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June 29, 2010

Sydney Morning Herald

Canny recycling scheme offers $168m saving

A national recycling scheme for cans and bottles would save the NSW public $168 million a year, according to an independent study using data from a secret federal government report.

Industry groups directly contradict the findings, saying that the proposed cost of a national recycling scheme has blown out by more than $200 million and would significantly add to the cost of many groceries including milk, soft drinks and beer. State environment ministers will meet in Darwin next week to consider whether to take another step towards a national cash for cans and bottles scheme, after a decision was deferred last year pending more research.

The plan calls for a small charge to be added to cans, bottles and some other packaging, to be recouped when the material is recycled.

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The Total Environment Centre has used data from federal government research and a separate study by the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water to run a cost benefit-analysis and estimates a net benefit of $168 million a year. But the state Environment Department said it was premature to judge benefits and more research was needed.

Federal modelling of the public's willingness to take part in a national recycling scheme was not released, despite a freedom of information request, but it is believed to show minimal consumer opposition.

''A national container deposit legislation scheme is the most cost-effective way of improving recycling and it's clear that it also enjoys massive public support,'' the Total Environment Centre's executive director, Jeff Angel, said.

''The flow of income through a container deposit scheme will also let us set up really good infrastructure for not just cans and bottles but also e-waste, mobile phones, and batteries.''

Drink manufacturers, including Foster's, Lion Nathan and Coca-Cola Amatil, oppose a deposit refund scheme, saying it would trim profits and lift prices.

''The [scheme] promises a range of environmental outcomes and most consumers are unaware that more of them can be achieved or are already being achieved through lower cost options,'' said Paul Evans of Lion Nathan.

The Food and Grocery Council of Australia said consumers would pay an extra 14¢ for many packaged groceries.

This would equate to more than $3 on a case of beer because the levy would apply to each bottle or can.

Kate Carnell, chief executive of the council, said the environment ministers should reject the container deposit legislation after a revised report had shown the cost to be $680 million, $188 million more than the first estimate.

A spokeswoman for Alcoa said the aluminium can manufacturer supported a refund and deposit scheme provided ''that extra costs are not burdened on recycling business''.

This would make many businesses ''in the recycling loop uncompetitive and recycling in Australia unsustainable''.

The NSW Environment Department said the recycling rate for all waste in NSW was 58 per cent and was continuing to rise.

It said it would prefer to wait for more research before supporting a national scheme.

''There's lots of different views, but the community is onside and they have been improving their recycling performance in the last three years,'' said Bernard Carlon, director of sustainability programs.

''We just want to make sure we get this right.''


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