Queenslanders want a Container Deposit Scheme, so why don’t we have one yet?

Environment Minister Steven Miles has launched a review into introducing a ‘cash for containers’ scheme in Queensland, similar to that of the successful South Australian model which launched in 1977.

“The Queensland Government will carefully examine what a container deposit scheme in Queensland could look like and we will gather input from all interested sectors,” Miles said on 20 May. “Queensland has the highest litter incidence in Australia — 40 per cent higher than the national average — and the most littered item by volume is drink cans and bottles.”

The State Government is set to launch an advisory group to oversee the proposed project before the public is invited to weigh in and comment. Miles said Queensland will aim to adopt the scheme by 2018 so we won’t lag too far behind New South Wales, which is due to roll out its own cash for containers scheme in less than two years’ time.

If Queensland’s scheme goes ahead,the state is most likely to opt for automated reverse vending machines, which will refund purchasers their deposit at the point of sale. The push to make this a priority came after Miles was gifted a rubbish bag of containers from a concerned couple in Ipswich who had collected all the debris from their local creek and walkways.

The move won’t be popular with the beverage industry, but it’s unlikely to face very much opposition from the electorate — a recent Newspoll by Boomerang Alliance in January 2015 showed that 85 per cent of Queenslanders support a container deposit scheme.

The question is, can a container deposit scheme (CDS) actually make a difference? Clean Up Australia certainly think so. They believe that if Queenslanders decide to make the CDS official, we can look forward to a reduction in rubbish heading to landfill or ending up in the environment, a noticeable increase in recycling rates, a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction in water usage, and potential new jobs.

Ian Kiernan, founder and chairman of Clean Up Australia, says the issue has been on the backburner for too long.

“In Queensland, more than 37 per cent of the top 10 items collected by volunteers on Clean Up Australia Day were beverage containers and we want to address that,” he says. “Campbell Newman resisted the scheme but the newly-elected government made a promise to address it, and it is one which they have kept.”

Kiernan admits, however, that the CDS won’t fix the littering problem by itself.

“If we look at South Australia, the CDS has worked very successfully but there won’t be any silver bullets,” he says. “We need to look at a spectrum of solutions such as reverse vending, kerbside collection and the drop off system.

“But really, behavioural change is key to this and educating people is imperative. People have got to start appreciating that we are the ones manufacturing all the waste, so we have to decide how to effectively dispose of it also.”

In South Australia, where the scheme has been operating for nearly 30 years, beverage container recycling rates are above 80 per cent.It’s a stark contrast to Queensland, where less than 40 per cent of beverage containers are recycled.

Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) campaigner Fiona Maxwell says a Queensland CDS would be a welcome addition to the fight against litter.

“We welcome the announcement to look into ways to implement change in this area,” she says. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction to develop an approach to address our litter problem here in Queensland.

“We know that Queensland is the most littered state and we also know that plastic bottles and packaging are the worst offenders for marine life.”

From a marine conservation perspective, thousands of seabirds die every year from marine debris in Queensland alone. “Studies have now shown that 30 per cent of the stranded turtles on Moreton Island died from ingesting rubbish,” Maxwell says.

Shadow Environment Minister Stephen Burnett, however, is not overly enamoured with the announcement.

“This is nothing new,” he says. “Queensland has long participated in the COAG process considering a nationwide Container Deposit Scheme.

“This included the preparation of several regulatory impact statements all showing a CDS is one of the least cost-effective means of increasing recycling. In other words, consumers would pay more if a CDS was implemented.

“This is particularly the case in Queensland,where our dispersed population does not lend itself to consolidated container collection and recycling.”

The Shadow Minister instead supports “the more cost-effective packaging covenant that saw recycling bins rolled out in key public areas such as shopping centres, stadiums, malls and fast food outlets – that will entrench recycling behaviours in and out of the home.”

The most powerful opposition to any cash for containers scheme in Queensland is likely to come from beverage manufacturers like Coca-Cola Amatil, who opposed plans to introduce a CDS in New South Wales and were instrumental in dismantling the Northern Territory scheme.

The beverage giants have a history of opposing cash for containers schemes, because they add the cost of the refundable deposit to the retail price of their products.

Taking the matter to the Federal Court, Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd were successful under the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act and the NT scheme ceased in March 2013.

However, the NT Government said the CDS resulted in an extra 35 million containers being returned in the first 12 months of its operation and support from the NT community for the scheme was high.

Immediately after the Federal Court loss, the NT government stepped in and kept the CDS going until the Federal Executive Council (ExCo) ratified the permanent exemption.

The NT CDS is now legal and permanent and all beverage containers sold in Australia now bear the words ‘10c refund at SA/ NT collection depots in state/ territory of purchase.’

We approached Coca-Cola for comment, but were referred to a spokeperson from the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) instead. Coca-Cola is a member of the AFGC, as are many of the other beverage manufacturers involved in this process.

“Industry looks forward to engaging with the Queensland Government to assess the effectiveness of a container deposit scheme for the state, and a design that targets away-from home beverage litter, complements kerbside recycling, avoids higher cost to consumers and achieves the Government’s litter targets,” the spokesperson said.

Do you think Queensland needs a Container Deposit Scheme? Have your say in the comments below!