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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03.The Boomerang solution


As supported by the Boomerang Alliance, which consists of 26 national and state groups including Greenpeace, Total Environment Centre, Surfrider Foundation and Local Government NSW, a national container deposit scheme would be similar to the current deposit and refund scheme operating in South Australia.

The Boomerang Alliance model for a national container deposit scheme differs from the current SA scheme in that it would be run by a national not-for-profit body rather than the beverage companies. Boomerang claims it will be self-funding, with the initial 10c deposit going into a central pool and the money from unredeemed containers funding the scheme.

While in SA and NT containers are usually taken in bulk to large depots, the Boomerang scheme proposes installing reverse vending machines (RVMs) in supermarket car parks. The RVMs, which are used extensively in Europe (and in particular in Germany, which has a 95% recycling rate for containers), give out a voucher, which can be redeemed for cash or goods at the supermarket.

Larger bulk depots or hubs would service cafes, pubs, hotels, and restaurants.

Local Government NSW calls this CDS model an effective instrument to reduce rubbish and increase recycling. Many consumers have also indicated support - a June 2013 Newspoll of residents of NSW, Queensland and Victoria showed 84% of respondents were in favour of a deposit and refund scheme.

Opponents have called the container deposit scheme (CDS) a “tax”, claiming it will impose increased cost of living pressures, and saying it only targets beverage containers rather than all packaging. The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFCG) argues it won’t benefit consumers because in the first five years the CDS will collect $2.1 billion more in deposits than it will pay back to consumers. It also says it’ll increase retail prices, reduce demand for beverages and have a negative impact on jobs. Critics of the CDS also claim it’s more expensive than other waste management options.

CDS supporters agree the costs are higher, but argue that the running costs would be funded from the scheme itself by the unredeemed container deposits. While a national CDS will have high infrastructure costs, a group of five recycling companies has offered to invest $500m into infrastructure for a CDS scheme, which they say would create an estimated 3000 jobs and reclaim five billion containers per year.

The national CDS would come at the cost of a 10c increase in the price of a drink, but consumers seem prepared to accept this cost. Supporters point to the SA scheme, where the increase in the deposit price from five cents to 10 doesn’t appear to have had an impact in the volume of recycled containers.

A 2012 survey of South Australians found 98% approval of the current CDS. An independent analyst has also found that the cost to consumers, spread across the population, would be about 0.5 cents per container.

Coca-Cola has also been very vocal about its opposition. Its website claims that, under a CDS, removing bottles and cans from kerbside bins would increase the costs of local councils. However, a COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Packing Impacts report found that diversion of recyclables from kerbside and industrial collections would save councils and businesses $2.7 billion.

  • The Australian Government says it will support a CDS if the state environment ministers agree to adopt it. 
  • CHOICE understands that, currently, all states support a national CDS except for Queensland. 
  • The Australian Greens support a CDS, as do most local government associations (the overarching bodies that represent local councils).
  • The supermarkets are sitting on the fence, except for Metcash, owners of IGA, which supports it.
  • The federal Opposition’s environment spokesperson declined to comment.


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