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    Brazilian Resistance to Beer in PET Bottles

    By Keith R | September 30, 2008

    Topics: Environmental Protection, Food/Beverage Issues, Packaging, Waste & Recycling | No Comments »

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    Brazilian brewers wanting to market their beers in PET bottles are not having a good year.  First a court ruling that such bottles pose a significant risk to the environment, and therefore require environmental impact studies and licensing.  Then a state ban on pigmented PET, and now a looming state ban on PET bottles for beer.

    Court Orders

    At the end of April (while The Temas Blog was still on hiatus) a federal judge rejected all challenges to a 2002 ruling that brewers wishing to bottle their beer in PET or any other plastic must first file an environmental impact study (EIA) and environmental impact report (relatório de impacto ambiental – RIMA) approved by the federal environment agency, IBAMA, and receive an environmental license before they get registered by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA).  The case was initiated in 2002 by the Federal Public Ministry (Ministério Público FederalMPF) as a public civil action (ação civil pública – ACP).*

    The judgment is interesting and significant for several reasons, the first of which is that it applies nationwide.

    Second is that the judge reaffirmed his earlier opinion that the extension of PET use to Brazil’s very large beer market potentially could pose serious environmental harm (in the form of a major litter/disposal headache), and therefore must be subjected to environmental licensing procedure and its prerequisites, the EIA/RIMA.  The judge actually cited a life-cycle analysis by a chemical engineer (“The Life Cycle of Beverage Packaging in Brazil”) to back up his conclusion.

    Beyond the registration/authorization delays, costs and bureaucracy this aspect of the decision implies for brewers, what else is its significance?  Well, it opens the door to other judicial and regulatory actions against PET packaging based on case’s finding on the “polluting potential” of PET.  Also, many environmental authorities utilize the environmental licensing process to place environmental management demands on the applicant vis-a-vis steps to minimize potential environmental impact — is it such a stretch of the imagination to foresee some of them requiring brewers to create collection/recovery systems for their used PET bottles?

    The third reason this judgment is interesting is the possible impact of this decision on other civil actions against PET taken or contemplated by Public Ministries (MPs).  I know of several MP cases against plastic packaging in recent years, including some in Acre, Amazonas and Paraná.  Most of these involved use of PET packaging for soft drinks.  Could MPs, emboldened by the beer case, strike up more actions (such as negotiated “adjustment of conduct” agreements) against soft drink bottlers utilizing PET?

    The fourth reason is the judgment’s clear instructions to IBAMA to require EIA/RIMAs and environmental licensing of any project bottling beer in PET, and MAPA to require proof of the environmental license before allowing registration by brewers of brands bottled in PET.  Under Brazil’s Environmental Crimes Law, when officials cause or are party to environmental harm by not fulfilling their duties, legal action can be filed against them.

    Fifth was the judge’s relatively tough fines against a small local brewer, Belco, for proceeding to bottle its beer in PET despite instructions from the bench not to do while the case being adjudicated.   The judge’s message is pretty clear: all brewers better think twice about ignoring the instruction to undergo EIA/RIMA and environmental licensing steps.

    No Tints

    Then in July the state of Rio de Janeiro, an important market segment for beer within Brazil, decided to ban pigmented PET.  What does that have to do with beer, you ask.  Well, Belco and another small brewer, Atlas, already market their beers in amber- or green-tinted PET bottles, and giants such as AmBev have publicly flirted with going with amber PET bottles.  Seems that beer in amber PET sells better than beer in clear plastic bottles.

    Rio Proposes to Ban Beer in PET

    In late August Rio de Janeiro’s State Environment Secretary, Marilene Ramos, sent to Governor Sérgio Cabral a draft decree that would ban beer from being sold in the state in PET bottles.  Ramos justified the measure by citing the recent clean-up of Guanabara Bay, in which the items most pulled from the Bat were PET bottles.  [Temas Observation: Evidently Ramos does not feel powerful enough to ask that PET be banned for soft drinks too (which were the primarily source of those bottles fished from the Bay), but rather for stopping new PET uses before they start.]

    The Governor has yet to issue such the decree, but he has not publicly ruled it out either.  In any case, the message Ramos’ action sends to brewers is fairly clear, though: beer in PET is not welcome in Rio.  The question is, how many other Brazilian states feel the same way.

    It’s probably worth noting that a bill introduced last year in the federal Chamber of Deputies by a Deputy from Rio Grande do Sul seeks to ban the use of PET to bottle beer, so this is not a sentiment isolated to Rio.


    * Under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, the Public Ministries (MPs) at the federal, state and large city levels are empowered to protect the public interest through special investigations and legal actions, including the ação civil pública, where the MP can take on anyone it feels is not complying with current law in specific areas (environment is one), even if it is an environment agency.

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