Battle for the best recycling

Stand up for the top scheme, not the one corporations want, says Jeff Angel.

In an effort to grab control of Tasmania's 10-cent refund scheme for drink containers, two of the world's biggest beverage corporations, Coca Cola and Lion, are running a campaign via an organisation called TasRecycle.

These companies have spent decades spreading misinformation to oppose cash-for-cans schemes in Australia. Now they are using the same tactics to convince us we can trust them with the new litter and recycling program so many people and community groups have wanted.

Why are Coca Cola and Lion spending their dollars on a campaign to run the Tasmanian container refund scheme? Because inflicting their second-rate scheme design on Tasmanians is worth millions to their profit margins. The harder they make it for people to recycle, the more consumer refunds they get to keep.

The core business of a container refund scheme is to massively reduce litter and greatly increase recycling. With all the other states (bar Victoria) having 10-cent refunds on plastic, liquid paperboard, glass and metal drink containers, Tasmania can learn what works best.

Who controls the scheme and manages the refund points is crucial. Once the system is in place, it is very hard to change with a number of interacting parts.

TasRecycle is basing its proposal on the schemes in Western Australia and Queensland. However those schemes fail to provide the following critical elements:

SUFFICIENT collection points and adequate opening hours to maximise convenience.

LOW IMPACT on beverage prices and cost per container returned.

A COMMITMENT to transparency. It has been a major battle to get the facts about recovery rates and other important operational areas in Western Australia and Queensland.

RESISTANCE to fraud with a strong audit trail. The Queensland scheme is currently subject to a $19.5m court case around alleged misconduct by collection points.

It is clear the governance of any scheme for Tasmania should not be under the control of a single entity with too much industry influence. Rather, there should be a balance between a refund network operator/s and scheme coordinator. Network operators are collection and recycling experts, so they are driven to collect as many containers as possible.

Of course efficiency is also important, and according to the Queensland Productivity Commission that state's scheme, on which TasRecycle is based, has higher alcoholic drink prices than in NSW, which has a split responsibility scheme model. The cost per container returned is also higher, which is not surprising given Queensland has little automation and more complex sorting arrangement.

TasRecycle makes great play that is a community (producer responsibility) scheme, but producers are solely responsible for their profits, not community.


This article was originally published in The Mercury