With the Northern Territory becoming the second state after South Australia to introduce a container deposit scheme, the debate over Australia’s container recycling policy is heating up. However environment groups and the beverage industry do not see eye-to-eye on the issue, as Will Mumford reports.

The Northern Territory is the second state after South Australia to introduce a container deposit scheme. Image: James Lauritz/ Getty Images

WILL MUMFORD (WM): Most Australians are familiar with the weekly sound of a rubbish truck pulling up outside their house and the bottles and cans of the week’s recycling being emptied into the growling vehicle.

However with a beverage container deposit scheme, or CDS, being implemented in the Northern Territory this year, to go along with the one in South Australia, there are increasing calls for a national CDS to replace the kerbside collection model most of us are familiar with.

Jeff Angel, Managing Director of The Boomerang Alliance, who represent 17 of Australia’s leading environment groups, believes that now is the time to legislate nationally on a scheme.

JEFF ANGEL (JA): Why should South Australia only have the best container recycling system in the world when most of the containers are consumed on the East and they have very serious litter problems and very little high value recycling of containers.

WM: Dr Damien Giurco from the Institute for Sustainable Futures says that legislating state-by-state could be the platform for a national scheme.

DAMIEN GIURCO (DG): I think pragmatically, it will be a case where building one state at a time could be the platform for something national. It’s something we should look seriously at pursuing, I think any bottlenecks we should be able to iron out.

WM: However the peak representative body of the beverage industry, the Australian Beverage Council, are opposed to container deposit legislation. CEO of the Council, Geoff Parker, says that the Environment Ministers’ recent Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on packaging waste options, indicates that a deposit system will be costly and ineffective.

GEOFF PARKER (GP): It’s just a matter of one policy being better than another. Under the Packaging Impacts Consultation RIS [Regulatory Impact Statement], there was a whole range of options that were independently analysed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and both of the container deposit programs that were put up underneath that RIS costed around about $2.5 billion. The National Bin Network was far cheaper than that and it would look at a whole range of different recyclable materials over and above just beverage containers which is obviously the focus of a container deposit scheme.

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WM: Mr Angel says that the position of the beverage industry and particularly Coca-Cola Amatil, who are represented by the Australian Beverage Council, is based on false premises.

JA: They firstly say that the 10-cent deposit on the retail price of a beverage makes them less competitive against other discretionary purchases. There is no evidence that their sales are harmed when a container deposit system comes in, but they’ve convinced themselves that some consumers will not buy a Coke, they’ll buy an ice-cream.

WM: Whilst Dr Giurco believes that a CDS is the most efficient container recycling method, he says that stakeholders should evaluate a national CDS by its environmental effectiveness rather than its potential economic burden.

DG: The economic rules we dream up we are in control of and we need to make sure they are a means to an end that we would want and so I think putting the rules of economics as the out of boundary which can’t be violated is putting things back to front.

WM: One issue highlighted in the recent Northern Territory scheme, is the inability of some collection depots to pass the containers back onto the beverage companies once they have been received from the consumer. This has lead to several depots having to close down across the state, and criticism of the policy’s efficacy in practice. However the Manager of M.T. Bins Michael Knight, who operates a collection depot in Katherine, has a simpler explanation.

Why have some depots struggled to sell the containers back to the beverage companies?

MICHAEL KNIGHT: Well that simply was because they didn’t have contracts with the coordinators. And that’s exactly what’s happened to the two blokes in Darwin, both of them have no contracts with coordinators and we told them that when they first started. They’ve gone gung-ho into it, carrying on a troop making lots of noise but everything else is going fine, no one else is having any problems whatsoever.

WM: With submissions to the government’s Regulatory Impact Statement having closed at the end of March, both sides have made sure that their voices were heard by policymakers.

Has the Australian Beverage Council consulted with government regarding the issue?

GP: We’ve also made a submission to that RIS [Regulatory Impact Statement] process, we know that they will be considering that in the near future. Again, if there’s a more effective, cheaper option out there, it’d make sense to go with that rather than something that’s going to cost taxpayers and companies and consumers and local governments a whole lot of money.

WM: But Mr Angel is confident that a national deposit scheme may finally be gaining some traction.

JA: We’re closer than we’ve ever been. There have been at least three or four attempts in the last 25 years to get a container deposit system in place. We have to spend the next three months working very hard on every state, on every environment minister, on every premier. Cause it takes a lot of work to get to this decision point.