however, looked sharper and more professional. Some even looked in the trash cans across the street, removed certain materials and put them in their bags.

Intrigued by this strange behavior, I inquired and was told about a deposit system for glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The people I saw were involved in this recycling initiative.

Consumers pay a small deposit at the point of purchase and get it back if they bring their bottles or cans back to the store. Not everyone bother to make returns, but many other people will pick up the bottles and cans and claim the deposit. It works fine by all accounts.

Donal Hickey: “If glass or aluminum has no monetary value, the danger is that it will be thrown away and become rubbish.

They do not need to go to the store where the items were purchased, as many supermarkets have facilities to collect recycled items. The deposit is returned immediately in the form of a voucher which can be exchanged for cash at the supermarket or donated to charity.

A deposit system is being developed by our Ministry of the Environment and should be operational next year. Danish authorities have been consulted, but there was an initial reluctance to include glass bottles.

Lars Krejberg Petersen, Managing Director of Dansk Retursystem, the company that runs the Danish program, is convinced that our program should include glass bottles. There is a huge “environmental improvement” with the inclusion of glass, he noted.

He also stressed that it should be as easy as possible for people to return bottles and cans.

Dansk Retursystem collects the containers from retailers and restaurants and they are returned to beverage producers for reuse.

In Denmark, the program is very successful. Last year, more than 90% of cans and glass bottles were returned, or 1.7 billion items, with 64,000 tonnes of glass, aluminum and plastic recycled.

The Danes and other Scandinavians have long been at the forefront in the general field of the environment and this is another example.

There is also a practical element to this scheme. If the glass or aluminum has no monetary value, the danger is that they will be thrown away and become rubbish. Once a prize is put on it, however, people will collect it and withdraw the money. This is the trick.

When groups of people gather in Copenhagen’s parks for, say, picnics or parties, pickers invariably come to pick up any bottles or cans left there. This results in a notable absence of rubbish in public places.

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