Thursday, July 28, 2016

Container deposit scheme set to transform recycling in NSW

by Max McKinney
Ever looked at the label on a bottle of soft drink and wished you lived in South Australia so you could claim 10c just for recycling it? Well from 2017 New South Wales residents will finally be able to cash in after the state Government unveiled plans to adopt a container deposit scheme mirroring South Australia’s near 40-year-old operation.  

After a drawn-out and on-going lobbying campaign from environmental groups, New South Wales’ Premier Mike Baird announced on Mother’s Day that the State Government would introduce a container deposit scheme (CDS) to improve recycling and tackle litter across the state. The scheme forms part of the Government’s broader commitment to reduce the volume of litter in NSW by 40% by 2020. It will compliment many of the state’s litter reduction initiatives already in place and be fully funded, once operational, by the beverage industry. 

Everyday beverage containers will be worth 10 cents each from July 2017. (Photo: Max Mckinney)
The New South Wales CDS will enable anyone who returns an eligible container to receive a 10-cent refund. The scheme will work in conjunction with existing council-run recycling collections, but returns through those collections will see council pocket the money. Individuals or organisations looking to benefit will have to return their bottles, cans, or cartons to one of the collection depots or reverse vending machines (RVM) that are set to be established in a vast network across the state.
Speaking at the announcement, Baird said the scheme would be the "the single largest initiative ever undertaken to reduce litter in NSW". He was confident that the return refund would be a motivating influence for consumers to change their behaviors. 

“Giving people a financial incentive to do the right thing and recycle drink containers will help to significantly reduce the estimated 160 million drink containers littered every year,” he said. The CDS is set for introduction in July 2017, but why has it taken so long to get such a simple environmental ideal started here when South Australia has had an operating scheme since 1977? 

Managing Director of Clean Up Australia Terrie Ann Johnson has been part of Clean Up Australia’s 13-year push to introduce the scheme across the country. She says the states’ slow uptake of such a successful scheme like in South Australia is because of commercial giants like Coca-Cola. “The major hurdle has been the beverage industry,” Johnson says. “The beverage industry has lobbied very long, hard, and they’ve spent a lot of money to try and curtail the efforts of the community.” 

The industry’s opposition comes from a concern regarding costs and logistics. Their antagonism against the scheme was proven in 2012 when they took the Northern Territory – who introduced a scheme in 2011 – to court, temporarily halting its operation. 

“When the scheme came in in the Northern Territory, the beverage industry – led by Coca-Cola – challenged the scheme, held it up in court for a considerable period of time, and won on a point of law,” says Johnson. “The Northern Territory Government had to move very quickly to change its legislation to be able to get its scheme up and running again. They’ve [beverage industry] put up every barrier they possibly can.” 

While the industry has been openly opposed to the scheme during its consultation period in New South Wales, it is the body which funds the well-run system in South Australia where the government has received global recognition from the United Nations for their contribution to recycling and waste management. 

Jeff Todd, Manager of the Container Deposit and Community Support Branch of South Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority, puts South Australia’s recognition for waste management down to the state’s CDS. “I think you'll find South Australia has an extremely high recycling rate and our container deposit legislation has a lot to do with that,” he says. “People are in the mindset to put containers aside; they take them to the collection depot and get their money.” Terrie Ann Johnson says the recycling habits have become second nature because “there’s a second generation of people in South Australia that know no different, it’s just a part of their lives.” 

Originally designed to cover: glass; aluminium; and plastic containers, the South Australian CDS was extended to accept liquid paper boards, which are used for flavoured milks. It also saw an increase in the value of refunds in 2008 when the price increased from five cents a container to ten, following a gradual drop in return rates and a general increase in litter. 

“Typically the scheme has always been there to capture those ready to drink type products and takeaway containers,” Jeff Todd says. “Five cents in 1980 was worth a lot more than five cents in 2008, it wasn't worth people’s while at that rate. We found that by putting it up to ten cents, the return rate rocketed again. It went from about 60% return rate, up to about 80% again. The higher refund rate was a real catalyst for people to start returning more containers.” 

Returns lifted significantly in South Australia when the price was increased to 10 cents per container in 2008.
(Image: EPA South Australia)
The South Australian and Northern Territory schemes require drink manufacturers to have a waste management plan for their containers. Designed as a piece of ‘product stewardship’ legislation, the industry is obliged to take increased responsibility for their packaging following its sale. To do so, manufacturers join a ‘supercollector’, which runs a collection scheme on behalf of its member companies. Three supercollectors form part of South Australia’s 126 depots, which the government says most of the population live on average, within 5-6 km’s of. Part of the allure and ease of the CDS for South Australians is that the majority of collection depots take other materials as well, allowing a holistic approach to recycling. Metals, glass and other products can be returned to depots (without a refund) when people go to cash in their containers.  

