As the last mainland state in Australia to introduce a container deposit scheme (CDS), Victoria has an opportunity to make a real difference. The state’s future CDS could be the most efficient, effective and ethical in the country — but only if it is designed right.
The introduction of a CDS in Victoria has been a long time coming. For years the local community campaigned, against big beverage companies, for the scheme to be introduced to protect the state’s parks, streets and ocean from litter, including dangerous plastics.
Now, the state government is deciding who should run the scheme and has opened a public consultation on the matter. In response, Boomerang Alliance launched the Recycle right Victoria campaign this month to stop big beverage companies Coca-Cola and Lion Diary & Drinks taking control of Victoria’s CDS.
Design is key to an effective CDS
We know from experience that container deposit schemes can reduce container litter, increase recycling rates, create business opportunities and jobs, and encourage community fundraising.
But crucial for any CDS to successfully meet these objectives is its design. How the scheme is run, and who the key decision makers are, has a major impact on how convenient, efficient and ethical it will be.
Victoria has a chance to learn from other states’ successes and failures, to create a CDS that delivers the best possible outcome for the local community and environment.
The problem with Coke and Lion
Evidence clearly demonstrates that in the states where Coca-Cola and Lion Dairy & Drinks have a major influence, they have failed to meet critical consumer access needs. They have created schemes with significant flaws which harm environmental and community objectives1 2.
Both companies campaigned against the introduction of a CDS in Victoria. They used heavy duty tactics to lobby the government, developing misleading adverts, taking legal action, commissioning questionable studies and even threatening politicians at election time.
But it’s not just Victoria’s CDS Coca-Cola has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning against. The company opposed proposals for the Northern Territory and Western Australia container deposit schemes in 2011 and 2013, in addition to mounting various legal and political challenges in the USA and Europe. More information about action taken in each state can be found on the Boomerang Alliance website.
In every state, beverage producers are responsible for paying refund and handling costs in the CDS. Our research in Western Australia and Queensland shows where they have control, beverage companies limit their costs and protect their profits by making returning containers inconvenient for Australians.
Both states’ schemes are less accessible, convenient and effective than in New South Wales, which uses the alternative split responsibility CDS model.
Queensland has less than half the number of refund points New South Wales has, and the state’s refund points are open three times less than those in New South Wales. Western Australia is the least accessible scheme in the nation.
As Heidi Tait, CEO of the Tangaroa Blue Foundation and Queenslander commented, "the QLD container deposit scheme has not taken into account the absolute critical need for it to be convenient for the consumer to use. Consumers are being left financially impacted by paying more for their beverages and not being able to easily redeem their refund”.
What success could look like
The New South Wales CDS is widely recognised as the leading program in Australia. Since its inception in December 2017, over 4.5 billion bottles and cans have been returned for recycling through the Return and Earn Scheme3 and in the last 6 months it has achieved a 75% return rate, equalling South Australia which has had a scheme for over 35 years.
The Recycle right Victoria campaign is advocating for the same model to be implemented in Victoria, a split-responsibility CDS whereby governance is shared between industry and community representatives, and recycling and environmental experts.
This would remove the ability of Coca-Cola and Lion to limit collection rates to protect their profits. Instead, network operators are driven to collect as many containers as possible because it is their revenue source.
The Boomerang Alliance team have been involved in CDS advocacy in every state in Australia. We know the split-responsibility model will result in more collection points with longer opening hours, achieving high return rates.
Heidi agrees, adding “I would strongly suggest that the Victorian model learns from the failure of the QLD model, as well as the opportunities that the NSW model provides for consumers in regards to accessibility."
We’re asking anyone who wants a convenient, efficient and ethical scheme to sign our Change.org petition.
Learn more about the Recycle right Victoria campaign and how to get involved by visiting our website.