WA councils push for container deposit scheme

By Paul Hemsley with Julian Bajkowski

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) is pressing the state government to introduce a ‘Cash for Containers’ scheme to curb high levels of rubbish dumped in streets and parks.

The plan would provide a direct financial incentive for people to recycle empty cans, bottles or cartons by submitting them to a collection depot and receive 10 cents for each container.

Local governments in the West estimate that the scheme could halve the amount of litter they are now forced to clean up at a cost of $20 million a year to ratepayers.

Aside from the cost reductions and environmental benefits of the scheme, WALGA is keen to shed the ignominious plaudit as the grubbiest state in Australia after the 2012 Keep Australia Beautiful National Litter Index found WA has the highest volume of litter in the nation.

The adoption of a container deposit scheme would make WA the third Australian jurisdiction to sheet the costs of waste collection back to industry. South Australia introduced its now entrenched scheme in 1977, while the Northern Territory introduced deposits in January this year.

Local governments have been long-time advocates for cost sharing and waste reduction schemes like container deposits because they make merchants and manufacturers collect volume-based levies at the point of sale, thereby offsetting the cost to ratepayers.

In terms of making a container deposit scheme a reality, WALGA President Mayor Troy Pickard has called Environment minister, Bill Marmion, to use his existing powers under the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2007.

The local government sector also wants to move ahead of any national scheme because of the slow rate of progress. 

Mr Pickard said a national process is unlikely to succeed because all state governments aren’t supporting it.

“A Cash for Containers scheme, like they have in South Australia, provides a strong incentive to recycle containers – and if they are thrown away, the 10 cent deposit rewards others who gather and recycle them,” Mr Pickard said.

“While increased fines to reduce litter are an important part of the solution, it is also vital to provide incentives for people to do the right thing,” he said.

However the proposals for a WA deposit scheme are unlikely to be adopted without a fight from the powerful fast food, beverage and grocery groups that lobbied hard against such mechanisms for decades.

Despite the hardball tactics, businesses in some regional communities have taken environmental matters into their own hands.

In 2009, businesses in the NSW Southern Highlands town of Bundanoon successfully banded together to stop selling bottled water, offering residents and visitors free water filling stations instead, a stand that that continues today.

Although the initiative was not an overt ban as such, the large amount of national publicity it generated created a headache for beverage and grocery companies because of the potential for other communities to follow suit.

Bundanoon went on to win the “Waste Management and Litter Reduction” category at the 2011 Keep Australia Beautiful NSW Tidy Towns Sustainable Communities Awards for its ‘Bundy on Tap’ campaign.

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