By Julian Bajkowski
The powerful plastic bottle and beverages lobby has come under heavy fire from South Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Ian Hunter, over reports that manufacturers are ploughing money into environmental campaigners Keep Australia Beautiful in return for the group opposing a national container deposit scheme.
Mr Hunter has branded Keep Australia Beautiful’s position as “disappointing” and is pushing the case that the South Australian experience “shows container deposit legislation (CDL) significantly reduces littering and waste.”
State and local governments across have been locked in a long battle with the beverages industry, particularly soft drinks manufacturers, over attempts to offset bottle disposal, collection and recycling costs by building in an up-front deposit in the sales price to put a value on waste.
While multinational manufacturers typically paint container deposits as the creation of a new tax with abundant red tape, governments and councils conversely view deposits or levies on waste as an effective chargeback mechanism that scraps an artificial subsidy for polluters.
The problem for governments, especially at the local end, is that they have to pick up and pay for the rubbish left after consumers have quenched thirst.
Most polluting industries, ranging from brake and clutch fluid to computers and flat screen TVs, now use a charge levied on sales to offset disposal costs borne by governments who are responsible for the safe disposal of toxic waste.
However the well-resourced beverage industry remains the standout opponent in Australia to such a scheme being applied to its products and has not been afraid to lobby hard across all tiers of government for its commercial interests.
South Australia has long represented a thorn in the side of container deposit opponents because most sides of politics have supported both the economic and environmental basis for its container deposit scheme, as well as the state’s right to regulate particular industries.
“South Australia’s scheme was introduced in 1977, and has been a key reason why this State has one of the world’s best rates of waste diverted from landfill,” Mr Hunter said.
“In the 2011/12 financial year, more than 81 per cent of all beverage containers in South Australia were returned for a refund and eventual recycling. This equates to more than 609 million beverage containers, or more than 47,000 tonnes of material not going into the State’s waste.”
Mr Hunter is also keen to point out differences of opinion within the Keep South Australia Beautiful (KESAB) organisation, noting that the state branch of the national group “has been a strong supporter of the container deposit legislation.”
“KESAB deserves credit for its on-going support of South Australia’s efforts to reduce waste,” Mr Hunter said.
“That’s why it’s so disappointing that Keep Australia Beautiful has chosen to oppose a scheme that delivers real results for the environment and the community.”
A statement from Mr Hunters Office also quotes KESAB’s Executive Director Environmental Solutions, John Phillips, as saying that container deposits legislation has a positive impact that is much more extensive than that seen by Keep Australia Beautiful National Association “and is more significant than the interstate critics choose to recognise.”
“Community based depots provide an incentive for people to come in for their 10 cents per container – bringing many additional recyclables compared to any other jurisdiction,” Mr Phillips said.
“Through Container Deposit Legislation in South Australia, we have developed a culture and behaviour that creates a much bigger and positive outcome.
“The network of 110 recycling depots in SA actively engages the community and recovers much more than just beverage containers – in fact tens of thousands of tonnes of other recyclable resources are recovered,” Mr Phillips said.
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