EU-wide deposit system
There is a deposit system on drinks bottles in Germany – but this is by no means the case in all European countries! This situation has prompted Poul to draw up a petition for a standardized EU-wide deposit system. We interviewed him to find out more:
Poul Schulte-Frankenfeld, 17 years old (*1997), lives in Harsewinkel in Germany and is a fan of islands. Since he is 5 years old he visits the Danish island Bornholm every year during his vacations. Poul is really feeling concerned about all the plastic waste washed up from different countries. That's why he puts himself out for an EU wide deposit system. It is received by the EU-parliament, the EU-commission and the EU-environmental-commission and will be dealt by a committe within the next months. We translated the petition into four more languages, so that Poul can find more supporters. Since april 2014 he got more than 3.600 votes - and he needs many more: Pouls personal goal is 10.000 supporters in whole Europe. Are you in? Give your vote for Poul. We keep you updated...
So Poul, what in essence are you hoping to achieve with the petition?
The world as we know it is currently in a state of flux. Not only are there major political changes but importance is increasingly being attached to the environment as a fragile and fundamental part of our lives – which is all very well and important because there is already an enormous environmental problem with garbage which has not been disposed of or recycled properly. People are made aware of this problem by drinks bottles if their attention has not already been drawn to it in some other way. The deposit system encourages the correct disposal of bottles. Returnable bottles can be reused and plastic bottles from companies with sustainable production methods can be made into new products. This system only works, however, because there is a functioning deposit system in Germany. In countries where there is no deposit system plastic bottles are thrown away with other garbage. If there is no trash can nearby, the bottles are simply tossed in the sea, lake, forest or ditch where they pose a danger to animals and an environmental hazard. The idea behind the petition is therefore to establish a single standardized deposit system throughout Europe, similar to the one in Germany, in order to protect the environment and especially wildlife and the sea. It is practical and enforceable but, above all, it is a tried and tested way of taking a step in the right direction.
You are still so young and yet you are already thinking at European level. What was it that inspired you to start your petition?
It is nothing new to say that there is a problem with plastic waste on our earth, but to be confronted with the reality with your own eyes away from the media hype throws a different light on the subject. Last winter an angler I know showed me the plastic cap of a drinks bottle which he had pulled out of the digestive tract of a fish. This made me want to find a solution to this obvious problem, and that is what I set about doing with my father. A single standardized deposit system seems to be a workable and elegant solution to the plastic bottle problem.
What would you ultimately like to achieve through your petition?
The introduction of ONE single deposit system in Europe which is standardized and, most importantly, shared by all countries. This is particularly important for those countries which do not currently have a national deposit system, such as Austria, Poland and the majority of the Mediterranean countries. Not only would this benefit the environment but it would also be to the advantage of people on vacation who could take back drinks bottles which they have brought from home, and this would also be an attractive proposition for the beverage stores. Commenting on the subject, an employee of a beverage store and supporter of the petition wrote, "It is a daily occurrence, especially at the end of the summer, that cans and bottles from other countries are brought back in the hope that we will overlook the origin of the can/bottle [...]. These unnecessary complications would be history if a European deposit was introduced." It would also enable companies which adopt a sustainable approach to separate plastic bottles from other waste and recycle them properly.
Do you think that now is the right time?
Absolutely. We now have the technology for the first time to recycle the plastic waste which we produce and to make it into completely new products. At the same time the giant heaps of trash in the world are growing, and there is a rapid rise in the concentration of microscopic particles of plastic debris in the seas. Now is exactly the right time to intervene and to bring in new innovative ideas to combat the waste problem. Have you spoken to supporters of your campaign in person? What responses are you getting from the signatories? The idea of a standardized deposit system seems to be universal and across the board. Many supporters see the petition as an opportunity to have a say in the environmental policy of Europe. One girl who signed the petition said to me, "Sometimes the politicians can't see the wood for the trees – we have to come up with concrete ideas and approaches!" I have also heard about supporters who are now developing ideas of their own as to the way forward on environmental issues in Europe. Perhaps they will result in new petitions and ultimately in European laws. That would really be great!
What are the next steps on the way to achieving the goal?
The most important thing about a petition is the people who sign it. I submitted the petition to the European Parliament months ago (as reported in the updates) – but have received nothing until now except a letter confirming the receipt of the petition. So the idea has not been accepted or rejected. Therefore we have to exert pressure in order to move the issue up the agenda. With every new signature an email is sent to Members of the European Parliament. It is therefore of prime importance to persuade people to sign the petition. Two more versions in different languages were put online a few days ago in order to get the message out to more people. The petition is now available to read and distribute in German, English, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. The international expansion is a good direction to go in and a major step further in bringing the petition to the European Parliament. Things will only change if as many Europeans as possible add their signatures. I am currently looking for supporters who would like to translate the petition into other European languages but my efforts have been unsuccessful so far.
Were you already actively engaged in environmental protection before the petition?
It is the first time that I have campaigned for the protection of the environment at such an international level. I used to be involved in the regular trash collection drives in our town when I was a child. ;-)
What do your family and friends say about your involvement?
