Back to All News

Speech: Container Deposit Legislation

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 1 Mar 2012

Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill, Thursday 1 March 2012

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (11:09): I rise to speak on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010 and to support the call for a national container deposit scheme. The time for this scheme has well and truly come. It is a common-sense proposal that should have been acted on long ago at a national level. Coming from New South Wales, I can certainly share with my colleagues here the passion that so many people in my state feel for this issue. An enormous amount of work has been undertaken to achieve container deposit legislation. I will detail the work of one of my former colleagues in the New South Wales parliament, Ian Cohen, who put enormous effort into this issue. I raise this at the start of my speech because the argument that was given to us time and time again by the New South Wales Labor government was that they could not support what the Greens were doing at a state level because it had to be a national measure. Here we again see a Labor government, this time at the federal level, dragging its feet.

This is really a good idea whose time has come, and it is time that we acted on it. Before going into some detail of the great work being done at a local government level, I want to mention briefly the fine work in South Australia, which has inspired the Northern Territory. This work, however, does not negate the need for national consistency. What is often overlooked is the work that is being done at the local government level and that there is a real role for it in promoting and supporting a national container deposit scheme. As the Australian Greens spokesperson on local government, I am keenly aware that this tier of government has a huge responsibility for waste management—keeping the streets clean and keeping litter out of our waterways and bushlands is the job of councils and shires around the country.

As I said at the start, many people in my home state feel very passionate about the issue. There is a range of reasons people want to do something about litter. Some find it plain ugly; they see it ruins the landscape. There are the issues of pollution and the protection of wildlife. Another big concern is the wasted energy from allowing so many containers to end up in landfill rather than recycling them. These are all good reasons for getting on and dealing with this. They are the reasons that motivate many of our local councillors and local government associations at the state and national levels.

Since at least 1990, the Local Government and Shires Associations has been advocating for container deposit legislation in New South Wales. That is a pretty impressive record and represents a couple of decades of a lot of hard work. There is a great deal of mythology peddled by the beverage industry and a diminishing number of players in the packaging industry—that is, that if we keep concentrating on kerbside collection then the collection rates will magically increase. This simply misses the point. I did want to share with colleagues here today some of the information the Local Government and Shires Associations have on their website. They state:

Generally, councils' response was that increasing tonnages through kerbside would involve considerable cost, and kerbside may be operating at or near capacity (albeit low). In the case of away-from-home, councils generally felt that contamination and apathy issues made this a largely futile pursuit. This leads one inexorably to the conclusion that a deposit/refund system would ensure high return rates from home and away-from home containers, at a minimal cost compared to the huge cost of trying to achieve these return rates through kerbside and coloured public place bins.

That sets out very clearly how local governments understand and are ready to act on an issue that the federal government is failing to move on. So many of our councils have come out very clearly for this legislation. In New South Wales, some of the councils are: Byron, Jerilderie, Blayney, Hornsby, Gosford, Wentworth, Woollahra, Willoughby, Newcastle, Penrith and Lismore. They are doing their bit to advocate for container deposit legislation.

Some councils have been concerned about the CDL scheme would work in tandem with kerbside collections. I do acknowledge that. Although the quote I just read was from the shires' association, I acknowledge that some councils are concerned about it. But the fact is that kerbside and CDL have coexisted in South Australia for many years. That is why my colleague Ian Cohen regularly used the South Australian example to put pressure on the Labor government in New South Wales to get on board and pass the necessary legislation. Kerbside covers a greater range of materials than will come under the container deposit scheme. It is not a problem. This is a furphy that is thrown up by the packaging industry to try to retain the status quo. The focus of kerbside could move towards materials that have higher value. Importantly this scheme keeps unnecessary drink containers out of landfill—and we have a real problem with landfill in NSW.

There will be so many spin-offs, so many benefits, once we get this legislation in place—which will certainly come, sooner or later. But right now we have legislation before this chamber that could move this forward so that we achieve what we have been waiting decades for. Providing incentives for community groups, charities and councils to benefit financially from gathering and returning containers, giving a monetary value to picking up rubbish, and getting young people especially into the habit of not littering, has so many flow-on benefits.

When I have supported the various campaigns in New South Wales on this subject, I have found that it means so much to people. You have old people relaying to you stories of how much it meant to them when they were young and collecting containers and getting some money back. It was often how they were able to get some pocket money to do all sorts of things when times were tough. I find young people are very excited by it because it is a way that they also are able to pick up some money, but they also very much want to clean up their environment. This is an issue that moves people. It is an issue that they want to be involved with. We need to provide those incentives.

As I said, this is really just common sense, but I fear that this government has abandoned common sense here in favour of the technically complex and somewhat dubious approach of a regulatory impact statement which in some instances just turns common sense on its head. Going back to the wide support for it, the polls show that 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the public support a container deposit scheme. That is huge. Again, why don't our governments get behind it? The answer, unfortunately, is in the power of the packaging industry. They give massive donations to political parties—Labor and the coalition. It is not a healthy system that we have here when there is no much public support and the government does not move on it.

I would like to now speak in detail about the work that my former colleague in the New South Wales upper house, Ian Cohen, did on this issue. He worked for many years advocating container deposit legislation, through a private member's bill in the New South Wales upper house and through working with various community groups. In April 2008 he brought the legislation into the upper house. It was called the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery (Container Recovery) Bill—which would have set up a $33 million income stream from the recycling market for the government—and the Beverage Container Tax Bill 2008.

