Lithuania aligns itself with the West or is it the other way round?

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The system of bottle deposit, which was imposed three years ago gave people something they had waited for a long time – a possibility to sort beverage packaging. The long-term experience of rich countries could prove that ecological values are the motivation to use this system Audrė Srėbalienė writes in

In the first half of this year, almost 292 million packages were left in reverse vending machines or brought to manual bottle collection points in village shops.

The deposit system in Lithuania works since 2016 February, and until July of this year 1.8 billion packages were returned. Thus, the data is impressive.

At the time this system was imposed in Lithuania, nine countries were already using it: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia and Croatia.

Now many other countries are learning from our experience in this field in order to begin establishing this system. Even though we have some sceptics who say that we are returning such huge numbers of deposit only because of the lower standard of living, these comments show their low self-esteem. To be fair, most of the people, especially youth, have another motive – they care about ecology.

What is more, statistics show that in countries with a high standard of living, where this system is running, a lot of deposit is returned, too? So maybe it is time already to forget the ghosts of the past – inferiority complex – and to admit that our people consider the growing importance of ecology and promote a sustainable lifestyle.

Salary is not everything

According to the data of public institution “Užstato Sistemos Administratorius”(USAD) (Deposit System Administrator, t/n), the number of deposit which was brought in the first semester of the year broke all the records – it has never been so high since the establishment of this system.

This year in six months the number of returned beverage packages exceeded the same period last year by 17.4 million units. According to the director of USAD Gintaras Varnas, it is likely that the number of packaging increased due to hot weather in June.

However, he says that the most important thing is the growing awareness of the citizens. On January – February, too, more packaging than at the same time last year was collected.

According to G. Varnas, surveys say that 88% of citizens return the packages and their participation in the deposit system does not correlate with their income. In all income groups, the usage of the system is equally high.

For example, one question in the survey asked if the household uses the deposit system and what the income of one member of the household is.

The data of the users of a deposit system in different income groups varies by only a few per cent, the most active users of the system are however the citizens in the highest income group.

Facts and numbers

The data of USAD shows that last year in Lithuania more than 92% of a deposit fee for beverage packaging was returned. That is a very big amount. We actually got in line with wealthy Scandinavian countries – Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

In Norway, the deposit system works since 1996. The size of the deposit until the end of 2018 was similar to ours. For small bottles, it was 1 krone (0.096 euro), for big ones – 2.5 krones (0.24 euro). Now the deposit reached 2 krones (0.19 euro) and 3 krones (0.29 euro) respectively.

During the last year 87.3% cans, PET bottles – 88.6% was collected in Norway. Glass containers of neither non-alcoholic, nor alcoholic beverages does not participate in the system. Yet because of active citizens, all of it ends up in recycling containers. Last year in Sweden people returned 85% of packaging. In this country the deposit for cans and PET bottles smaller than 1l was 0.9 Swedish krona (0.08 eur) and for bigger PET bottles – 1.8 Swedish krona (0.16 eur). Glass containers do not participate in the system.

In Denmark smaller than 1l glass containers and cans are worth 1 Danish krone (0.13 eur) deposit fee, smaller than 1l PET bottles – 1.5 krone (0.19 eur), and all the other drink packaging bigger than 1l deposit is 3 Danish krones (0.39 eur). In Denmark, 90% of the packaging is returned.

In Iceland, which has the oldest deposit system (it serves there since 1989) the deposit fee is 0.13 euro. Last year Icelanders returned 85% of the packaging. In Estonia the deposit fee is the same as we have – 0.10 euro. In 2018, Estonians returned 86% PET bottles, 90% glass containers and 96% cans.

Was working in Germany

These countries have a truly high cost of living. The numbers of packaging returned are showing that the Danish, Norwegian or Swedish are running to the reverse vending machines as fast as Lithuanians. Yet it is strongly believed that order and ecology are in their blood. Why would Lithuanians think differently of themselves?

Young people value ecology. 20-year-old from Utena Kamilė Bernotaitė agrees. This summer she was working for couple of months in Biberach, Germany.

“In Germany a lot of bottled water is bought because tap water is not tasty, it has a lot of calcimine. I was buying water too; many PET bottles were accumulating. I was bringing them to the reverse vending machines. They are similar to the Lithuanian ones, but they also have extra space for nine bottles, which one can put in a box. The deposit is much bigger in Germany than in Lithuania. Plastic bottles cost 0.25 euro, glass – 0.08 euro,” Kamilė said.

According to her, sorting the trash became a habit for her and her boyfriend already a while ago. They do it and they know that the sorted waste will be recycled.

