I’m frustrated. And 90% of you should be too.
I often talk about the desperate need for Australia (and indeed every region in the world) to adopt a National Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) to manage the waste generated by the beverage industry. For 35 years Australians have been scratching their heads and wondering why it is that only one of our eight States and Territories (South Australia) had this scheme that drastically reduces litter, boosts recycling and funds community programs. Well…it’s time to stop scratching your head and start telling your political leaders that the time is NOW!
In Australia we use over 13 billion beverage containers every year. Did you read that, 13 BILLION containers! People often consume beverages away from home and hence the recycling rate for these containers is very low, only around 40%. That means that around 8 billion of these containers are wasted into landfill or littered into the environment every year. Look around you and find a beverage container, now imagine 8, 000, 000, 000 of those. 8 billion containers that could have been recycled but instead were buried underground or left in the environment where they can easily become marine debris.
Last year I did a series of talks with Denise Hardesty from the CSIRO who is undertaking a three year study examining the threats of marine debris to Australia’s wildlife and she declared from her research and experience that up to one third of all global plastic pollution can be sourced back to the beverage industry. One third of the suspected tens of millions of tonnes of debris in the ocean is there because of the beverages people drink and the poor systems we have in place to capture the waste and ensure it’s recycled. It’s time for Australia to act.
South Australia has had a successful CDS operating since 1975 that sees an 80% collection rate of containers. Talk to any South Australian and they’ll tell you the system works perfectly and results in negligible litter of beverage containers on roadsides and public places. Not only does it result in negligible litter and the highest rates of recycling in Australia it also provides an amazing fundraising platform for community organisations like the Scouts who use CDS as a multi-million dollar funding platform. In January 2012 the Northern Territory introduced a 10 cent cash for containers scheme, the first time an Australian State has succeeded in doing so since SA and believe it or not, the beverage industry giant Coca Cola threatened the Northern Territory Government with legal action for doing so. With surveys consistently showing that over 85% of Australians support the scheme and in Tasmania rates as high as 91% you are most surely asking the big question, “Why isn’t it all across Australia?”
Well, it’s certainly not because the people don’t want it. Politicians in our democracy are messengers of the people and if over 85% say “Yes” then there are obviously some other powers at play. Let’s go through them.
First and foremost it is the beverage industry that has blocked this legislation. Beverage giants like Coca Cola are firmly opposed to this scheme from a philosophical standpoint. Why? Because a CDS represents something that makes big business quiver in their boots…extended producer responsibility or EPR. EPR means that the maker of a product is made accountable for the product once you have finished with it i.e. they are responsible for the waste generated by it once you’re done. Coca Cola and the dozens of other beverage makers out there would have to fund the 10 cent return of the container once it’s taken back to a collection depot. Ironically, the old scheme where you used to get a refund for glass milk and soda bottles was based on the notion that the beverage makers ‘owned’ the bottles and hence the refund was in place to give people the incentive to return it. Once it became cost effective to manufacture disposable containers no producer EVER wanted to be responsible or ‘own’ the container ever again. As soon as new disposable packages started showing up in the landscape as litter the PR geniuses at the big beverage brands decided they needed to distance themselves even further from the notion that the empty containers were ‘theirs’ so they started industry funded campaigns like Keep America Beautiful and Keep Australia Beautiful and proclaimed that ‘bottles don’t litter the environment…people do.’ Anti-litter campaigns are important tools for stopping some of the problem but since the famous ‘crying Indian’ commercial aired in the USA in 1971 and dozens of ads and campaigns since we are STILL suffering from an epidemic of littering. For a great analysis of anti-litter ads from around the world click here.
In a very interesting twist to the above paragraph, Coca Cola has recently threatened legal action against the Israeli company Sodastream for deformation and for breaching trademark after Sodastream’s ‘Cage Challenge’ marketing stunt got under Coke’s skin. Sodastream has been using installations in public places for some time now where they cage up thousands of empty bottles collected from local landfills to highlight the wastefulness of disposable bottled beverages and the lack of recycling. Sodastream calculates to date that their product has saved over 1.8 billion bottles from going to landfill and they see this as a huge competitive edge in steering conscious consumers away from bottled soda and into a Sodastream system. Anyway, Coca Cola have claimed that by displaying their bottles (although installations contain many brands) in the installation that Sodastream is breaching their trademark. Suddenly the empty bottle dumped in the landfill that Coca Cola wanted to disown is suddenly their ‘property’ again and they want to control how it is portrayed. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too…their appetite is insatiable! Needless to say this is working very favourably for Sodastream with their ‘Cage Challenge’ Facebook page topping over 110K thousand ‘Likes’ and them gaining huge publicity whilst slandering Coca Cola. Sodastream CEO Max Foster delivered a great talk on CNN on the situation.
