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January 20, 2008


A success worth drinking to
Penelope Debelle

FOR 30 years, South Australia has been an island of recycling in a sea of litter, with a compulsory drink container deposit system that refunds five cents for the return of every can, bottle and flavoured milk or fruit juice carton.

While the packaging industry in the rest of Australia has resisted beverage container legislation, South Australians have had a recycling system that uses a five-cent levy to send bottles and cans back for re-use since the 1970s.

The SA government's strong stance — which was resisted fiercely at the time by local bottlers including Coca-Cola — was partly due to the proliferation of aluminium cans and plastic PET drink bottles in the 1970s, which was creating a pollution blight and threatening the success of the voluntary bottle recycling system that began in the 1890s.

The bottle recycling system was run by the Adelaide Bottle Company, which used a network of marine store dealers to collect and reuse beer and soft drink bottles produced by local brewers, Coopers and the SA Brewing Company.

In 1975, reformist premier Don Dunstan introduced the five-cent refundable deposit scheme with the Beverage Container Act, using the marine store dealer network as recycling agencies.

"It was part of a general trend in SA to be a socially reforming jurisdiction in many respects," says SA Conservation Council campaigner James Dannenberg.

The system's success is undisputed, with around 90% of aluminium cans, glass soft drink and beer bottles and plastic soft drink containers in SA returned — compared with 48% elsewhere.

The Conservation Council says there is less obvious litter in SA and the state's carbon footprint in this area is lighter because of it, particularly with the recycling of aluminium cans, which take so much energy to produce they are worth more than the drink they contain.

But industry groups oppose extending the system beyond SA. Dave West, of the Boomerang Alliance, representing local government and community groups, says the industry opposition is strongest in Victoria. "You have to ask why the Victorian Government has been so reluctant to have a good look at this," he says.



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