EcoRubric 08:07 16 Jun 2024

How reusing containers can help Ukraine's energy sector

On World Refill Day, we, together with the public union Ukrainian Zero Waste Alliance, will discuss how reusing, particularly containers and other packaging, can help Ukraine's energy sector.

What is the problem?

Energy efficiency and energy saving are the priority directions of most countries' energy policies. This is especially relevant for Ukraine, whose energy system is attacked daily by Russia. Smart electricity consumption benefits the state and consumers by reducing the load on electrical networks while preserving the environment.

What is the solution?

The Ukrainian energy system will take a long time to recover from Russia's relentless attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Today, Ukrainians must not only turn off air conditioners and unnecessary electrical appliances but also realize the need to change their attitude toward energy consumption and resources in general—both at the state and household levels.

How does it work?

World Refill Day is a worldwide information campaign aimed at preventing plastic pollution and reducing waste in everyday life. Every year, this day tries to raise public awareness of the transition from single-use plastics to refillable and reusable container systems through education and how each person can achieve this at a household level.

In a broad sense, it is not just about finding possible solutions at the level of individuals or communities but also about saving resources, including energy. After all, the general concept of energy saving does not involve giving up the benefits of civilization or limiting basic needs but the rational use of energy resources.

The deposit-return system is the circulation of reusable containers 

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This is how the deposit and refund system works. Infographic: Ukrainian Zero Waste Alliance

"Ukraine should move towards a circular economy, preserving the value of materials and limited resources through their reuse, as well as recycling, avoiding incineration and getting into the environment," the Ukrainian Zero Waste Alliance representative emphasizes.

The most permanent solution proven effective in many countries is the Deposit Return System (DRS). This system assumes that the cost of the packaging is included in the price of the product; accordingly, buyers receive money back when returning the packaging to the reception points.

The system offers an economic incentive for customers to return empty packaging to ensure it is reused or recycled. Also, DRS is one of the Extended Producer Responsibility (ERR) tools used when manufacturers are responsible for financing and operating the system.

DRS for reuse (Reuse2) has enormous potential for saving resources, achieving circular economy goals, and reducing costs. Such a system may include:

  • glass bottles for drinks;
  • PET bottles for drinks;
  • glass jars for food;
  • reusable food and beverage containers.

In Europe, which has also been suffering from the energy crisis for several years, the introduction of a deposit-return system for the reuse of reusable packaging is underway. Deposit systems are operating in 13 EU countries, and five more European countries are planning to implement DRS this year. If we talk about the global trend, by 2025, half a billion people are expected to live in regions with active DRS.

​​For example, the Pfand deposit system operates in Germany. Almost every unit of drink that enters the German market is supplied in a container with a cash deposit. Buyers returning this container get their money back. Most interesting in this case is that almost 40% of the containers returned to the system are reusable containers. Glass bottles, for example, can be reused up to 50 times and only then recycled.

In Estonia, the national DRS system has been operating since 2005. Its centralized clearing system accepts single-use bottles made of PET plastic, metal, and glass from 100 ml to three liters for cleaning and reusable glass bottles. In addition, the system operator also offers reusable cups for mass events for rent for a deposit.

Another interesting case of refilling is the system of using reusable mugs in Belgium during festivals and other public events.

What's with Ukrainian energy?

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Production of glass bottles. Screenshot from the video Made in Ukraine

Considering that recycling glass containers is a very energy-intensive process, imagine how much energy resources can be saved by reusing containers in Ukraine.

The production of one ton of glass bottles requires about 1.2 tons of natural raw materials:

  • 590 kg of quartz sand;
  • 172 kg of limestone;
  • 186 kg of soda;
  • 72 kg of feldspar;
  • about 4 mW/h of electricity.

The energy used to make just one glass bottle is enough to run a computer for seven hours or an energy-saving light bulb for a day.

Glass is one of the materials that can be recycled without losing the quality of the raw material. In Ukraine, glass recycling points do not stop working even during the war. However, glass processing is also very energy-intensive, occurring at 1400-1700 °C.

"We are obliged to change the packaging system to a more efficient one. Most of the packaging we use is made from depleting fossil fuels. In the manufacturing process, a lot of resources were used for cooling and heating capacities, transportation, etc. After a short period of use, this packaging is, at best, recycled (if it is made from recyclable materials) and, at worst — landfilled.

This entire path is accompanied by the loss of energy resources, which can be reinvested in the maintenance of vital systems and not in the production and transportation of new packaging waste," says Sofiia Sydorenko, head of the public union Ukrainian Alliance of Zero Waste.

Is it possible to implement DRS in Ukraine?

