Almost 15 years ago, the Tasmanian government first began looking into a container deposit system, or CDS, for the state.
But after years of lobbying from the community, researchers, environmental groups and local government, Environment Minister Elise Archer on Thursday announced the government would implement a container scheme by 2022.
Such a system, now operational or planned in all Australian states and territories but Victoria, would seek to reduce litter and increase the rate of recycling for eligible containers.
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In budget estimates yesterday, Ms Archer told an an expert reference group would be established to provide advice prior to legislating the scheme. A tender process would then be opened, with the scheme to be implemented by 2022.
She said the scheme would encourage positive behaviours which would help the government reach its target of becoming the tidiest state by 2023.
"The majority of Australian states and territories have successfully implemented a container refund scheme which allow for the exchange of containers at designated depots or reverse vending machines under various models," Ms Archer said.
The announcement was welcomed - with some words of caution - by the Greens. Both the Local Government Association of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Small Business Council also greeted the news.
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 establishing 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 2013-14 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 communitys 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.
The state of the states
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 a scheme 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.
Voices for change
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 Government Association of Tasmania acting chief executive Dion Lester said in January the sector had been calling on the government to set up 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 has 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, a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania with many published papers on marine plastic pollution has noted that, on a local level, container deposit schemes and further opportunities for soft plastic recycling can make a difference in the amount of plastic found in the ocean."
"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 said in June last year.
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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