“Containers for Change”

Waste Action Group gets behind a push for Cash for Containers in Victoria.

As Australia’s recycling crisis deepens with industry heavyweight SKM forced to shut down operations in several locations, the time is ripe for Victoria to finally join NT, SA, NSW and Queensland in having a container deposit scheme (CDS). However, neither Labor nor the Liberals are including a CDS policy in their election campaigns this year, leaving the Victorian Greens as the only party supporting the scheme. Victoria is the last remaining mainland state in Australia without container return legislation in place. Industry leaders and environmental campaigners say that it is only a matter of time before a scheme is implemented in this state, but how long must we wait?

The MRSG Waste Action Group identified a CDS as a key campaign priority in 2019. We went public with the campaign at this year’s Sustainable Living Festival, with visitors to the Waste Action stall expressing their support by posing for a photograph.  

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So, what would a container deposit scheme look like if implemented in Victoria?

The Boomerang Alliance has been campaigning for container deposit schemes across Australia since 2004[1]. In 2015, the Alliance proposed a detailed CDS scope which formed the basis of the NSW Government’s “Return and Earn” scheme rolled out at the end of 2017. The scheme concept is limited to containers over 100ml and below 3L, and excludes pure fruit juice and wine or spirit bottles greater than 1L, any plain milk and milk substitutes (condensed, evaporated, soy milk etc), cordials, syrups and concentrated fruit juices. The exempt items are all recyclable through current kerbside collection programs.

Instead, the scheme targets the most commonly littered containers - beer, water, soft drink bottles. Importantly, this simplified collection scheme means that along with a high recovery rate of up to 83% - based on figures where schemes currently exist - general litter items such as bottle caps, straws, broken glass and plastic labels are also significantly reduced. NSW has seen over 40% reduction of littering since their scheme was introduced.

In Victoria, the scheme would work in much the same way, as a complement to our kerbside recycling, and would work around similar recovery and litter reduction rates.

Does it work?

South Australia’s container deposit scheme has been in existence since 1975 and is consistently rated among the best in the world. South Australia regularly has the highest rates of recycling in Australia, recycling approximately 80% of their overall waste. So beloved of South Australians is their CDS scheme that it was declared a heritage icon by the National Trust of South Australia in 2006. It is the only piece of legislation in Australia to receive such an accolade.

NSW’s scheme has had some teething trouble over the last 12 months, and the variance in scheme availability across the state has been an issue. However, despite early difficulties, the NSW Government announced in December 2018 that at the end of its first year, one billion containers had been returned through the scheme. 69% of eligible drink containers were collected and recycled, and more than 26 million containers are being recycled every week.

Figures from the Earn and Return website after one year of operation:

·      Eligible drink containers collected and recycled: up by 69 per cent

·      Eligible drink container litter volume: down 44 per cent

·      NSW total litter volume: down 48 per cent since 2013

·      Drink containers being processed each week: 26 million

·      Most drink containers processed in a day: 5.6 million on Sunday November 11

“Litter volume has dropped across all categories, the largest reduction is from eligible drink containers which now represent an all-time low of 37 per cent of the NSW litter volume stream!” [2]

Yet, Victoria stubbornly holds out against the introduction of a CDS. In July 2018, Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio announced a $37m package to tackle recycling in her State following the China crisis. This rushed package does not offer nearly enough to fix the problem, particularly given that the international markets for our recycling remain poor. Put simply: no-one wants our waste, and there’s just not a big enough market for it within Australia. The official party line on a container deposit scheme remains that the Andrews Government will “wait and see”. In the meantime, the Premier is sitting on a Sustainability Fund of over $500 million accrued from landfill levies (as at June 2018).

Lisa Chesters, Federal Member for Bendigo shows her support for a CDS.

Lisa Chesters, Federal Member for Bendigo shows her support for a CDS.

Political shortsightedness is once again holding us back from taking positive environmental and economic action. Even the Australian Beverages Council, which historically has been fiercely opposed to container deposit schemes, recognizes the inevitability of container return legislation being passed in Victoria eventually.

“The reality is we have seen the community support for these schemes in most of the other Australian states. Our view is that it is a matter of time before public opinion will induce governments to create these schemes in all states.” Alby Taylor, Gen Mgr Australian Beverages Council.

What now for our Waste Action campaign?

Following the Sustainable Living Festival, the Macedon Ranges Shire Council, at the Waste Action Group’s request, passed a motion that Council write to Mary Anne Thomas MP expressing residents’ clear support for a Container Deposit Scheme along with our concerns about littering and recycling. They asked that Mary Anne, as our elected parliamentary representative, raise these concerns with the Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio MP as a matter of urgency. Our Council joins a growing list of councils across Victoria demanding the same of their MPs from Port Phillip to Brimbank, Mildura to Mount Alexander Shire. We shall have to “wait and see” what happens next.

Waste Action Group continues to partner with other state and national campaigners on this issue and will keep you up to date with any further outcomes. In the meantime, if you support a Cash for Containers scheme in Victoria, hop online to these sites and let them know:

https://www.facebook.com/CashForContainersVic/

https://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/cash_for_containers

https://www.facebook.com/plasticfreealliance/

[1] https://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/cash_for_containers

[2] https://returnandearn.org.au/exc_news/a-billion-reasons-to-celebrate/

Lisa Richards