The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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Catering outlets cannot charge 10c deposit fee and keep beverage containers – Consumer Authority

Marc Galdes Sunday, 15 January 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Catering outlets that charge the 10 cent deposit fee but keep beverage containers are in breach of regulations, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

With the implementation of the Beverage Container Recycling Scheme (BCRS) reverse vending machines, a 10 cent deposit has been introduced on beverage containers, which can only be reclaimed by recycling them at one of the BCRS machines.

Some consumers have taken to social media to complain that they have been charged the 10 cent deposit at catering outlets but they were not able to redeem the deposit as the catering outlet kept the beverage container.

In many instances, the containers are removed from tables by waiters and waitresses before the customers get the bill to realise that they had been charged the 10c deposit, leaving them with no option but to leave the premises having paid the extra 10c without getting it back. The great majority take it in their stride and do not complain about the extra charge, but customers have commented that this has become a way for outlets to make some easy money.

With that in mind, The Malta Independent on Sunday got in contact with the MCCAA to get its response to this. In reply, the MCCAA said that the 10 cent deposit should only be charged in “take-away situations” or if the consumers took the beverage container with them after dining in.

“It is to be noted that the Beverage Containers Recycling Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 549.134), which fall under the remit of the Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Enterprise, clearly establish that ‘Catering undertakings shall only re-claim the value of the deposit from the consumer where the consumer removes the beverage container away from the catering establishment’.”

MCCAA added that “the same Regulations indicate that such establishments ‘shall not charge the amount of the deposit to the consumer who consumes the beverage at the catering establishment and leaves the beverage container at the catering establishment….’”.

“As such, any restaurants charging this deposit fee, if consumers leave the beverage container on the premises, are in breach of the mentioned Regulations. This is effectively also unfair to consumers who, in such instances, are protected by the provisions of these Regulations.”

What the MCCAA indicated is practically what many consumers have to face on a daily basis. Many outlets are charging the 10 cent deposit knowing that the customer will not be taking the bottle away, meaning that the 10 cent extra would be extra profit for the outlet and an extra cost to the consumer.

Operators of such outlets know that, in the majority of cases, customers will just pay the extra 10 cent without raising any issues.  Nobody would like to be seen arguing over 10 cent but at the end of the day this situation means that outlets are pocketing an extra 10 cent from the customer and then, when the plastic bottles are returned, are also picking up 10 cent for doing so.


What do the catering associations have to say?

The Malta Independent on Sunday also got in contact with the president of the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE), Michelle Muscat, who pointed out that she “sincerely does not believe whatever is published on social media”.

“Personally, I have not heard of any such complaints but if the customer has been charged, the only justification would be that the container was taken by the customer as a 'takeaway' or as a 'delivery service'.  Any beverage consumed on the premises should not be charged the 10 cent deposit.”

In an earlier article, the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Tony Zahra, had said that the implementation of the BCRS has been greeted with positivity, although there were some issues with smaller catering outlets not having enough space to store the beverage containers.

On complaints from some, who took to social media to speak about the matter that clients were being charged the 10 cent deposit charge on a bottle without being able to redeem that money, Zahra had said that the association had not received any such complaints.

“None of the restaurants have told us that there has been an issue on this,” he said.


The scheme

The BCRS started in November last year.

In a statement when the scheme was launched, it was said that the licensed operator installed 320 Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) across Malta and Gozo. Consumers are able to return empty beverage containers to these reverse vending machines and get back the 10 cent deposit on each container, in the form of vouchers redeemable at retail outlets that sell such beverage containers.

This scheme is aimed to incentivise the public to choose sustainable waste disposal and recycling, while discouraging littering of plastics and other polluting waste on land and at sea. It is also intended to contribute to Malta’s efforts to recover 90% of single-use beverage containers for recycling by 2026.

The refundable deposit of 10 cent is charged on each beverage container falling within scope of the Scheme and made available on the market throughout the entire supply chain. The deposit value is not subject to VAT and is clearly indicated as a separate cost from the price of the beverage on all receipts and invoices.

The scheme will collect and recycle plastic, steel, aluminium or glass beverage containers. These bottles or cans, with a capacity ranging from 0.1 to 3 litres, include:

a)         water and flavoured water,

b)         carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks,

c)         ciders, beers and malt beverages,

d)         ready to drink coffee,

e)         flavoured alcoholic beverages with an alcoholic content level which does not exceed 5%, and

f)         dilutables.

Wines, spirits and juices are excluded from the scheme.

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