Instant expert

Container Deposit Legislation

Does ten cents make much sense?

Australian 10 cent coin

Credit: Wikimedia

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What is container deposit legislation?

Container deposit legislation (CDL) establishes a system for getting 10 cents back when you hand in your old drink bottles and cans.

It was introduced in South Australia in 1977 as a litter-reduction strategy and it's still the only state operating the scheme.

People are debating whether a container deposit scheme should be implemented nationwide.

Why go national?

Australians use lots of drink containers - over 14 billion a year - yet we recycle less than half of them.

This is because nearly half of beverage containers are consumed away from home, where they're more likely to be thrown in a street rubbish bin, or chucked on the ground. In fact, drink containers currently account for 47 per cent of all litter, according to Keep Australia Beautiful.

Meanwhile SA is the only state where beverage containers aren't among the five most common types of rubbish collected on Clean Up Australia Day.

The state's Environment Protection Authority reports a total container-recycling rate exceeding the national average at 70 to 75 per cent.

So who is opposing the idea?

While most green groups love CDL, one independent NSW study found limited support from the recycling industry, and clear opposition from the drink manufacturers, packagers and shops.

Cans and bottles collected in your local council's kerbside recycling scheme are a source of money for the recycling companies. So when the Beverage Industry Environment Council found SA to have the second lowest kerbside yield in Australia, the recycling industry got worried.

Also, the cost of running a collection scheme would shift away from local councils towards the drink manufacturers and packagers.

Ah, so it's just companies protecting themselves?

Not entirely.

Because your local council already collects drink containers, some groups think that adding a CDL will only be unnecessary duplication of recycling schemes.

Plus, the money from cans and bottles helps subsidise our kerbside recycling service. Without it, we may face higher collection costs and council rates or no recycling service at all.

Many of those opposed genuinely don't believe CDL will improve recycling and litter rates, but each side of the debate claims the other fudges the figures used to tout the benefits or pitfalls of CDL.

So what's being done?

At the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) meetings in 2008, all state and territory environment ministers agreed to consider national options for improving recycling and decreasing litter, including CDL.

A formal report has been commissioned, and will be considered at this year's first Council meeting.

Meanwhile, in the push for a national scheme, groups such as Family First have proposed their own laws.

Those groups opposed to CDL have also suggested improving recycling systems to combat the problem of away-from-home waste and litter.

What can I do?

Recycle! And if you're out, take your cans and bottles home with you for recycling.

The thing to remember is that it is not how something is recycled, but whether it actually is.

Follow the debate in 2009 and write a letter to your local politicians to let them know your view.

Where can I read more?

The South Australian Environment Protection Authority
The Australian Food and Grocery Council
Clean Up Australia