The world is finally waking up to the damage that plastic litter and pollution are doing to our environment. We've all seen the pictures – plastic bottles (whole or broken up) floating in the ocean, seabirds feeding broken bottle lids to their chicks, plastic bottles lurking in the sand on beaches, hidden under trees and bushes in parks and stuck in the mud along riverbanks.
Litter surveys worldwide show that drink containers continue to make up a huge part of that pollution, but there is a solution to this problem. It is known by different names in different places, but the simplest way to describe it is (paying) Cash for (the return of empty) Containers… and it works!
This problem really began in the 1970s when beverage companies like Coca Cola introduced the 'disposable' drink container, ending the returnable bottle system which had put a refundable deposit on each bottle – known as a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS). As these 'disposable' containers flooded the market, the litter plague quickly overwhelmed parks, waterways 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 they opted for anti-litter campaigns instead.
What is a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS)?
Container Deposit Schemes (also known as Cash for Containers, Container Deposit Legislation or Container Refund Schemes) involve the addition of a small, refundable deposit being added to the price of a beverage at the point of sale. Once the beverage has been drunk and the container is empty, consumers can then return the container to a collection point, where they receive a refund of the deposit. It aims to reduce the amount of beverage container litter and increase the amount of recycling by using a financial incentive (10c in Australia).
Despite what some naysayers might want you to believe, a Container Deposit is NOT a 'tax'. The government does not get the money and the entire deposit is refunded when the consumer returns the container to a collection point for recycling.
What are the benefits of a Container Deposit Scheme?
Container Deposit Schemes can have environmental and social benefits. These include:
Which states and territories have Container Deposit Schemes?
South Australia has had a CDS for more than 40 years, implementing it shortly after the national deposit scheme was dropped in the 1970s. As a result, they have one of the lowest rates of container litter and highest rates of container recycling in Australia. The South Australian scheme has been so successful at reducing litter and increasing recycling that the legislation that underpins it was awarded the status of 'Heritage Icon' by the National Trust in 2017. That’s quite a resounding endorsement!
In the meantime, local councils and communities across the rest of Australia continued to fight with catch cries including ‘Bring Back the Deposit’ and 'We Want Cash for Containers'.
In 2004, Boomerang Alliance began another effort working nationally and in each state. There were many twists and turns before we achieved victory in (most) states and territories across Australia. See below to read more about our Cash for Containers Campaign History.
We are still working hard, trying to convince the two remaining states – Victoria and Tasmania – to commit to a container deposit scheme. Once that happens, the whole country will be covered! Tasmania is showing positive signs and given the challenges that Victoria is currently encountering - since China implemented a ban on the import of contaminated kerbside plastics - we're hoping they'll work it out soon before the state drowns under the weight of container litter.
Learn more about our campaigns below:
A brief campaign history:
Over the last 13 years, tens of thousands of people have helped our Cash for Containers campaign with letters to and meetings with MPs, signing petitions, media events and actions, community stalls and clean-ups; and we have lobbied governments; countered industry misinformation; and developed a best practice Container Deposit Scheme.
2004 – 05: National Packaging Covenant (NPC) is renewed. It was the weak industry alternative to regulation like a CDS. We fight for targets and succeed – but the NPC was never going to work. Ministers warned a CDS could be around the corner.
2008: WA election. The then ALP Government promises a CDS after a positive taskforce inquiry, but delays a commitment. However, they were voted out. The drinks industry runs an effective insiders and public campaign, threatening marginal seats.
Mid-2010: Environment ministers meet in Darwin under federal minister Peter Garrett and announce a national study… the first of three. Initially, it was into beverage containers including a CDS, but then got expanded to all litter – a common tactic to diminish the importance of container deposits.
February 2011: After a brave campaign by the local community – with our participation – the NT Parliament unanimously passes its CDS law.
January 2012: The NT CDS is implemented.
December 2012: Coca Cola, Lion and Schweppes challenges the NT law in the Federal Court (surely one of the most unpopular corporate actions in recent years).
February 2013: QLD signs up to the National Bin Network – the industry’s latest alternative to a CDS – the day before environment ministers meet to discuss a national regulatory impact statement into options to deal with beverage and other litter. Despite this potentially fatal move by QLD and the industry, the ministers still proceed to the formal review process of a broad range of options including a CDS.
March 2013: Coca Cola win in the Federal Court and cancel their participation in the scheme, hoping it will collapse. However, the NT Government financially backs the CDS by supplying redeemed deposits/handling fees as they seek to remedy the process flaw in the law and obtain mutual recognition from all the other states. Once achieved, there is a full restart in August 2013.
Mid-2013: Vic Premier Napthine endorses a national CDS and keeps pushing over the year – the possibility of joint NSW/Vic action emerges.
November 2014: As the Vic election gets close, Napthine loses courage, no doubt in face of bad polls and industry threats to campaign on the consumer cost impacts of a CDS.
However, we don’t give up! We push on – now fully focussed on getting a state-by-state approach to CDS with the Commonwealth path now deemed fruitless.
January 2015: QLD election, an ALP minority government is elected and implements its policy to investigate a CDS. LNP Opposition gives bipartisan support in 2016.
February 2015: Premier Baird announces his election policy to implement a container deposit system by 1 July 2017. ALP Opposition give bipartisan support.
February 2016: NSW sensibly delays the start date of the CDS from June 2017 to December 2017.
April 2016: The Senate Inquiry into Marine Plastic reports endorses our solutions including demanding all states have a CDS by 2020 – otherwise the federal government should do it for them.
May 2016: We win in NSW with the NSW Government announcing a full scale CDS.
June 2016: The QLD Government announces it will start a CDS in 2018, harmonising with NSW.
August 2016: WA Government announced it will implement a CDS.
September 2016: The ACT Government announces that the ACT CDS will commence early 2018.
February 2017: The NSW Government delays the NSW CDS from June 2017 to December 2017.
September 2017: QLD Parliament unanimously passes the Waste Reduction and Recycling Amendment Bill, legislating a Container Refund Scheme (CRS) to be introduced into QLD (it starts November 2018). The bill also contained a best practise plastic bag ban (starts July 2018).
December 2017: The NSW CDS, ‘Return and Earn’, begins.
November 2018: The QLD CRS, ‘Containers for Change, begins.
December 2018: The NSW CDS reaches its first birthday and a milestone of 1 billion containers redeemed. Boomerang Alliance releases its report into the first year of operations, which can be downloaded by clicking HERE.
March 2019: The WA legislation passes parliament with the CDS to start in early 2020.