I have long supported the reintroduction of a ‘cash for cans’ recycling scheme in NSW which offers cash incentives to those who recycle drink containers such as aluminium cans and plastic drink bottles.
We finally saw legislation pass through the NSW Parliament in October 2016 which will see a ‘container deposit scheme’ take effect in NSW from late in 2017. It comes after many years of campaigning and lobbying.
Polls had shown that 90 per cent of NSW consumers supported the introduction of such a scheme, but initiatives to implement one were hampered by strident and unconscionable resistance from the beverage industry.
Details of the scheme approved by the Parliament are still being ironed out. While I am broadly supportive of its intentions, I still feel that parts of it come up short – in particular, there is nothing in the new legislation which puts some of the onus on the big retailers to play a role in the recycling initiative.
Here’s a copy of the speech I made to Parliament when the CDS scheme was finally debated and passed:
“In this case a financial incentive can be provided to return or clean up empty containers. That will be a win for the environment, charities and other groups who could benefit from the money. Presently, the community shells out about $180 million each year to manage and clean up this type of litter. Several things are vital to the future success of a recycling or refund scheme, and the most important of those is easy access to refund or recycling collection centres. This is where I believe the system risks falling short. I am not alone in that view; many major environmental groups have expressed a similar concern. By failing to insist that retailers or suppliers of drink containers house refund stations, the desired result will not be achieved.
The likes of Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA have huge market power and a significant impact on how consumables are packaged, but they take no responsibility for how the discarded waste is managed. The bill does not make it mandatory for suppliers to play their part. Instead, collection points will be established at existing waste facilities such as council tips or depots and the balance left to market forces. Experience tells us that we need to make things as easy as possible for people to return their containers. World's best practice, as promised by the Government, requires legislation that will force at least some of the suppliers and retailers to carry the load.
Suppliers will not voluntarily go to the expense of setting up or becoming a collection agency. In my electorate there are sporting groups, charities, councils and other associations that could benefit from becoming a network operator—and maybe they will. Nothing in the bill locks in a commitment or guarantees that these groups will provide the market forces that the Government is looking for. If it is not in the bill, suppliers of these products will only have to play a voluntary role in fixing the problem they largely create. If they choose not to, the system will not achieve its best and the problem will continue.
I have raised my concerns with the Minister's office and was told that there was nothing to stop retailers from becoming or providing collection points. In fact, the Minister said just that in his second reading speech. That is true, but I fear retailers will not get on board if it will cost money or inconvenience them. I accept the Minister's view that it is the Government's intention to leave the door open to charities, and sporting and community groups to participate in the scheme's operation and possibly earn income from it. I accept that those groups might be frozen out of the equation if every supermarket and large retailer is required by law to be a collection point.
I also accept that the opportunities exist for those groups to become involved. But what if it becomes more work or more trouble than it is worth? That is what has occurred in some States where similar schemes have been left to private or open market forces. The Government must be mindful that that does not occur. I have seen how reverse vending machines work, both here and overseas. It is good, sound technology that should be placed in shopping centres, near popular retail outlets, at train stations, in sporting stadiums, and at public events or other easily accessed areas.
I note that the legislation requires scheme coordinators to meet targets in the regions they are responsible for, but we do not know what those targets are or how they will be achieved if there is no legislated framework to place an obligation on a business to operate the scheme or act as a collection point. It would be great to see this legislation place an obligation on major retailers, leaving the door open for them to partner with groups or charities in their area who could be the beneficiaries of any income generated. At the very least, container suppliers should be involved in the process. That would result in accessibility and convenience for consumers and would provide the opportunity for charities and other groups to earn a few much-needed dollars.
I trust that the Government will remain open to amendments to the legislation if flaws are identified when it is implemented. There is a need to maximise the return of containers, recycling an important resource and taking a load off the environment by reducing the impact of litter and the need for raw materials. This is an excellent start and great news for New South Wales. I look forward to seeing the major industry players—that is, beverage companies and retail outlets—becoming involved. They are integral to the success of the scheme through appropriate stewardship of their product packaging.
I acknowledge some of the people I have worked with over the years on this matter. Many people have helped to deliver this magnificent outcome. We all know that success has many parents and failure is an orphan. Members will know of Ian Kiernan, who began Clean Up Australia. I consider Ian a friend. I acknowledge the work he has done to bring attention to this issue, as well as his involvement in the practical removal of so much rubbish, and particularly things that could otherwise have been recycled by way of a container deposit scheme. I also acknowledge Jeff Angel of the Total Environment Centre, in conjunction with the Boomerang Alliance. I acknowledge members of Parliament for their involvement. The member for Tweed has been mentioned—I think he mentioned himself a number of times. I also mention the member for Coogee and the former member for Murray-Darling, John "Crusty" Williams, who was a great advocate for recycling. I remember him becoming very animated in this Chamber when talking about recycling. Many people have been involved in delivering this outcome.
The member for Tweed recollected the good old days, when one could get 5¢ by returning a bottle. I remember as a Cub, in the 2nd Kahibah Cubs, going on bottle drives. I do not know whether anyone else remembers doing a bottle drive, sitting on the back of a ute and collecting bottles as a fundraising exercise. There were many opportunities to do that then. This legislation will also open up many opportunities. The member for Newtown asked why such sensible legislation to introduce a scheme that has been wanted by so many people has taken so long to be introduced. There would not be a member of Parliament who does not want to see a container deposit scheme implemented. The beverage industry fought against the introduction of such a scheme, and I am proud that the Government has stared down the opposition to it. I thank the Government for delivering this legislation.”