Government Talks with Beverages companies on Cash for Cans

The NSW government will be introducing cash for containers recycling under its new strategy to help clean up NSW beaches, parks and rivers. Schools and charities will be encouraged to raise funds by collecting containers for cash, likely to be set at a 10c rebate, under the new scheme. Beverages companies will be allowed to increase drink prices by the amount of the deposit, and only need to pay the deposit on redeemed containers.

Reverse vending machines will be located in public places and community recycling centres set up under the new plans, to target glass, plastic and cans. The machines, having a capacity of 3000 PET bottles or cans, would automatically crush the containers, and ould not allow non-recyclable rubbish to be deposited – reducing the risk of contamination that hampers many local council recycling efforts.

Though such recycling strategies have been on state and federal government agendas for decades but every time cash for containers has been mooted, their best of intentions have always been undermined by the powerful and well-funded drinks industry. One in three pieces of litter in Australia is a drinks container, but industry has until now fiercely opposed the introduction of container deposits, claiming it would cost jobs.

Despite the industry disapproval, the Baird government has joined efforts to speed up the scheme and have received independent advice that shows a container deposit scheme “will be cost effective and efficient”.

Premier Mike Baird and the Environment Minister Rob Stokes have sent a letter to the National Packaging Covenant Industry Association in late December saying the NSW government favoured the introduction of a state-based container deposit scheme and invited the industry to get on board to work with the government to further refine the design principles of scheme. The letter has been also sent to the industry association’s chairman Grant Musgrove and Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Barry O’Connell.

Mr Baird rejected the industry’s alternative proposal, which included funding more recycling bins at beachfront parks, and said in the letter the beverage giants need to make a “far greater commitment” to reduce packaging waste litter and boost recycling.

On December 23, senior executives from Coca-Cola, and the packaging association chief executive Stan Moore, met with NSW Environment Protection Agency and staff from Mr Stokes’ office. They were told their alternative industry proposal had been rejected because it presented a “significant policy and funding risk” and was unlikely to achieve the NSW government’s litter reduction goal.

“The proposal lacks clear governance arrangements, program specificity and the level of long-term funding required to achieve sustained behavioural change,” Mr Baird said in the letter.

Coca-Cola, Schweppes and Lion Nathan had previously taken federal court action against the Northern Territory government in 2013, after the Territory government introduced 10 cent container deposits that resulted in an extra 35 million containers returned in the first 12 months.

The Liberal and Nationals government have set a target of reducing litter in NSW by 40 per cent by 2016, based on 2011-12 data.

The NSW Government has been negotiating with the drinks industry to introduce the system and Environment Minister Rob Stokes said similar initiatives had proved highly successful in reducing waste in public spaces around the world.

“The beverage industry obviously has a responsibility in terms of the extent of producer liability for their products,” Mr Stokes said. “But we recognise that Government has a strong leadership role to play,” he said.

“What we are interested in doing is working together effectively to produce solutions to a shared problem, which is litter and waste in our environment.”