Drink bottle recycling

Five billion plastic, glass and aluminium drink containers end up in landfill or as litter. Is a national Container Deposit Scheme the answer?
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01 .The bottle problem


Australians are a thirsty lot, using a reported 10 to 15 billion drink containers a year. Only about 40% of these are recycled – predominantly through kerbside recycling. The rest end up as litter or landfill, with significant environmental impacts.

Plastic containers, their lids, and the plastic ring around the lid pose well-documented hazards to wildlife such as sea birds. As they break down, pieces are eaten by fish and the plastic may leach a toxic cocktail into the food chain.

Also, the failure to recycle is a waste of money. The energy savings to be had by reprocessing glass, aluminium and plastic bottles aside, the roughly five billion beverage containers that are currently lost to litter or landfill every year are estimated to be worth around $120-$140m annually.

As part of the National Waste Strategy, state environment ministers are currently considering several waste reduction schemes. These include non-regulatory government-driven strategies, a mandatory advance fee levied on all packaging material, and various other packaging industry-driven schemes aimed at meeting yet-to-be-set recycling targets.

Two plans in particular are going head-to-head in a passionate public relations and lobbying war:

A national Container Deposit Scheme (CDS): Also known as a container deposit levy, cash for cans, or cash for containers, a national container deposit scheme would be similar to the current deposit and refund scheme operating in South Australia. The system is supported by the Boomerang Alliance, which consists of 26 national and state groups including Greenpeace, Total Environment Centre, Surfrider Foundation and Local Government NSW.

National Bin Network (NBN): Designed by the big players in the beverage and packaging industry, the NBN is supported by Coca-Cola, Schweppes, Lion, Visy, Amcor, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC). (Not to be confused with the other NBN!)

How does a Container Deposit Scheme work?

South Australia has an established container deposit scheme (CDS), also known as cash for cans, that has run for the last 35 years with a recycling rate for cans and bottles of 80% - double the national average. 40% of the rubbish collected every Clean Up Australia Day is beverage related, but, according to Clean Up Australia, in SA, drink containers account for just 10%.

When a consumer buys a drink an extra 10 cents is added to the price; when the container is given to a collection depot, the consumer gets their 10 cents back. The local depots sell the containers to companies, which then sell the materials to recycling facilities.

This may not sound like much, but most collection depots, owned by small businesses or community organisations, make a tidy profit, which then flows back to the community. The Scouts, for example, earn $2m a year from their collection depots and Clean Up Australia estimates $70m a year is invested back into local communities in South Australia.


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