Tasmania’s container deposit scheme – new money, public tender… So, what’s the problem?

16 February 2021

By Gayle Sloan, CEO of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia

The beverage industry’s ongoing lobbying against, and incessant whinging that Tasmania’s proposed split model container deposit scheme will deter community participation is just white noise, distracting us from what this scheme actually is – a true polluters-pay model that will offer new revenue streams for Australians, communities, local businesses, and charities alike, reduce litter, and create a clean material stream for domestic remanufacturing. And by the way, the scheme will be publicly tendered, meaning all interested parties will have a fair go at participating in the scheme. So, what’s the issue?

Let’s take a step back and think this through in a considered, logical way, instead of being swayed by the emotive words and misinformation being presented by some. Here are the facts.

Firstly, community groups, local sporting clubs and charities are not being sidelined, nor will it be harder for them to make money. There will be money in the pot and opportunities for these groups, just as there are in all Australian schemes that already have significant social enterprise involvement. In fact, the ACT led the way in this regard, pioneering a model that birthed great innovation (an “Uber” for cans is in the pipeline) and social enterprise involvement, which was followed by other jurisdictions.

For the scheme to be successful – one measure of success being collection volumes – which would inevitably also benefit social enterprises, we need high levels of community engagement. To get high levels of engagement, the scheme must be accessible to all Tasmanians, which leads to my next point – all parties can and should play a role in the scheme.

The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all scheme, and there is no one industry (be it beverage or recycling) that has an automatic right to run this scheme in Tasmania, particularly when there are clear commercial interests on both sides, e.g., the beverage sector managing its profit margins.

A successful scheme is one that is accessible, drives recycling, reduces litter, provides a new income stream for Tasmanians, and creates a remanufacturing sub-sector that uses Australian recycled containers. We can only get there if the inherent conflict of interest associated with higher container return rates (i.e., the more accessible the scheme = the more containers returned = increased costs for beverage suppliers) is managed. And it will be through a split model scheme, giving it the best chance at accessibility and effectiveness, as well as the generation of a lot of new money for the consumer, charities, sporting groups, infrastructure investment, new sectors, and new local jobs.

Thirdly, all schemes to-date have a head contractor that fulfils the role of delivering and managing network operations; the difference is, some states tendered this role, and some did not. In Tasmania, the government wants its split model to be publicly tendered – surely this is a good thing that ensures transparency in the process and allows all parties to participate? Or are we suggesting that we simply hand the scheme over to one party with, as noted above, commercial interests, just because they’re making the loudest noise?

Next, do the NSW and ACT schemes really pale in comparison to the other states as the beverage industry claims? The short answer is no, not if we want to meet the objectives of a successful CDS. Over in NSW, the cost per container is lower than in Queensland; however, the overall amount paid out (the refund) is higher as there are more containers redeemed (a good thing). It follows naturally that the more returns you have, the more the overall costs will be.

In a nutshell, all schemes generate significant new monies and high value streams of material that we can recycle in Australia. These schemes are part of a polluters-pay policy that makes sense when one considers the amount of beverage containers represented in the litter stream which other programs have not been able to effectively address to-date. So, we are finally moving to CDS nationally, which by the way, has had longstanding success in Europe for decades.

Let’s move forward and get on with the design and tender process; this scheme will live in Tasmania and its community for many years so we need a fair, balanced, and effective model. No one group has the right to run it and the Tasmanian government should be congratulated for having the community’s interest at heart, holding firm and not acquiescing to pressure from interest groups. Want a piece of the action? Put in a bid in the public tender and get back to work.