Everyone has seen drink containers littered in our street and parks, caught along creek banks and lying on beach sands, floating out to sea. But did you know that every minute 21,000 bottles and cans are littered or landfilled in Australia?
This massive waste is not only damaging our ecosystems, it is squandering finite resources. The problem began in the 1970s when drink companies like Coca Cola introduced the disposable drink container, terminating the returnable bottle system that put a price on each bottle. As these containers flooded the market, the litter plague quickly overwhelmed parks and public spaces. The community called for the return of the ‘bottle deposit’ but governments and industry effectively blamed the consumer for discarding single use containers, and pursued anti-litter campaigns instead.
Of course littering is anti-social and should not be tolerated. But if recycling had been valued by the beverage industry and government, the problem would not have occurred in the first place.
Only South Australia kept a cash for containers system (CDS) which has proven itself with excellent recycling and significantly lower littering rates over three decades.
Across the rest of Australia local councils and communities continued to agitate with Bring Back the Deposit campaigns.
Unfortunately these were lost.
In 2004 we began another concerted effort. Our aim was a national CDS or at least one in each state. The big beverage companies, like Coca Cola and Lion, were determined to oppose us. They were confident their enormous financial and political resources would overcome our efforts. Recent revelations confirm that whenever a government seriously thought about a CDS, these companies successfully threatened attack ads during election campaigns.
Not to be intimidated, the Boomerang Alliance kept up the pressure, with hundreds of community events, hundreds of thousands of signed postcards, petitions and emails to governments; media tours; presentations to Ministers and MPs; economic and environmental reports; clean up actions; the ‘kicking the can’ tour; appearances before parliamentary committees; viral social media; and actions outside Coke’s HQ.
The road blocks were numerous - governments (and industry) pressed for a national ‘Packaging Covenant’ (a weak agreement with industry). Study after study was commissioned, which conveniently dismissed CDS on economic grounds (overstating costs and understating benefits such as environmental gains, jobs and charity income).
One bright spot was the unanimous support in the Northern Territory Parliament for a container deposit law. It started operation in 2012, and continues today despite a temporary interruption from a successful court challenge by Coke, Lion and Schweppes.
Victoria looked good in 2014. Then-Premier Denis Napthine was an outspoken supporter. He also tried to get NSW to join him. But as the year wore on, we suspect the big drinks companies went in with their scare tactics. With the government doing badly in the polls, Napthine got cold feet.
The pressure came back onto NSW. We campaigned day after day, but with an election due, industry again threatened attack ads. Even the federal environment minister put pressure on NSW at the behest of industry.
We had great support from the community, however, and NSW Environment Minister, Rob Stokes. And we won!
On 21 February 2015 at Coogee Beach, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Rob Stokes announced that NSW would begin a CDS on 1 July 2017 – they said they would aim for the best CDS in the world (and a taskforce would be set up to design it). The ALP Opposition also supported the decision, which was another bipartisan victory for the cash for containers campaign.
It was now crucial to maintain the momentum. The Australian Capital Territory said it would join up with NSW, and a few months later the newly elected Queensland government announced it would work with NSW to establish a CDS.
The big drink companies, however, are still fighting. They are proposing an alternative called ‘Thirst for Good’. Even though it would only target 2.5% of the bottles and cans that are currently unrecycled they are using their enormous lobbying power to insist governments consider it.
We can’t rest until a best practise CDS becomes law and is implemented in NSW and Queensland. And then we have to convince the remaining states – WA, Victoria, and Tasmania to do the same.
You can help by asking your Government to support Cash for Containers. Choose the letter template for your state below: