Already operating in most states, Victoria is the last to take a Container Refund Scheme (CRS) on board, but that puts it in the position of being able to choose the best type of CRS. We've learnt some lessons from the recent schemes in Queensland and New South Wales, particularly for the needs of urban and regional areas, refund point convenience, cost and charities.
The beverage industry that aggressively opposed any type of refund on drink bottles and cans for years, now wants to be in charge. We and also the charity, waste management, recycling and municipal associations oppose this.
Lion and Coke have created a new entity called VicRecycle to lobby for the beverage sector to control the hundreds of millions of dollars consumers will pay every year as 10cent deposits and the refund point infrastructure. The alternative splits the control between a Coordinator with a diversity of industry, expert and community representatives to manage industry contributions, audit and reporting; and one (or more) Network Operators whose sole focus is recycling and maximising return rates. NSW which has a close version of this model, has just passed 4.86 billion drink containers returned since it started in December 2017.1
This is an important debate because a CRS is an essential service for which the community campaigned over decades. They and the hundreds of local environment groups who fought hard for a Victorian CRS, want the environment protected from litter and plastic pollution to the greatest extent possible.
When you go to get your refund, you want to spend the least amount of time returning your container and getting your money. Here NSW widely outranks Qld with the use of automation (reverse vending machines in local areas and singulators at depots); three times more hours per week that refund points are open; and twice as many collection points per head of population.2
It's natural that a Network Operator(s) solely interested in maximising recycling would create an efficient and convenient return system. On the other hand, restricting returns via inconvenience saves the drinks industry money – and runs counter to the circular economy and environment improvement goals.
Charities also benefit from participating in a CRS. They can run collections for donated containers and operate refund depots. For example, Vinnies in NSW has 6 depots and they have received over 100million containers, making a tidy profit (from sorting fees paid by the scheme) to support its welfare services. In excess of $10m has so far been generated for not-for-profits (600 schools, 430 charities, social enterprises).3 Qld generates some funds from donated refunds for charities too, but imposes higher financial risks, labour and capital costs on depot operators and provides less assurance about the operating territory.
Recent analysis of the financial reports from the state operators reveals NSW delivers the scheme at a lower cost per returned container than Qld.4 And alcoholic drinks (beer, cider, spirits) are up to 5 cents more expensive in Qld than in NSW, according to pricing regulators.5
Victoria needs to make a decision that will allow a best practice scheme that will quickly and sustainably grow recycling rates; deliver convenience for the public; be low cost; and can adapt over the coming decades. Once established the new infrastructure is hard to change, so it’s best to get the fundamentals right at the start.
This is a legacy project that will play a key role in waste and recycling for decades to come.
Our groups and members are strongly advocating that government doesn’t hand it over to the big drink companies. We support the ‘split governance’ model. Tenders should be called.
The split model is also supported by the National Association of Charitable Recyclers (89 members); the peak groups of the waste management industry (National Waste and Recycling Industry Association, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia, Australian Council of Recycling) and Municipal Association of Victoria.
 https://www.exchangeforchange.com.au/_cache_dace/content/6531970000007766.pdf. First quarter 2020 redemption rate is 73%.
 https://qpc.blob.core.windows.net/wordpress/2019/02/Container-Refund-Scheme-final-report.pdf, p19. Minor price differential on non-alcoholics.