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April 17, 2008

Sydney Morning Herald

Deposit on drink bottles may help
Ben Cubby and Marian Wilkinson

CONSUMERS could soon be confronted by a 10-cent refund and deposit system for most beer, wine, soft drink and water bottles, as the nation's environment ministers are today expected to investigate a new national recycling scheme.

The move is strenuously opposed by some beverage companies and retailers, who believe a voluntary approach to recycling is working and a refund system would force up costs.

The NSW Environment Minister, Verity Firth, will move to investigate the need for Australia-wide container deposit legislation, likely to be similar to the cash-for-cans scheme for reusing aluminium, at a crucial meeting of state and federal environment ministers today.

"I think we can always do better and I want to do whatever is best to increase recycling," said Ms Firth, who will be pushing for the investigation to be completed in time for the National Packaging Covenant's mid-term review in November. "We want to be able to make a decision with all the data to hand and this is the best way to do that."

Consumers will potentially face a price rise for bottled products, but be fully refunded when containers are returned to collection centres.

Environmentalists welcomed the plan, suggesting a scheme could save half a million tonnes of packaging landfill a year - equal to about 12 billion bottles and containers - based on figures from South Australia, which already has a deposit scheme.

"Australia truly needs a national approach to waste management that brings us into the modern era," said Jeff Angel, director of the Total Environment Centre.

Jon Dee, founder of Planet Ark, said: "The National Packaging Covenant is not achieving the results that it could be, so it's only appropriate that state and federal governments should launch a full investigation into whether container deposit legislation would offer better outcomes."

The packaging covenant, set up in 2005, seeks to increase recycling rates to 65 per cent of all packaging by 2010. But draft figures provided to the Herald last week suggest Australia's voluntary recycling effort is facing a crisis of credibility, with recycling rates for glass at just 36 per cent rather than 44 per cent, as previously reported to ministers. Recycling of plastic containers is also stuck at around 31 per cent.

Investigating a deposit and refund recycling scheme now had the potential to damage relations between governments and businesses, said Ed Cordner, chief executive of the packaging covenant.

"There could well be concern that as signatories to the covenant, the governments do not uphold the obligations they took on when they signed," Mr Cordner said. "When push comes to shove, who knows what industry would do, but I guess they would have less confidence in the process."

The head of the Packaging Stewardship Forum, Jenny Pickles, said industry remained opposed to the scheme, saying it would come "at considerable cost to the community", but would want to participate in any new investigation into recycling.

The head of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Dick Wells, yesterday called on the environment ministers to reject a national container deposit system, saying it would address only 3 per cent of Australia's waste and would undermine kerbside collections of glass, plastics and cans.

The ministers' meeting will also examine the vexed issue of banning free plastic carry bags. An outright ban of bags, phased in from the end of the year, has the support of some ministers.


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