mercredi, novembre 29, 2006

The PET Nostradamus

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P.E.T is a "special" kind of plastic. It is meant to be environment-friendly. When the industry calls something like PET environment-friendly you should most probably consider it a euphemism. In this case calling it environment-friendly is equivalent to calling the "lethal injection" (as against the electric chair) humane. In Malta we already have products that are packaged in PET - water bottles. Your average San Michel and Elan bottle is produced in PET. Until now we have been spared the plastic Coke, Pepsi and whatsnot bottles.

The reason why you cannot buy your 2 litre plastic bottle of Coke from Hamrun yet is a Legal Notice issued by our Government in 1998 (L.N. 158 of 1998). It might seem to be a very environment-friendly law by an environment-conscious governments. It prohibits the sale of soft drinks in anything but reusable glass. Some of you might remember Spark Cola that was marketed in plastic (not even PET) around the year 2000. Its importers/producers tried to argue that it did not fall under the LN because it was an energy drink. Why was it an energy drink? Because it contained sugar. You can guess that they did not win the argument.

But back to the Legal Notice. The real reason for its existence is the protection of local soft drink producers. You see, the seemingly environment-friendly law masks a protectionist measure in favour of Messrs Farsons and Coca-Cola. By outlawing PET bottles government effectively outlawed parallel importation of crates of Coke from Sicily. What we have is a measure with positive environmental effects but with purely economic intentions.

Now, I am completely in favour of keeping PET out of the country. I would love to see LN 158 of 1998 to live long and prosper. I personally do not care about the original underlying protective intentions. In my mind I see Malta avoiding a mountain of plastic waste (PET just takes less long to vanish) by keeping PET out. Unfortunately PET bottles are one of the negative reasons for joining the European Union. The imperatives of the common market dictate that regulating packaging to the detriment of potential importation is disciminatory and therefore prohibited. Which is why Malta had to negotiate a transition period for Legal Notice 158 to be phased out - and for PET soft drinks to be phased in. Which is why by the end of next year you can buy your Pepsi Max in plastic bottles.

Which is sad. Which is unavoidable. Unfortunately the arguments of environmental harm do not convince the ECJ. Denmark failed to convince the ECJ of the impact that allowing aluminium cans into its market would have on its enviornment while arguing lack of space. Malta's lack of disposal space also failed to hit the right note with the Commission at negotiation stage. So we are phasing PET in.

Simon Busuttil tells us that this transition period is also good for our local industry to prepare to be competitive (read to be able to produce its fair share of PET soft drinks). He tells us that it is calculated that we will be seeing an influx of around 80 million PET bottles annually. So he tells us that we should be getting ready for recycle and reuse. In his words...

So by the time the ban on soft drinks in plastic bottles is lifted in a year's time, we should be implementing a sound waste management strategy to deal effectively with the waste that will come with it. This is crucial if we are to continue promoting environment-friendly methods, such as the refilling of containers, and limiting both glass and plastic from our waste stream. The brutal truth is that, even after we dispose of it, our waste remains ours. And that means we have to foot the bill.

Now I do not know whether to read this as a promise from a Nationalist MEP or a warning from a politician to his party in government. Is Simon being prophetic and telling us what we will definitely have or is he informing the government that in a years time it might have another expensive and dirty problem on its hands?

In French (and it would seem in Italian) the word PET means "fart". A fart is essentially noxious, foul-smelling air emitted at the terminal end of consumption. Weird really. Language can be wonderful sometimes.

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