Drink container deposit levy to go national?

Posted by Editorial on 18th May 2009

An Australia-wide drink container deposit system is being considered by the Federal Government, with Family First and the Greens both pushing for legislation similar to that seen in South Australia. The idea involves adding a 10c levy to packaged beverages, which can be recovered by consumers when they recycle it.

The leading representative of food and beverage manufacturers, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, is against the push, claiming it could cost Australians almost $500 million a year as well as increase prices of bottled and canned beverages.

Industry response

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell urged Environment Ministers to reject the CDL (container deposit levy) approach and suggested that Ministers continue supporting the National Packaging Covenant co-regulatory arrangement, involving recycling programs worth $68.3 million.

“Environment Minsters must once and for all reject the expensive CDL scheme which we believe will cost Australians a whopping $500 million a year compared to the current affordable and effective model,” Ms Carnell said.

The National Packaging Covenant – which has been operating for the past 10 years – is a cooperative agreement between industry and Government and NGOs to manage packaging waste. The Covenant has the capacity to divert an additional 500,000 tonnes of packaging from landfill each year, the AFGC advised.

Coca-Cola Amatil Managing Director of Australia, Warwick White, believes that the National Packaging Covenant is working and any changes will prove costly to business.

“Australian companies want to be focussing on investing in innovative solutions for environmental problems, not suffering huge additional costs from a 1970s regulatory approach,” he said.

Minor parties hoping for Senate support

The Australian Greens have since dismissed the assertions of the AFGC, maintaining that their Container Deposit Legislation would be cost neutral, reduce greenhouse gas emission by 1.4 million tonnes per year and could save Council ratepayers almost $60 million dollars a year.

“The Australian Food and Grocery Council have dusted off the argument that the Greens’ Private Senator’s Bill will increase costs. This is simply and deliberately untrue,” argued Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who introduced the Environmental Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill into the Senate last week.

“We will pay an additional 10c for cans and plastic drink bottles at the counter, and get that money back when we recycle it.”

“That tiny cost at the point of sale will be offset by savings to Council ratepayers and a boost to Federal Government Funds,” he added. “By increasing recycling the scheme will reduce Council waste management expenses by almost 60 million dollars a year – that means a substantial saving for every Council rate payer.”

“The scheme will also raise up to $90 million dollars for the Federal Government that can be spent on environmental initiatives and create 2,600 new green jobs at a time of recession.”

Family First Senator Steve Fielding introduced a Bill for a national drink container recycling scheme last year, with the Greens taking a new Bill to Parliament on Thursday.

Mr Fielding believes that the South Australian experience highlights the capability of a container deposit system to reduce waste.

“Family First has had its Drink Container Recycling Bill in the Federal Parliament for the last year. If the Rudd government was serious about reducing waste it would support a scheme that has worked in South Australia for 30 years and reduces greenhouse gases by 1.8 million tonnes per year,” he said last week. “It’s good to see the Greens catching up to the merits of this scheme and I would welcome their support of our scheme that has already gone through a Senate inquiry and been given the thumbs up.”

“Family First’s plan saves eight gigalitres of water a year which would supply more than 24,000 homes with water,” Mr Fielding suggested. “As Victoria’s dams dwindle to 29% capacity and a lack of water causes farmers to leave their lands, surely a scheme that delivers water savings is worth adopting.”

“Australians want to contribute to helping the environment. This scheme works by encouraging people to earn extra cash by claiming the cash for picking up and returning empty cans and bottles. More than 80% of Australians support a container deposit scheme and the Rudd government should be listening to them and supporting Family First’s scheme,” he said.

An independent report to be considered by Environment Ministers is likely to decide the fate of the plan, with discussion of the report to be undertaken on Friday at a meeting of State and Federal Environment Ministers in Hobart.