It’s now almost 15 years since the Tasmanian government first began looking into a container deposit system, or CDS, for the state.
Such a system, now operational or planned in all Australian states and territories but Tasmania and Victoria, would seek to reduce litter and increase the rate of recycling for eligible containers.
Since then, three reports have been commissioned in the state – the most recent of which is currently being considered.
In June 2004, a joint parliamentary standing committee began an investigation into waste management in Tasmania – the final report of which recommended a container deposit system be introduced subject to a cost-benefit analysis of its viability and effectiveness.
An environmental consulting firm, Hyder Consulting, was then contracted to study the best potential model for a Tasmanian CDS in December 2008.
The report concluded that a “hybrid” CDS built around elements of existing interstate and overseas systems had the potential to improve recovery rates of beverage containers in Tasmania, though noted establish such a system would be complex and require careful government consideration.
Funding was provided for a cost-benefit analysis of a Tasmanian CDS in the 2013/2014 state budget, which saw Marsden Jacob Associates drafted via an open tender process to undertake a “desktop” analysis based on an option similar to the one outlined in the 2009 Hyder report.
The key findings of the study were that over a 20-year period from 2014-15, a deposit system would reduce beverage container litter by 35 per cent on baseline volumes and increase the rate of container recycling to 78 per cent.
It found such a system would result in a net cost to the state of $86 million in present values and be “unlikely” to produce a net benefit to the state – even factoring the community’s “willingness-to-pay”.
Through collected container redemption and avoidance of kerbside recycling costs, the study also found a CDS would benefit local government to the tune of $28 million in net present value.
In the 2017-18 state budget, funding was allocated to develop a framework for introducing a Tasmanian CDS – Marsden Jacob Associates were again given the task.
The report, provided to the government and released in July 2018, outlined a system to be run by a single coordinator and operator set up as a product stewardship organisation and directed by a board comprised of industry representatives.
Eighteen months should be allowed to set up the system, which would require more than 60 refund points to provide enough access to push redemption rates above 80 per cent – a figure that could halve beverage container litter.
The total funding requirement of the scheme over 20 years was estimated at $239 million, of which $138 million would be refunded deposits. Real costs of running the scheme were flagged at $101 million, or around 4c per eligible container.
Similar to the NSW scheme, consideration was suggested for refund sharing between recovery facilities and local councils of refunds on containers redeemed through the kerbside system.
Four aspects of a scheme which may impact container redemption rates that “need to be resolved” were flagged: whether the scheme is a deposit or refund scheme, what rate is applied to containers, if beverage retailers have an obligation under it, and whether the targets are regulated with penalties.
A combination of reverse vending machines, store-front returns and bulk return depots are found across the five states and territories with operational systems – all offer refunds of 10 cents per eligible container.
South Australia first introduced theirs in 1977 – one of the first pieces of legislation to place greater responsibility on industry for its packaging after sale.
In 2006 the SA system was awarded “state heritage icon” status.
The current overall return rate sits at 76.9 per cent, with only 2 per cent of litter now made up of eligible beverage containers.
The system provides a financial benefit to community groups, sporting clubs and charities that collect the empty containers.
The Northern Territory was next in 2012, followed by New South Wales in December 2017 and the Australian Capital Territory in June 2018.
Drink container litter dropped by 33 per cent in the first six months of the NSW launch in December of 2017.
Queensland was the last state to introduce a CDS – in November of 2018 – with Western Australia expected to begin one in 2020.
The implementation of a container refund scheme has political support across Labor and the Greens, though the government says it wants to “be sure” a refund scheme was in the public interest.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Elise Archer said they needed to weigh up the cost-effectiveness and public interest in any potential implementation of a container refund scheme in a small jurisdiction such as Tasmania.
“We know there is no single solution to our waste and recycling challenges, and the Government's priority is on developing and implementing an overarching Waste Action Plan for Tasmania,” the spokesperson said.
Greens environment spokesperson Rosalie Woodruff criticised the government for “sitting on” the report for months.
“With states like New South Wales and Queensland joining South Australia in starting container deposit schemes, Tasmania is being left behind,” Ms Woodruff said.
Ella Haddad, Tasmanian Labor’s environment, parks and heritage spokesperson said the government should be acting with “urgency” on the issue after councils backed a container deposit scheme at last July’s Local Government Association conference.
“The State Government’s slow action on waste has left Tasmania vulnerable to considerable reputational risk against its clean-green image that has been steadily built over many years,” Ms Haddad added.
The local government sector is a strong backer of a refund scheme which could give alternative recycling for their constituents outside of kerbside bins and provide benefits through refunds.
Local Association of Tasmania acting chief executive Dion Lester said the sector has been calling on the government to start a CDS for years.
“It’s recognised nationally and is one of the most effective ways to reduce litter,” Mr Lester said.
“Waste is an extremely high priority for the sector and this is one key element where Tasmania can catch up to out mainland states.”
“There’s been a consistent position across the sector over the last couple years.”
“You could say the sector is becoming frustrated around the lack of action on a container deposit scheme.”
Dr Joanna Vince is a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania and has published in leading international journals about marine plastic pollution.
“Research shows that on a local level container deposit schemes, and more opportunities for soft plastic recycling, can make a difference in the amount of plastic found in the ocean,” Dr Vince said in June 2018.
“Plastic doesn’t disappear so the plastic that was around in 1950 is still around today but it is very hard to say stop using it.”
She added the responsibility to reduce plastic pollution was one for consumers, governments and industry from the local to a global level.
“The issue is multifaceted requiring a mixture of regulation, economic/market and community-based efforts to make a difference,” she said
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