Restaurants around Malta are being criticised for allegedly passing on the bottle refund deposit to their dine-in patrons, despite clear provisions in the law against such practice.

Social media has been awash with photos of receipts showing the 10c fee added onto the bill, separately from the price of the drink itself, in clear violation of articles 15(7) and 15(8) of the beverage containers recycling regulation (S.L. 549.134).

These state 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”.

The legislation adds: “Catering undertakings 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, but shall be entitled to claim the value of the deposit.”

Since its launch last month, the Beverage Container Refund Scheme (BCRS) has attracted no shortage of criticism, with consumers and businesses alike finding plenty to complain about. Reports of machines that are constantly full or broken have dominated headlines, while the small retailers with limited space have found it difficult to implement, despite assurances that their interests were taken care of in the set-up of the scheme.

On the other hand, it has certainly reduced plastic use and improved recycling. Home reverse osmosis sellers have reported a doubling of demand for their products as the thought of hoarding containers has turned many households off plastic bottles. Meanwhile, the scheme’s operators last week announced that over 10 million beverage containers have been collected through the scheme in under six weeks of operation.

For restaurants, especially large, more casual ones, where beverages are regularly served in cans and plastic bottles, the large volume of containers generated as waste very day is causing a headache and a strain on their time, space, and costs.

At least one popoular establishment, Busy Bee, responded to criticism after a patron posted a copy of their receipt showing the BCRS charge to Facebook, saying that this was a genuine mistake and that all staff had since been properly instructed as to when to include the fee or not.

While Busy Bee might be forgiven for their lapse, given that this was in the first week of its operation, more recent evidence is more difficult to pin on staff ignorance.

A receipt clearly showing the bottle deposit being charged for an eat-in service

In fact, speaking to BusinessNow.mt, the owner of a Qrendi restaurant says that the scheme’s operators only pick up five bags of containers each week, with the establishment having to pay an extra €3.20 for every additional bag.

“It would have been better – and more hygienic – if we had tried to eliminate plastic entirely and just go back to having drinks served in glass bottles,” she said.

“It’s true that some restaurants are, so to speak, abusing from the scheme by adding 10c to everything. But on the other hand, we’re paying 10c without really knowing if we will get it back.”

Another owner, of a restaurant in Marsaskala, said it is impossible for a large establishment to monitor which customers take the containers with them and which do not. She also noted that with machines often full or broken, disposing of such a large volume of bottles and cans is no easy task.

“Just one bag can take a worker half an hour to dispose of properly. That’s an extra cost to us – 10c does not even cover it.”

Malta Hotels and Restaurants president Tony Zahra told BusinessNow.mt that he is not aware of any restaurants charging the fee separately to the beverage itself.

“Why wouldn’t a restaurant just add the fee to the drink if it were trying to recoup the expenses it incurs in implementing the scheme?” he asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

While encouraging all restaurants to abide by the regulations of the scheme, he struck a similar refrain to many on social media, who often reply to complaints about the 10c add-on to dine-in drinks by exhorting those who notice the charge to take the beverages home with them.

“Way I see it, once I’ve paid the fee, the bottle is mine, and I can go and return it myself,” said Mr Zahra.

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