While depot facilities form the structure of the South Australian scheme, the NSW Government is preparing to utilise modern technology by rolling out reverse vending machines to compliment a depot system. Although they have the capacity to do so, South Australia is yet to utilise the RVM’s, but Jeff Todd thinks they could be a resounding success in and around the NSW metropolitan areas. 

“The South Australian community are quite comfortable and familiar sorting their containers and taking them into the depots once every 2-3 months,” he says. I think their [RVM’s] set up right for food courts where you get a high traffic of people having their lunch. They go and buy a container of water or juice and typically what happens is that product will end up in the bin. If they've got an ability to recover their money on those containers really quickly, I think it would take a lot of containers out of the waste stream.
The RVM’s are a crucial part of the NSW container deposit scheme’s main aim and focus to tackle drinks consumed away from the household. In 2014-15, 64% of containers were recycled in New South Wales, with 32% ending up in landfill, and 4% as a litter. Across the country in South Australia, 79% of all drink containers in the same period were returned through their CDS. However, the figures are unbalanced, with a significant increase in the amount of containers in New South Wales respective to the states’ population sizes. 

The NSW Government estimates that 160 million containers were littered in 2014-15, with the Environmental Protection Authority suggesting those containers make up 44% of the total volume of litter in NSW. Roadsides, car parks and industrial sites are the most common locations of container litter. In a stark contrast, containers make up only 2.2% of the total volume of litter in South Australia. 

The biggest winners from the introduction of scheme will be community organisations, with the Government building the scheme around charity and not-for-profit groups who will be able to use the scheme as a means of producing revenue. In South Australia during 2014–15 period, more than 583 million containers were recovered by collection depots for recycling, providing $58.3 million in refunds to the community. 

While Scouts are one of the major beneficiaries of the scheme in South Australia, Jeff Todd says New South Wales wide array of community-based organisations could all become involved. 

“I think there's a real opportunity for sporting clubs and service groups in NSW to get onto the scheme,” he says. “I did a trip earlier this year and coming through a small town called Orroroo, which is right in the foothills of the Flinders Rangers, there was a school there that had set up a recycling bin to encourage travellers to put their beverages containers in there. The school was using that as a way to help fund the school, which in a small town wouldn’t have much of an income.” 

Reverse Vending Machines could find their way into Newcastle’s malls and shopping centres after being trialled in Sydney.
(Photo: City of Sydney Council)
In the Hunter, the New South Wales CDS will provide a unique option for struggling sport’s clubs and schools to generate income and offset fundraising efforts. 

Importantly, the Government is open to any individual or organisation setting up an informal site to collect eligible containers. Collection points at ovals, fields and stadiums could be easily established to provide an easy way for users of the facilities to recycle their containers and provide much-needed funds to the respective collectors. 

The scheme is also set to provide an injection of jobs across the state and significant industry investment. Terrie Anne Johnson says the gains will go well beyond just consumers and community groups. “The recycling industry will benefit, there will be job opportunities there,” she says. “They recycling industry has already identified that it is prepared to invest quite heavily because now they will get good quality recycling. 
 A lot of the recycling they get from kerbside is contaminated; now they’re going to get unbroken glass, and clean bottles and cans.” 

With around 600 people employed via the scheme in South Australia, Johnson says that number will likely double here. “The estimate for jobs created in New South Wales is 1029 direct jobs associated with the recycling industry through the collection and transport of the bottles and cans, and 687 indirect jobs which is more like the guy who puts in the time at the local scout hall to make sure all the bottles and cans get to the right place.”  

In what appears to be a win-win for the state with social, environmental, and economic benefits, the scheme’s introduction has been praised and supported throughout the community. New South Wales’ uptake is expected to launch other states into adopting a scheme, with the ACT to follow suit at the introduction in July 2017 and Queensland ready to go within 12-months. It’s expected Victoria will eventually come on board, while Tasmania and Western Australia both have localised transport and cost issues that need to be worked through. 

So get set for a change in the way we recycle, a change in the way people litter, and a change in the amount of trash on the Hunter’s roads, reserves and waterways. But don’t start collecting your containers just yet, the Government has stipulated that only products sold after the scheme’s introduction will be eligible for a refund.