OP-ED: Split Decision on the Right Container Deposit Scheme

Thursday 29 April 2021, The Examiner

In early 2018 China imposed a ban on raw recycled materials. It no longer wanted to be the dumping ground for the worlds recycled waste of most plastics and other materials. This was done in an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and adding to their countries environmental problems.

This left Australia with a dilemma of what were they to do with their 1.3 million tonnes of stockpile waste. This question necessitated the government and the recycling industry to reconsider approaches to how recyclable waste was to be managed.

In a nutshell, the Container Refund Scheme – CRS - is a government program that encourages consumers to return their used packaging in exchange for a small amount of money.

It is most commonly a scheme which collects aluminium cans, plastic drink bottles or glass bottles - materials which are easily and more commonly recycled and repurposed. In Tasmania these types of drink containers make up 45% of all Tasmanian litter and are among the most common forms of litter found in our beaches, parks and public places.

With a CRS people are more likely to hold onto to these empty containers, return them and earn some money for their efforts. Further if you collect and return these products it becomes a simple and effective way of fundraising for charities and not for profit organisations.

In 2018 alone in South Australia charities raised 60 million dollars through the return of containers and clean-up projects. In that same year South Australia, which has had a CRS in place for over 40 years, had an 80% return rate for recyclables, impressive indeed.

Tasmania also has one of the lowest recycling rates in the country, emphasising the need for a CRS. The Government has been aware of a need for such a scheme for some time and in 2019 commissioned an expert reference group to advise them on the scheme best suited to our State.

In February of this year the Minister for Environment and Parks announced that the CRS as promised for Tasmania would operate under a split responsibility model and would be operational by the end of 2022.

The split-responsibility model is one where there is a scheme coordinator overseeing the schemes finances and administration, while an independent network operator establishes and runs the network of consumer refund points.

The Government selected this model believing that it would bring together the beverage industry and the waste and recycling sectors, and best deliver sustainable recovery rates, recycling, jobs and charity income.

This model has the support of Plastic Free Launceston founder Trish Hauesler who stated she would prefer to see the scheme run by waste management experts rather than industry. It has also been suggested that industry would not be inclined to optimise the scheme as it could well cost them money, and that’s where the debate begins in relation to which model should Tasmania choose.

There is no argument that there is a need for Tasmania to embrace a CRS however some organisations strongly believe that a split responsibility model is not the best model for our State.

Ben Kearney, the man who pioneered the campaign to make Coles Bay a plastic bag free town recently wrote an opinion piece noting that he had joined TASRecycle, a not for profit organisation jointly formed by Lion and Coca-Cola Amatil seeking to maximise the environmental, community, and economic benefits of CRS in Tasmania.

He identified that Coca-Cola Amatil have been involved in the operation and administration of container deposit or refund schemes for over 40 years and implementing 4 schemes in Australia in the past 6 years. Queensland was one of those schemes, and in the first 18 months of that scheme the container recycling, redemption rate was 14% higher than in the NSW scheme and the rate of containers collected was 37 % higher per capita.

We are also told that in Queensland the community and sporting organisations received approximately 6.5 cents per container processed as opposed to NSW where by having a network operator ‘middle man’, the return was approximately half that.

Under the split responsibility model proposed by the government, not for profit community and sporting organisations could lose up to $5 million each year in funding. Ben Kearney concludes by saying, “Through a few minor changes to the Scheme design, in particular by allowing multiple network operators and for the community and sporting groups to contact directly with them, without going through a middle man we believe that we can get a win - win outcome for everyone.”

That means a better outcome for Tasmania’s community and sporting groups, and of course a better outcome for a cleaner Tasmanian environment.

I therefore ask the question, should the government have a rethink on which scheme we should be adopting?

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC

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