Because a CDS goes against big business’ philosophy of making money whilst having zero accountability for waste at the end of a products life they are coming up with absurd claims to stop it in its tracks. Claims about how much money a CDS will cost, that it’s a new ‘tax’, how much of a burden it will be, how inefficient it will be and of course how they would do things better. First lets tackle the cost. Will your bottle of Coke go up in price by 10 cents? Well, maybe. But think about how often you go into a store and find the price of Coke or bottled water varying drastically. I went into a couple of stores recently and found prices for a can of Coke fluctuating from $3.25 to $2.50 to as low as $2.00 in a vending machine. That’s a variation of $1.25, am I really going to notice the $0.10 difference? If people were deeply concerned about saving money they would go and buy the no-name brand of soda for a quarter of the price and not even drink the overpriced Coke, but they do and they will continue to. And it’s not an extra cost…it’s a refundable deposit that I’ll get back when I return the container. This is also where the industries claims of this being a ‘new tax’ are preposterous. How can this be a new ‘tax’? A tax is where the government receives the money, the government isn’t getting this money, it goes back to the consumer and any excess in the current SA and NT models in fact goes back to the industry.
It’s true that to cover the initial costs of the scheme in NT the prices of beverages went up by over 10 cents as a result of a ‘handling fee’. A handling fee helps cover the costs of collecting bottles and cans from remote communities and will help in the early stages until collection centre networks are properly developed. What the industry doesn’t tell you when they criticise the implementation of the NT scheme is that what happens to the money from the unreclaimed deposits? Beverage container recycling in the NT was disastrously low prior to the scheme and now with the scheme it’s getting better. In the first quarter of 2012 NT saw a 25% return rate for refundable bottles sold meaning only $800, 000 was paid out…what about the other 75%? Where is the remainder of the $2.4 million that belongs to consumers and not the beverage companies? What they won’t tell you is that the beverage industry can actually MAKE money from this scheme.
Of course a new system will cost money, that’s a given. Establishing the collection centres will cost money and take time but it’s something that MUST be done. Collection centres once established will become very efficient and lucrative facilities for recycling of a whole manner of materials including: batteries, scrap metal, cardboard and e-waste. Once this network is complete we should see a massive drop in the amount of waste going to landfill and hence huge savings for local government who can focus on more efficient waste collection services. Some opponents to CDS argue that the scheme will harm kerbside recycling collection, as people will not put valuable recyclables in the kerbside bin. In fact the Local Government and Shires Association of NSW SUPPORT a National CDS and have determined it could cut costs of the kerbside collection scheme by up to $18 million per annum. The scheme will lead to far greater quality in collected recyclables and less contamination. Contamination of recycled material is a major problem at recycling facilities and can often see entire batches of recyclable content wasted in landfill and can damage expensive machinery. This is about making an investment for the future of waste in Australia.
So what does the industry suggest as a better system than CDS? They suggest more bins. That’s it…more bins and more education. This is the same suggestion they have been making for years…it’s the same blame game that ‘people litter’ and that putting more bins out there will make all the difference. In total they suggest putting 30, 000 public place recycling bins over three years. So what does 30, 000 bins look like? Well, with over 22 million people in Australia that’s about one bin for every 700 people, and it’s more bins that have to be collected by local governments at their own cost and it’s 30, 000 more bins open to easy contamination. Take a peek inside a garbage bin today and check if there are recyclables in it, I bet there is. The industry solution will not work; it will just perpetuate the problem. It won’t solve the millions of bottles being littered or land filled when people are in remote areas, or those being thrown into the garbage when no recycling bins are around or solve the amount of containers pubs and business landfill ever day as it’s too expensive to pay for recycling services.
So there you have my rant and now it’s time for you to act. With one simple click you can submit a letter to your local politician telling them that you support a Nationwide CDS. Please do it now. Around Australia State governments are speaking out in favour of CDS but we need you, the people, to tell them they must say, “Yes to CDS”. At a recent rally we held in Sydney Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said he agreed that a National framework would work but unfortunately it is up to the State leaders to decide, State leaders who are unfortunately at the mercy of the political lobbyists from the beverage industry who are spending HUGE dollars fighting this battle. We are most concerned about Queensland so if you live in QLD, please act. The QLD Premier does not prioritise waste as an issue and even abolished the new $35/tn waste levy on taking office.
If you’re passionate about this then please join us in talking to your representatives, we need you! The decision process will hinge on what our politicians think and what their constituents say. Write a letter to your paper, ring your local radio station, have your children make an installation at school, write to Coca Cola or any of the 150 other companies funding a current anti CDS campaign and if you can donate to support the efforts of the Boomerang Alliance, a collection of 21 environmental organisations united to bring this legislation change.
Thank you in advance.
You may have seen the recent Change.org Campaign constructed to petition Coopers Beer to Stop Funding Anti-Recycling Campaigns. Coopers are one of 150 member companies to the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) who are the industry group speaking out in opposition to the CDS scheme. Coopers have previously spoken in support of a CDS, are a family owned company, are the biggest Australian owned brewery and are based in South Australia – all very good reasons to pressure them to pull out of the AFGC and their anti-recycling campaign. Sign the petition and share it here.
For a full list of all 150 member companies (including: Coca Cola, Coopers, Fosters, Schweppes, Ocean Spray, Nestle, Yakult, McDonalds etc) of the AFGC click here.
For documentation to support the claims I have made in this article please click here for briefing notes prepared by the Boomerang Alliance of 21 environmental organisations in Australia.
Like the Cash for Containers campaign on Facebook here.