The legislation entered the New South Wales parliament in the same week that figures were released on the National Packaging Covenant, which showed that the self-regulatory regime has been an unequivocal, abject failure. As so often happens when we come to talk about these issues, there is so much evidence out there that the time has come. The Greens New South Wales CDL bill was very timely and it would have provided a comprehensive approach to recycling to help reduce pollution and littering. Mr Cohen spoke about this many times, and I will again come to some more details about this. As many of you know, he is a keen surfer, and one of his big concerns was the littering that is occurring along our coast and our waterways because of the failure of government to deal with litter and, particularly, to introduce container deposit legislation.

So what happened with our legislation? It was voted down on a combined vote of Labor and the coalition. The New South Wales Labor government remained complacent and were willing to rely on the packaging business to continue its failed self-regulation scheme. They opposed the bill and their argument for not voting with the Greens to support what was a very sensible bill—that economics were all there to show the benefits—was that it was up to federal Labor to move so that we had nationally consistent legislation.

Meanwhile, the campaign goes on. I am keen to inform the Senate that there are so many community groups who are just getting on and doing this. I have spoken about the extensive work being undertaken by many local government councils. We are also seeing communities just getting on and doing it. In Marrickville in 2008 the Greens went out and developed their own container deposit refund centre. They set it up in Newtown. They letterboxed and distributed thousands and thousands of leaflets. They offered the public 10c for every recyclable drink container returned. They had huge returns. We had mountains of thousands of bottles and cans, and that 10c for each container was handed out to local residents in the streets of Marrickville and Newtown. Certainly the streets were cleaner while we were able to keep that very creative scheme going.

One of the big reasons that motivated people, Greens members and supporters, to get this scheme going in Marrickville was the issue of the massive energy waste because we do not recycle containers. This is very relevant to aluminium cans. Recycling an aluminium can uses far less energy than mining for bauxite and smelting it to create a new can from scratch. This was something that came up regularly when they were planning the campaign in Marrickville and when people would bring in their containers. People get this. They really understand that it is madness that we are throwing into landfill containers that are in reality packages of energy at the same time as we are recognising that we need to reduce our wasteful habits.

Our aluminium production is incredibly energy intensive. The Australia Institute has done a very important study which again gives great weight to why CDL is needed. Aluminium production uses 15 per cent of the electricity consumed in Australia, and much of that energy comes from burning dirty coal. Every way you look at it, the wasteful setup we have currently of throwing these containers into landfill commits crimes in so many ways. The energy aspect of it is of great concern to people. I congratulate the Greens in Marrickville for the work that they have done on it.

The people of Bundanoon also deserve a mention when discussing container deposit legislation. Through their frustration they got on with their own scheme. In 2009 they banned the sale of bottled water. They recognised that this was not going to have a huge impact on the half-billion-dollar a year bottled water industry. That was obvious, but they were deeply motivated by and very concerned with the huge waste they saw around them. They recognised that by taking this stand, which went around the world—locals were taking phone calls from media outlets in many countries—it could have an impact on consumers' shopping habits. They recognised that was the way they could make a real contribution. The people of Bundanoon will have a place in the history of how we eventually obtain container deposit legislation.

Another aspect of some of the work that has been undertaken in New South Wales and that is relevant here is the work of the Institute for Sustainable Futures. They produced a report for the government which sealed the necessity of container deposit legislation. They set out the economic benefit very clearly. They found that a deposit and refund scheme could save New South Wales alone up to $100 million. The paper was commissioned by the New South Wales government which further underlines how outrageous it is that the government received this clear advice, not just advice on environmental grounds but advice on the economic benefits of such a scheme, and chose to ignore it. The report found that the environmental management principle of extended producer responsibility was the correct strategy to follow in New South Wales. It would deliver good environmental and economic outcomes. The container deposit legislation would be effective and have the majority support of people and local governments who would be responsible for it in New South Wales. We have a report from a reputable institute that brings together all the reasons, and all the reasons for having container deposit legislation are positive, yet the government still does not move on this.

I spoke earlier about how one of the big motivations of many people involved in advocating for container deposit legislation is in regard to cleaning up our coastal areas. This is a message that comes to me loud and strong when I am in areas around the Hunter and Wollongong. They have beautiful beaches and wonderful rivers flowing into those beaches and along the coastal areas, and people are finding the pollution deeply distressing. So many of these containers are washed into the ocean where they break up and, as we know, many species ingest this waste.

Some very alarming studies of this have been done. I came across one that, because I am a keen birdwatcher, interested me. I could not find one of the Southern Hemisphere, but in the North Sea 98 per cent of fulmars, a beautiful seabird, have plastic in their stomachs, which can lead to a loss of physical condition and result in less breeding success for that species. A similar impact is found across so many marine species. Our oceans support an estimated 10 million species. Scientists believe that we have only identified about three per cent of those species. With the pollution that is spreading across our wonderful ocean system, so many of these species are at risk. This is having a huge detrimental effect on the biodiversity of our marine life. This is another reason for container deposit legislation being introduced. Our coastal areas are being polluted which, in some areas, turns people off coming as tourists. There are also impacts on our wildlife, on the quality of water for marine industries such as oyster farmers, and the on fishing industry.

For economic and environmental reasons, container deposit legislation should be a top priority of this government. I congratulate Senator Scott Ludlam from the extensive work he has done in this area. We will achieve container deposit legislation, and it should happen through the bill we have before the Senate.


Back to All News