Estonia clamps down on cheap drink imports

Drinks container deposit machine, Estonia Image copyright Eesti Pandipakend
Image caption This returns machine won an award in 2011

Estonian drinkers who have long enjoyed trips to neighbouring Latvia to buy beer and vodka at lower prices face a New Year shock, as the government is making it harder to claim back cash deposits on imported drink bottles.

The Eesti Pandipakend recycling authority has announced that from 1 January it will only accept bottles and cans marked with special barcodes and deposit stamps proving that the containers and their contents were not sold outside Estonia, the ERR public broadcaster reports.

Peeter Eek, the head of waste disposal at the environment ministry, says the move is prompted by a "sharp rise" in drink imports from Latvia, where customers pay far less in alcohol duties. "The Estonian system has hitherto been very open. If you bought something in Latvia you didn't pay our recycling fee, but we still returned the deposit to you as the stamp was one and the same. For the consumer, it was like winning the lottery," he told ERR.

Pandipakend chief executive Rauno Raal says that Estonia had "tried to be flexible" in recycling containers, but the sheer volume produced by booze tours, including duty-free cruises, is causing "irreparable harm" to his organisation's ability to do its job. In the first half of 2016 alone 25-30 million units of alcoholic drinks were imported from Latvia in reusable or recyclable containers, so the new barcode system will play an "important part in maintaining the sustainability of the Estonian environment", he said earlier.

And it's not only drinkers who are unhappy with the decision. Alcohol producers are complaining that this restricts their trade, as before they could choose whether to sell their stock from warehouses in Estonia, Latvia or even Finland, but now all imported goods will have to be stamped separately.

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