The end of the refillable olive oil container is nigh

The EU may have rejected the proposal made by the Spanish government for a Europe-wide ban on refillable olive oil dispensers in catering establishments, but Spain itself has gone ahead with the implementation of such a ban.

The Popular Party (PP) government has used a royal decree to end the era of the traditional olive oil dispensers regularly seen on restaurant tables across Spain. Beginning in January, more than 350,000 bars, restaurants and catering establishments will have to serve their olive oil in non-refillable, tamper-proof bottles or capsules.

The new rules, which come into effect on January 1st 2014, state that olive oil ‘will have to be presented in labelled packaging with an opening system that loses its integrity after a single use, and a protection system that prevents refilling once the original contents have been used up’.

Catering establishments will have until February 28th 2014 to use up existing stocks. The government insists that the measure will boost exports. They believe that the only contact with olive oil for many tourists is when they see it on bar and restaurant tables, therefore branded bottles will act as an advertisement.

In addition, the government claims the new rules will result in an improvement in quality. Olive oil oxidises on contact with light, air and high temperatures, and the transparent oil dispensers commonly found in Spanish eating establishments are therefore detrimental to its quality.

The campaign to ban refillable containers was started by olive oil producers in Andalucia, which represents 80 percent of Spanish oil production and 40 percent of global output. A proposal for a Europe-wide ban on refillable containers was rejected by the EU, with countries such as Britain, The Netherlands and Germany being particularly mocking in their opposition to the measure.

Catering establishments believe that the ban will, in all likelihood, lead to an increase in prices in bars and restaurants, as well as an increase in waste. They argue that if restaurants, for the sake of image, open a new container for each new customer, much more will end up being thrown away, and as only 30% of packaging actually reaches a recycling plant, there will be much more waste.

Oil producers argue that the same bottle of olive oil can be used for several diners as the requirement is that it cannot be refillable, not that a new one be opened for each customer. However, this does seem to be a slight contradiction when one of the main arguments is that the oil oxidises and ‘goes off’ when in contact with air, light and high temperatures.

The end result, however, is the end of the often quaint, practical and traditional refillable olive oil containers in 2014.

Bottles of olive oil, plastic or glass, sold for general consumption are of course refillable and, ranging in size up to several litres,  are open to the elements for a much longer period of time.

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