Status Report: Australia’s Bottle and Can Refund Schemes

The Total Environment Centre is releasing the first review of all of Australia’s drink bottle and can 10c refund laws which assesses the performance of each state and territory and examines future challenges. Read the full report.

Once opposed by the beverage industry, the Container Refund Schemes (CRS) are now broadly supported and have a crucial role to play in developing Australia’s circular economy as they deliver billions of drink containers for recycling each year. Nevertheless, all can do with some improvements. Jeff Angel, Director of Total Environment Centre, states that we should be aiming for 90+% return rates, well above the current national return rate of 65%.

The study uses 24 criteria across a wide range of areas: broad operation including recycling rates; type, number, and convenience of refund points; litter reduction; governance and accountability; and economics.

While caution needs to be exercised in comparing each jurisdiction because some are more mature than others, there are some clear points of difference that are either weaknesses that should be targeted for improvement or lessons from other states.

For example:

  • Australia’s oldest Container Refund Scheme, located in South Australia, has severe problems with governance, accountability, and credibility of data on recycling rates and costs. Newer schemes are much improved on these factors.

  • NSW's container refund scheme has the best level of refund point convenience for metro consumers and households, while Queensland has the worst.

  • Western Australia's container refund scheme has a good Strategic Plan and a clear target, but other states and territories don’t.’’
    All schemes have made major inroads into drink container litter and increasingly the collected glass and plastic bottles are being converted back into drink containers helping build a domestic circular economy as the assured supply of quality material is provided by the CRSs. Also it’s important to push the pace for improvement on all schemes such as with inclusion of wine and spirit glass bottles and larger containers; increasing the participation rate particularly with apartment dwellers and the food service sector; and more refund points at major retail sites.

Total Environment Centre hopes that Australian eventually achieves a 90+% recycling rate, which would significantly improve the climate, circular economy, financial and litter benefits.