Matthew Moore June 12, 2012
Even the beverage industry agrees the push for a national container deposit scheme is building. Photo: Gabriele Charotte
AFTER 23 years of debate, anti-litter campaigners say Australia is the closest it has ever been to adopting a national container deposit scheme where a refundable 10¢ deposit is added to the cost of every drink bottle and can.
Despite its vehement opposition to such a scheme, even the beverage industry agrees the push for a national container deposit scheme is building before a crucial meeting of state and federal ministers in August.
''I do think CDS [container deposit scheme] proponents are strongly advocating out there,'' said Jenny Pickles, the general manager of the Packaging Stewardship Forum in the Food and Grocery Council, which represents drink manufacturers.
Debate on the proposal has become increasingly acrimonious after the Northern Territory introduced container deposits in January, the West Australian government was reported to be considering a similar move and the Tasmanian Parliament last month gave unanimous in-principle support to a national scheme.
The NT Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, said the drink producers had pulled out all stops to try to prevent his government following South Australia, which set up a very popular container deposit scheme three decades ago.
''The big drink companies have continuously used heavy-handed tactics to try and fight the territory government implementing a scheme that will recycle millions of cans a year and put money into the hands of community and charity groups,'' Mr Henderson told the Herald. ''They have run a heavy-handed campaign of lies and deceit, despite the majority of Territorians wanting a cash for containers scheme.''
Ms Pickles denied drink makers had lied, insisting they had simply ''pointed out to the territory government and the community they were going to face higher costs … we were telling them handling fees would add 10¢, they [the government] said we were lying, but the proof is in the pudding: we have seen beverages rise by as much as 20¢ a container and customers only get 10¢ back. We have been frank, trying to inform the community these costs were going to be passed onto them.''
The chairman of Clean Up Australia, Ian Kiernan, scoffed at this and attacked the drink manufacturers for their Northern Territory ''scare campaign'', which he said they were expanding in an attempt to head off the introduction of an Australia-wide scheme.
''They are playing the fear card but Australians are smart and getting smarter, they … want to make their own informed decisions,'' he said. ''Without doubt we are the closest now we've ever been to a national scheme … we would be lucky to get it because of the financial power of the beverage industry.''
State and federal environment ministers will meet in August to consider seven options on how to reduce the amount of packaging waste that goes to landfill.
The Boomerang Alliance, a coalition of environment groups that includes the Local Government and Shires Association, is backing an option for deposits on all containers under three litres that people could return to 1900 collection points the alliance wants set up across the country.
The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, encouraged those backing this option earlier this year when he told a community group event: ''Container deposits is one of the options in front of us and certainly a CDS will work. There seems to be goodwill among the ministers.''
The beverage industry is determined to stop the spread of deposit schemes and wants backing for its ''National Bin Network'' under which the big container manufacturers like Coca-Cola Amatil and Lion Nathan would share the cost of installing 30,000 recycling bins in public places such as shopping centres and sporting grounds where it is cost-effective to empty them.
These two options are considered to have most political support and the meeting of ministers will decide whether to subject one or both to exhaustive testing on their cost, impact on the economy and recycling rates in a process called a ''decision regulatory impact statement''.
Long-time CDS advocate Jeff Angel, of the Total Environment Centre, estimates the process may take two years but is confident a deposit scheme will prove the best option, and cheaper than beverage companies claim.
''I'm more hopeful than I've ever been but we are being very careful and are campaigning very hard,'' he said.