A national container deposit scheme

In January 2012, the Northern Territory became the second jurisdiction in Australia to operate a container deposit scheme (1). However, Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd took them to court over the legality of the scheme and won (2).

How were these huge corporations able to stop a move that appears so simple yet positive?

Background

South Australia has operated a similar scheme since 1977 (3) with great success. Over 80% of applicable containers sold in South Australia were returned for recycling in 2010-2011 (4). A survey conducted on the South Australian container deposit scheme in 2012 found that 83% of survey respondents returned containers to recycling depots (3). It also found that between 50% and 60% of respondents keep refundable containers when at a shopping centre, beach, park or sporting ground, and 82% do so when travelling by car (3). The main influence on the decision to take containers home was to collect the refund (3).

Some question how well these schemes work, but I think the above speaks for itself – people are motivated to dispose of their rubbish appropriately when there is a tangiable reward. There are also flow on effects, such as a greater awareness of recycling. The above survey found that 30% of respondents took further, non-refundable recycling with them to recycling depots when collecting refunds on containers covered by the scheme (3). South Australia currently also has one of the highest rates of waste recycling in Australia, second only to the ACT (5). Although one can only speculate on the extent to which the container deposit scheme is responsible for this, data obtained in 2012 from the Northern Territory after the implementation of the container deposit scheme show a clear increase in the rate of recycling (6).

The legislation in the Northern Territory required manufacturers such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd to pay a 10c refund to customers who returned containers (7). Alec Wagstaff, spokesman for Coca-Cola, says they do not support the scheme because they “do not think [container deposit schemes] are the best way to improve recycling in Australia”, and find them “very expensive” (7). Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd argued that the legislation was illegal under Commonwealth law, as it meant the same product would be subject to different conditions for sale in different states of Australia (7). The South Australian scheme is exempt, as it was underway at the time this law was made (7). A Federal Court judge ruled in favour of the beverage companies (7). The Northern Territory government is now appealing the decision (2).

In the meantime, support for a national container deposit scheme is rising. Many states have considered implementing similar schemes, but this latest development is likely to halt all state plans. To satisfy the law requiring all products to be subject to the same conditions, a national scheme is required. The Greens party recently called on Tony Bourke and the State and Territory Environment Ministers on the Standing Council on Environment and Water to agree to a national container deposit scheme at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April (8).

Thoughts

I think it is clear that these schemes work. To me, a national scheme sounds like an all round winner. Besides the obvious environmental benefits, I think there could also be high socio-economic benefits for certain members of society, such a charities. I highly doubt that the costs imposed on the corporations involved would be inhibitory. I would be interested to see their proposals for the best ways to improve recycling in Australia – for now, I think a national container deposit scheme would be a great start.

Action

Sign petitions
Because this is such a current issue there are a lot of petitions around.

You can sign here, here and here.

Tell Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd that I’m not happy
A lot of attention has been focused on Coca-Cola’s role in this court case, and their Facebook page. But but all three companies are to blame; it would only be fair to share the love, right?

Visit Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd and let them know how you feel.

Boycott these brands
I never buy Coke because I don’t really like the stuff. But between Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd, almost every brand in a drinks fridge is covered – juice, mineral water and alcoholic drinks (see here, here and here). Do your health, your pocket and the environment a favour by bringing your own water in a re-usable bottle.

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