“Ecology is important to us – I do not understand how it can be shameful to use a reverse vending machine. I see the fancy cars in which people from Utena bring their sorted waste to these machines. That means they do it not for few euros but for cleaner environment. What is more, we have one more motive to do that – we save the deposit fee. This year we saved so much that we were able to go to Palanga for a weekend. The deposit system to me is a reliable way to reduce the amount of trash. My peers sort the trash consciously too,” claimed K. Bernotaitė.

More than one reason

“There is more than one reason to return the packaging. It is the need to have a clean, nice environment, take care of ecology. On the other hand, financial part is important too. For now, it is hard to say what is more important to Lithuanians: Western sustainable consumption tendencies or the deposit fees,” said Ieva Valeškaitė, expert of Lithuanian free market institute.

According to her, the smaller the income of the citizen, the more important those few euros a month are.

“Eventually we should not be surprised that there are poor people for whom the deposit fee is an important part of their income. It is normal that when the standard of living is growing the consciousness is growing too, so people start sorting their waste and participate in the deposit system. It would be nice if in the future motivation to take care of the environment would be not only financial, but would arise from awareness.

In that case, there would be no “good” or “bad” packaging and “sortable” or “unsortable” trash. If the decision to take care of the environment was made due to money reasons, the core problems are not being solved,” I. Valeškaitė said.

Floods the shores

According to Vilnius University Institute of Geosciences associate professor, scientist of Nature Research Centre Donatas Pupienis, one of the main environmental protection problems is pollution, primarily plastic waste. It seems like it is already a well-known fact that plastic, as well as PET bottles stay in the environment very long and disintegrate slowly. Scientist claims that various waste and especially plastic have flooded the world waters.

“On the shores of the big waters plastic makes 15-80% of the trash. What is more, scientists recently started to draw special attention to microplastic – small, up to 5mm wide plastic particle pollution. Usually that is the dissolving waste of plastic bags, bottles or fishing nets. Thus, the deposit system, which was started in 2016, is one of the best decisions implemented in Lithuania. It has reduced the number of cans, glass and plastic waste which could be found everywhere around bushes, shores of rivers and lakes, coasts of sea,” said D. Pupienis.

However, that does not mean that people bring the deposit for money, people already have a habit not to throw it just anywhere. Lithuanians got infected with the Scandinavian values.

Yet in neither in Norway nor in Sweden, glass packaging does not take part in the system; neither bottles from non-alcoholic, nor alcoholic beverages.

In these countries they do not get thrown just anywhere, they end up in recycling containers. Mindful citizens sort their trash even without any monetary award.

Obviously, these tendencies are also becoming prevalent in Lithuania. This year in six months the number of returned beverage packages exceeded the same period last year by 17.4 million units. The success of this deposit system in Lithuania inspires other countries, which are taking steps in this direction, to learn from us.

Ecology is in fashion

Yet, there are people in Lithuania who are mindfully sorting their trash, but still vulnerable to old stereotypes.

“Before there were reverse vending machines, there were many empty bottles near the road in the suburbs, which leads to my house. I could not stand that – I would collect them and put in recycling containers. Yet now I feel some kind of discomfort in front of the reverse vending machine, especially when someone stands behind me. It feels like if people see few empty beer cans among other bottles, they think I am an alcoholic,” said 45-year-old Martynas, who lives in Vilnius.

Stereotypes from the Soviet times

Why people who give their share to ecology are so vulnerable to unfavourable opinion of others? According to psychologist Edvardas Šidlauskas, this feeling comes from poor life stereotypes during Soviet times.

“These are the relicts of our consciousness. They are like frozen attitude mummies. If a person is walking with a bag full of bottles, then either he “got drunk yesterday and was lying in a ditch like an animal” or “he is homeless and does not have any money”. The paradox is that nobody goes to a reverse vending machine for one bottle, but bringing a whole bag of them is shameful. That is the leftover of the culture of poverty. In Soviet times, people were unable to live with dignity; there was not only a lack of clothes and food but also a lack of toilet paper. That is why we are carrying Homo Sovieticus with us – a destitute little person, full of shame,” E. Šidlauskas was saying.

However, according to the psychologist, the youth is more aware. They are even proud of returning empty packaging and saving the environment from pollution.

“Ecology is now in fashion, minimalistic lifestyle is getting more popular. That is why Soviet heritage will not last long even in the older generations – ecological ideas will change the thinking and education will eventually make a positive influence. It is important that a person feels good when sorting their trash and knows that everything he puts in a reverse vending machine will be recycled. That means they are doing something useful for the environment, nature and even their country,” claimed the psychologist.

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