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By Ruth Hessey, G guest blogger
Having always been a thirsty person I vividly remember the school bubblers which provided relief in the scorching summers of my Queensland childhood. In those ancient far gone days before bottled water, when a Fanta was a special treat, and our parents made their own soda water with elegant soda syphons and little gas canisters, there also didn’t seem to be any litter on the long white sandy beaches where I grew up. I do remember the thrill of prodding a giant turtle that was probably laying eggs on the beach near Emu Plains, and the lonely but cooling whispers of the she-oaks we ran to for shade. In those halcyon days we didn’t have to share the beach with plastic bags, takeaway hamburger containers, or even chip packets.
It was an idyllic childhood. My brother and I used to take drink bottles to the corner shop with its donut machine in the window, and the glass top counters which separated us from a tantalising array of boiled lollies, milky bars, sherbet fizz, jelly frogs, and chocolate stars. There was nothing like the excitement of adding up the pennies we were refunded for every bottle we presented to the shop keeper, and the little paper bags stuffed with lollies we rushed off to eat under the house where Mum wouldn’t see what we were up to.
Yes times have changed. Corner stores aren’t places to count pennies and thrills anymore - the lolly counter has been replaced with impersonal vending machines and mass marketed treats. Most of that part of Queensland has been carved into housing estates and those giant sea turtles are often drowned by ingesting floating plastic particles. There seem to be empty plastic bottles in every crevice of every beach, and children no longer learn about saving and spending by collecting bottles and trading them in for lolly money, or a fund to buy Christmas presents (which was my chief economic goal each year). Unless of course, you live in South Australia, where a container deposit system, or cash for containers scheme, has been responsible for recycling rates of pver 80 per centfor the past 30 years.
Earlier this year, the Northern Territory brought in Container Deposit Legislation, but the move was bitterly contested by Coca Cola – it was quite shocking for me to discover that the company which pedalled summer fun throughout my teens with its ‘Coke Is The Real Thing’ and psychedelic Fanta ads, is so ideologically opposed to recycling beverage containers that it resorts to corporate bullying all over the world. In one incident, in America’s iconic Grand Canyon National Park, a plan to install water fountains and ban bottled water was derailed this year when Coke threatened to pull its substantial funding from the park. There were not-so veiled threats made to the NT government too, when the Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) was put to the vote, but Coke lost out when a public outcry proved very bad PR for the beverage giant.
The Boomerang Alliance has estimated the economic value of reducing litter and saving resources at over $650 million, saving 11 billion containers per year from wreaking environmental havoc. CDS already makes millions of dollars for charities in SA each year. In Berlin, the homeless have joined forces to organise the city into territories, and like poor people everywhere, they have become ardent recyclers, spurred on by the deposit refund incentives. A CDS is operating to great effect in over 24 jurisdictions worldwide. Moreover the system could revolutionise our recycling of batteries, mobile phones and other electronic waste by providing a network of easy-as recycling hubs across the country.
So what is Coca-Cola’s problem? Apparently it’s all about profit. But the pro CDS campaign is gaining speed despite the machinations of Coke and its cohorts. School children get it immediately, and so do the vast majority of Australians.
That's why I think we should all let Coke know we are not buying it anymore, and say no to single-serve drinks.
Ruth Hessey is the Communications Director at the Total Environment Centre. She was the writer/director of Waste Not, an award winning documentary film about garbage.