Paris — Supporters of bottle bills see them as proven tools to get high recycling rates for beverage containers, but mostly they've been limited to richer economies in Europe and North America.
A Spanish advocate for the program came to the plastics treaty talks in Paris hoping to change that.
Miquel Roset, executive director of the Barcelona-based group Retorna, used a May 31 presentation at the talks to invite delegates to work on guidelines to bring deposit return systems to other parts of the world.
"We are here to propose a project … creating a guideline for the introduction of convenient deposit return systems for the Global South," Roset told a hall full of delegates. "These guidelines must be useful for any government or stakeholders and must be good for waste pickers, consumers and the rest of the stakeholders, including of course the planet."
In particular, he said deposit return systems need to include people who work in the informal sector collecting scrap on the streets or landfills. They refer to themselves as waste pickers in organizations they've formed to advocate.
"What happens is the introduction of waste management systems often excludes them; we cannot accept this," he said. "Waste management systems have to be beneficial for everybody."
In an interview after his presentation, he said Retorna, which formed 14 years ago to advocate for deposit return systems, decided a few years ago to step up work bringing bottle bills to other parts of the world.
The group had been getting a lot of emails and calls from Latin America on how to set up deposit systems there, so it organized a study tour. Since then, it's set up an office in Argentina.
"Four years ago we decided that we would use a little bit of our budget to go into cooperation mode," he said, "because we believe that what we do is good for the planet and good for people. Why don't we share it?"
He invited other participants in the talks to work on public, open-source guidelines for expanding bottle bills worldwide.
There are major differences in poorer countries that need to be taken into consideration, he said, including the role of waste pickers in countries without much government or public sector waste management.
He pointed to figures from the United Nations and others that about 20 million people worldwide are waste pickers and they collect about 60 percent of the scrap plastic that's recycled globally.
"The problem is we come with great ideas from the North and we want to implement them in the South," he said. "Companies from the North push to implement. They sell solutions that are not really complete solutions."
As one concern, he said if bottle bills result in the public returning containers for recycling at a high percentage, that could mean less material available for waste pickers and less income for them.
"If we come with new systems and we don't take them into account, they may lose their jobs," he said.
Roset said informal workers could be involved in other parts of the system, including at recycling plants or involved in warehousing or logistics in the system.
Many countries and groups in the plastics treaty negotiations have called for the agreement to include specific provisions to help those informal sector workers, and they have been participating in the negotiations advocating for what they call a "just transition."
Roset said he was at the negotiating session, held May 29 to June 2 at United Nations offices in Paris, to push for any agreement to endorse bottle bills. Countries at the meeting agreed to write draft treaty language.
He said more countries worldwide are adopting them, even if he sees the idea facing significant challenges from retailers and beverage makers.
"I think the world has it clear that deposits have to come, but there are strong players that don't want it," he said.