BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 7 2001-10-22 Mike Robson (Waters and Robson, Morpeth, speaking on bottle re-use)

report from minutes of Select Committee

(6) MICHAEL ROBSON - ABBEYWELL, MORPETH (Refillables v Non-Refillables)

The Chair welcomed Michael Robson and asked him to make his presentation.

Michael Robson said that his company had a turnover of 15 million pounds of which 1 million pounds was still returnables - 10 years ago the total turnover was in returnables. Recently, his company had taken a decision to come out of returnables altogether. He said that 78 percent of his market was in the South East - that it was not practical to send returnables down there, as they did not come back. The only outlet currently was the doorstep milkman and this going down by 20 percent each year - people were getting their milk in plastic bottles from the Supermarkets. In Germany however, 90 percent of bottles were still returnable, all in the same standard glass bottle, which made it reusable for a myriad of commodities. The returnable bottles were then returned via the supermarkets in Germany. However, even here in the last year this market had declined by 12%. The advantage of non-returnable glass was that it was a much cleaner process - many bottles in the UK could not be cleaned for reuse. All and all he did not see much future for returnable glass.

At this point a question and answer session ensued.

(1) How did the Germans make the returnable bottle system work? (June Wolf)

Michael Robson said it was because of the mentality of the German nation who were still recycle conscious - the supermarkets in the UK would not co-operate with a returnable system.

(2) Did the cost of transport over long distances and restrictions on drivers' hours impact on the returnable system? (Phil Capon)

In response Michael Robson said the reverse was true and that it was much cheaper to send a non returnable load to London at a cost of �400 were as it would cost �800 to take a load there and come back with the returnable bottles - with non returnable bottles we have no return load. If there were a return load it would have to be unloaded, stored, washed, filled and then sent off again - none of that with non-returnable bottles.

(3) Are you still making thicker bottles for breweries etc?

Michael Robson said no - most breweries were involved in a non-returnable glass system and have been for the last 3 years.

(4) Do you use existing washing facilities in the South rather than bring them back for washing? (Bill Capon)

Michael Robson said no although it would be fine to do that if there was a standard returnable bottle but we don't have that in this country - the Germans do.

Following a further general discussion of the issues involved the Chairman thanked Michael Robson for his interesting presentation.