[WATCH] Why can’t I squash my plastic bottles? New deposit system explained

Consumers will have to deposit beverage containers in 320 reverse vending machines installed all around Malta to get their 10c refund. James Debono catches up with Edward Chetcuti to understand how the system will work

The beverage deposit machines where consumers can drop the empty plastic or glass bottles, and cans to receive a 10c voucher (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
The beverage deposit machines where consumers can drop the empty plastic or glass bottles, and cans to receive a 10c voucher (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

A deposit charge of 10c on beverages like soft drinks, beers and bottled water will apply from today, which will be refunded if consumers return the empty containers. 

The scheme, which is a modern-day reincarnation of a similar one that used to exist on re-usable glass bottles up until the early 2000s, is intended to minimise waste. 

Consumers will be able to deposit the empty containers in 320 reverse vending machines installed around the island to obtain a refund in the form of a voucher. 

MaltaToday caught up with Edward Chetcuti, CEO of Beverage Container Refund Scheme, the company tasked with operating the new system, to understand how it will work. 

Consumers must be careful not to squash containers and to ensure that the barcode is still intact, before disposing them in the reverse vending machines, Chetcuti tells MaltaToday. 

The aim of the scheme is clear, he adds: “Each year Malta ends up with some 230 million drink containers but only about 20% are recycled. The beverage refund container scheme aims to have 90% of all the material that it collects recycled, in line with EU directives.” 

Glass, plastic and cans: How the system works 

Chetcuti explains that the reverse vending machines will accept any beverage container registered with the BCRS. This applies to cans, glass and plastic bottles. 

This is because beverage containers are more likely to be consumed on the go, hence are more likely to be littered or thrown away in mixed waste. Moreover, containers of other products like detergents which are excluded from the scheme are composed of a different kind of plastic. 

Products accepted in the machines include water and flavoured water; non-carbonated soft drinks, carbonated soft drinks; ciders, beers and other malt beverages; ready to drink coffee; flavoured alcoholic beverages having an alcoholic content level which does not exceed 5% and dilutables. 

Not eligible for the refund scheme are wines, spirits, milk and juices. 

Chetcuti explains that milk and juices were not included due to residues which could contaminate the recycling process. Wine and spirits were not included since a 10c deposit represents a very small fraction of the price of these more expensive products. 

If a product is squashed or has its bar code removed the machines will simply not accept it. Therefore, consumers will only get a refund if they deposit intact containers. But the containers don’t have to be washed but they do have to be empty and intact. 

The reason for only accepting intact products is that of preventing fraudulent practices like sticking bar codes of eligible products on others which are not as happened in other countries which were the first to try the system. 

Machine issues a receipt: How to get the money back 

After the container is deposited and accepted the machine will issue a receipt, which can be redeemed at a retailer which sells beverages or it can be donated to the Community Chest Fund. 

Around 170 machines have been installed in 65 major retail outlets including all major supermarkets. When using these machines consumers will be able to get the amount deposited deducted from their purchases. 

Alternatively, they can deposit their containers in machines in around 150 machines being installed in community hubs. These will still issue receipts with the refund being deducted from purchases in any retail shop, which sells beverages.  

But can’t consumers just keep on squashing plastic bottles in their green or grey bags at home? 

The return scheme is not compulsory and so consumers can continue to discard such bottles using the grey recyclable bags at home. But consumers who do so will lose the 10c deposit on every bottle disposed in this way. 

Chetcuti says the system will discourage littering, not just by providing an incentive to consumers but also to individuals and voluntary organisations who embark on clean ups.

Drinking at the bar: What happens to your beer bottle 

If a drink covered by the scheme is served in a glass while one is seated in a restaurant or a bar, the consumer will simply not be charged the extra 10c. This is paid by the owner of the establishment. 

Hotels and restaurants will have their own direct service agreement with BCRS to collect containers and will be eligible for the refund, without passing the additional 10c charge onto their consumers. 

But when ordering a take away or a delivery the charge will be levied on the beverage container but this can then be refunded if the consumer uses the disposal machines to return the empty container. 

Oops! Mixing waste: A foolproof system 

The waste streams of plastic, metal and glass will be kept separate at the plant in Hal Far (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
The waste streams of plastic, metal and glass will be kept separate at the plant in Hal Far (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

But can we really trust collectors not to mix this waste with other waste streams? 

Chetcuti says the machines will be emptied every day by around 20 dedicated lorries used only for this purpose. Therefore, there is no risk that it could end up mixed with other kinds of waste.  

This waste will be taken to the processing facility in Hal Far, where it will be sorted and treated, then pressed into cubes ready to be recycled. 

The waste will be exported to companies abroad which possess an EU recognised recycling certificate.  But these companies will only accept waste which is adequately separated at source.  Therefore, it is the interest of the Maltese company to ensure that no mix-up takes place.

What is BCRS? 

BCRC is a not-for-profit private operator, owned by the Malta Beverage Producers Association, The Malta Beverage Importers Association and the Malta Beverage Retailers Association which aims to apply the circular economy principle to the life cycle of beverage bottles and cans made of plastic, metal and glass. 

BCRS Malta Ltd has made a private investment of almost €18 million in this project including the construction of Malta’s first privately funded Clearing Centre and Sorting Plant dedicated to beverage container waste. 

In addition, all BCRS Malta Reverse Vending Machines are state-of-the-art engineered with the Internet of Things (IoT) technology allowing the operator to continuously monitor the wider infrastructure which underpins the scheme’s operation.