All the above examples of DRS can and should be implemented in Ukraine, Sofia Sydorenko is sure.

Let's take, for example, a small drink producer. Suppose an entrepreneur buys up to a thousand glass bottles every month. One bottle will cost 0,25-0,44 cents on average — the bigger the batch, the lower the price. If there is a convenient and efficient system of logistics and container washing, these funds are redirected to its support, and the more participants in the system, the more efficiently it will work.

Given the number of stakeholders and processes that need to be organized, implementing such a system will require a lot of work. However, the most rational solution is to follow a strategic approach to reforming the waste management system. Both state and community leaders should consider this even during the war.

"We must realize one thing: Ukraine will be in a difficult economic situation for a long time. Therefore, we are obliged to build new frugal systems in all spheres, from energy to retail," says Sydorenko. What is important is that these systems must create new jobs. According to the specialist, investing in waste, in particular, supporting incineration facilities, has nothing to do with frugality.

She adds that Ukraine needs more solutions that do not encourage manufacturers to create more goods in excess packaging, which, a priori, will be subject to incineration. The infamous waste-to-energy plants consume a lot of resources to burn that waste.

According to Sydorenko, today, Ukraine must create effective, visionary systems that will make it independent from the constant consumption of fossil fuels. This should be policy at both the state and local levels.

Sydorenko advises community leaders to start with the following:

  • support entrepreneurs who implement solutions that do not harm the environment;
  • conduct educational activities among residents so that people learn about alternatives to plastic and see the economic benefit of reusable solutions. This is also about the refilling of containers and about the use of destruction waste as a result of military actions to rebuild one's settlements and plots;
  • also for local self-government bodies, the Ukrainian Alliance of Zero Waste created a manual explaining the deposit-return system and its advantages.

What is required from the state for this, and what is already being done?

"First, the state needs a vision to establish clear market operation rules. The next step is to develop a support system and encourage businesses to switch to more permanent solutions, such as Refill. The priority should be the interests of a healthy, clean future of the state and its citizens, and not lobbying the industry, where earnings are the priority, and not the reform of the waste management system," says Olha Bilonizhka, project and program manager of Ukrainian Zero Waste Alliance.

Currently, Ukraine is working on a draft law on packaging and packaging waste. According to ecoactivists, this document should contain clear goals and mechanisms for operating deposit systems, as well as incentives to switch to reusable solutions.

For DRS to work in Ukraine, it is necessary to create conditions to preserve the value of materials in the economy and reduce their release into the environment:

  • Set an ambitious goal for beverage packaging reuse. For example, eight to ten years after the packaging law comes into force, at least 20%, and in another ten years, 80% of beverages should be available in reusable packaging within a reusable or refillable system.
  • Create conditions for the successful functioning of DRS for packaging drinks in glass, plastic, and metal packaging up to three liters.
  • Set an ambitious DRS reuse target not only for beverages but also for reusable cups and food containers: at least 10% eight to ten years after the packaging law comes into force and 40% ten years after that target.
  • Develop legislation to clearly define elements such as manufacturer obligations, retailer packaging collection obligations, DRS management organization responsibilities, and anti-fraud/non-compliance measures.

Will it definitely work?

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DRS machine. Photo: sensoneo.com

Examples of DRS that are already operating in EU countries have some advantages, both economic and environmental. By investing in deposit systems and reusable containers, the business removes from itself the constant costs of purchasing disposable containers, the cost of which will only increase and is often tied to international currency. The community benefits from reducing the amount of waste.

Current examples in the EU prove that the investment pays for itself in a few years. The more participants join Refill Systems and the more often containers are used, the cheaper the logistics and processing of these containers will be.

Even more useful solutions!

Many things can be done independently to develop Refill in Ukraine without waiting for changes at the state level.

Refusing to buy water from disposable containers and filling a water bottle from the tap, filters, or coolers can greatly help. A reusable mug can be used for drinks and sometimes for buying candies and other small goods without packaging. "Instead of dealing exclusively with the consequences of the problem of increasing waste, I see a deep meaning in solving its causes: namely, rethinking how and in what we pack goods," Bilonizhka gives her own example.

At the forefront of changes are Ukrainian stores without packaging, which already exist in most cities of Ukraine. They are not as popular as the stores people are used to, but that's it for now. In zero-waste stores, you can find all the same products, from cereals and spices to household cleaning products. All this will be done without packaging or in packaging that can be returned to the same stores with the next purchase. You can and should come to such shops with your own packaging and take it to local markets.

The Ukrainian Zero Waste Alliance hopes that in the near future, all stores in Ukraine will become like this to make all purchases waste-free.


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