National recycling scheme a step closer

By Gabrielle Dunlevy/AAP 6 July 2010
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A nationwide container deposit scheme which could recycle 11 billion bottles annually may be approved within a year.

A NATIONAL DRINK BOTTLE recycling scheme is at least a year away, with another study examining its benefits. Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett met his state counterparts in Darwin on Monday and agreed to a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on a scheme that could recycle 11 billion bottles annually.

The RIS, which compares its costs and benefits to alternative waste reduction measures, will be open for public discussion. The minister said he hoped the process would take less than a year.

“Different states have different views about the cost benefits of container deposit legislation,” he says. “We will work through these issues in a collaborative fashion.”

The move was welcomed by anti-litter group Clean Up Australia, which saw it as the last bureaucratic hurdle before a scheme.

South Australia’s popular container deposit scheme has been running since 1977. In 2008, its refund went up from five cents per container recycled to ten cents – the state recycles 78 per cent of its beverage containers, compared to about 36 per cent in the rest of the nation.

The Northern Territory has committed to a South Australian-style scheme, but elsewhere, communities have to go it alone if they want to cut the number of recyclable bottles going to landfill.
One of those was Bundanoon, in the NSW southern highlands, which on Monday celebrated the first anniversary of its bottled water ban.

One of the people behind the ban, Jon Dee of non-profit group Do Something! said it was about time the commonwealth took leadership on a commonsense measure. Mr Dee blamed ministerial “talk shops” and retail sector lobbies for blocking progress on the scheme so far.

“It gives people a financial incentive to make sure they recycle their bottles,” he says. “It’s worked so well in South Australia, so why wouldn’t it work well everywhere else?”

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has been one of the loudest opponents of a scheme. Chief Kate Carnell said she didn’t think another taxpayer-funded study was needed, referring to a BDA Group report that estimated a national scheme would cost $680 million a year. “Industry will be actively involved in the RIS to ensure it’s a robust and comprehensive investigation,” she said in a statement.

The ministers also agreed to release PricewaterhouseCoopers research on willingness to pay for a scheme, and an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) peer review of the study.

The Australian Greens have been demanding access to the documents for some time, believing they will show that Australians are largely in support of a container deposit scheme. Senator Scott Ludlam was dismayed the scheme was stalled again.

“This initiative has been smothered under studies for years and this decision means further delay on a scheme we know can work and is cost effective,” he said. “The Regulatory Impact Statement must be the final word; now it’s time to get on with it.”