Needless to say, my family and friends have been on board from the outset. They are delighted to be able to support me and they help me as well as they can. The petition is even something of an international collaboration in that two friends who live in Mexico and one who lives in Galicia helped me with the translation into Spanish.
Can you briefly explain how Germany operates the system of deposits on returnable and non-returnable bottles and tell us what happens with plastic bottles in other European countries?
When retailers buy drinks from manufacturers in packs on which a deposit is payable, they pay an additional charge on top of the actual price of at least 25 cents – the deposit. The retailers then pass the same additional charges on to their customers when they buy the drinks. After (hopefully) enjoying the contents of the bottles, the customers can take the empties back to any collection point of their choice where they will be refunded the deposit they have paid. The bar codes on the packaging indicate to the retailers who the manufacturer is. They then bill the relevant manufacturer for the deposit and get back the 25 cents which they had to refund to the customer. The bottle is crushed and can be recycled or, if it is a returnable bottle, it can be sent back to the manufacturer. Because of the additional charge the customer feels impelled, at least in the German deposit system, to take back the bottle and recycle it. In countries without a deposit system this return action is impossible because there is no deposit system. So the plastic bottles will end up in the trash can – with any luck – because if there isn't one nearby they will happily be tossed on the street, in the ditch, in the lake or in the sea.
Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage returnable bottles instead of the system of deposits on disposable bottles?
Naturally, the deposit on returnable bottles is the better alternative. It is very difficult, however, to establish any kind of deposit system in countries in which the inhabitants may never even have heard of such systems. It will therefore only be possible to encourage a returnable bottle deposit if there is already a deposit system in Europe. No doubt it will be a long and arduous journey until we get there. Until then a Europe-wide system consisting only of returnable bottles with refundable deposit will remain a distant pipe dream.
Why did you opt for Change.org? Are you spreading the word via other media as well?
Change.org is a super way to focus the desire for change. Under European law one single signature is sufficient to submit a petition. It is doubtful, however, whether a petition could have a major influence without a strong support base. Change.org offers the appropriate tools to pursue ideas and to make contact with like-minded people. It is a way of 'demonstrating by mouse click' and is excellent for innovative ideas which do not attract a great deal of media coverage because it is possible to gain support from people all over the world. Another feature which sets Change.org apart from other platforms is a tool whereby an email is sent to the recipients of the petition with every new signature – so in my case to the European Parliament and the committees in charge of petitions and the environment. I have also set up a Facebook page of the same name to try to persuade people to sign the petition although this has not been a great success so far. Requests sent to the BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), to the DUH German environmental organization and to the Federal Ministry for the Environment have not been successful either, not even yielding a response. So it is all the more encouraging for me when companies and associations like Plasticcontrol or Toskana approach me in order to advertise my petition on Facebook. There is also a campaign at the moment on Think Big. If support for the project is also forthcoming on this platform, funds could be spent on the circulation of the petition. That would be great because mobilizing as many supporters as possible is the most important thing for the idea to succeed.
Finally, we have a few questions to help us get to know you a bit better:
Do you already have a specific career aspiration? Would you like to turn your hobby into a job, for example? There are so many options these days after graduating from high school and countless training opportunities. This makes it all the more difficult to decide what to study. Unfortunately, with my final examinations approaching, time is rapidly running out and the pressure to make a final decision is increasing. I change my mind almost every week about what I want to do in the future but I do have a bit of a leaning towards biology and social sciences.
You show by your commitment that you are already thinking ahead to the future and are choosing not to ignore the consequences of our actions in the present. If you could wish for a world, what would it be like?
If I could wish for a world, it would be exactly like this one here. There are many problems in our world, such as too few fossil-based resources, too much garbage, excessive levels of radioactive contamination, endangered species at risk of extinction, cold winters and hot summers, climate change, holes in the ozone layer, smog zones in cities, polluted water and dying forests, but there is nothing we can't work at. We have caused most of the problems ourselves and we owe it to our environment, to ourselves and to our descendants to put things right. The trick is to identify and prioritize the real problems. In 10 years, or maybe in 20 years, we will realize that it might have been more important to be doing something about water pollution through excessive use of fertilizer, about slash-and-burn methods of land clearance, or about the pollution caused by industrial emissions instead of wasting our time on regulations about the length of cucumbers or the standard curvature of bananas. We need to grow closer and closer together into ONE world, especially when it is our environment which is at stake. Perhaps a standardized deposit system is one of these many small steps which must be taken to achieve this objective and to make our world into the world of our dreams.
And we were also wondering – thinking even further ahead – where you see yourself in 20 years from now?
I am sure that you will run across me somewhere in the midst of this movement embracing sustainability, environmental awareness and innovative technology. It may not necessarily be the direction my professional life will take but I will follow developments in policy in this balancing act – at least in my private life – for 20 years. I am really looking forward in particular to the innovations which still satisfy our increasing desire for sustainability and "green living". I think that the new technologies will help us on our way at the points where we are still at a loss and desperately looking for the way forward.