Australia Victoria's potentially lucrative container deposit scheme sparks waste war
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Six and a half cents doesn't sound like much.
But multiply it by a year's worth of soft drink cans, and it is the reason for a battle between Coca Cola and the waste and recycling industry.
The Victorian government plans to introduce container deposit legislation later this year, and roll out the scheme by 2023. It will be the last state or territory to have such a scheme.
Like all schemes in Australia, the Victorian scheme will be funded by the beverage industry, with a 10c payment to consumers who collect recyclable containers. But after months of community consultation, the details are expected to be finalised in the coming weeks, and the fight is really getting dirty.
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Community groups want to be classed as 'collectors'
Scouts groups are well-versed in organising children to collect cans and bottles, and then returning them to be recycled, and collecting 10c.
They say they have raised $30 million through South Australia's container deposit scheme.
Jon McGregor, the executive manager of Scouts Victoria, said he hoped his community groups could cash in on the scheme in Victoria.
"We're certainly very interested in recycling, we're an organisation that has an environmental focus," he said.
"We're involved in the container deposit scheme in SA, WA and Queensland, where they return significant dollars to the community."
But he said the way the government was proposing to run the scheme would make it unviable for the Scouts to participate.
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It all comes down to who can claim the 6.5 cents.
Scouts, and other community groups, want to act as operators, allowing them to claim the crucial 6.5 cent handling fee for every bottle or can that is returned.
This system already operates in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and is run by the beverage industry, which oversees a network of multiple operators.
In New South Wales and the ACT, the scheme is split between two levels: a coordinator and a sole network operator. In NSW, the operator is waste company Cleanaway, which has installed reverse vending machines across the state.
This system means community groups can set up refund points, sorting cans and giving people their 10 cents per can.
But the community groups do not get the 6.5 cents for handling the recycled cans.
Instead, they get an estimated 3.5 cents to 4.5 cents per can, with the waste company collecting the 6.5c.
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In Victoria, despite growing pressure from the beverage industry and some community groups, Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio favours a split scheme similar to the NSW model, arguing it leads to more transparency and accountability.
But the Scouts have joined a campaign by the Coca Cola-funded group, VicRecycle, calling for Victoria to change course.
"Because we want to see the financial returns going back to the community rather than being in the hands of multinational recycling corporations," Jon McGregor said.
The Victorian government estimates as much as half the state's litter is recyclable bottles and cans, so the battle over 6.5 cents is no small fight.
VicRecycle commissioned a survey of 1,000 Victorians, and found 87 per cent of them preferred a scheme where multiple community groups could operate.
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Waste industry groups and some environmental groups say the characterisation by Coca Cola's VicRecycle is not accurate.
The chief executive of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia, Gayle Sloan, said community groups would not get the full 6.5 cents, in any case.
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"The handling fee and the transport and logistics fee need to be paid irrespective," she said.
Ms Sloan said a single-coordinator scheme, favoured by the beverage industry, would lead to less transparency and a smaller-scale program, with fewer bottles and cans recycled, costing the industry less, and with less of an environmental impact.
She has accused the beverage industry, through VicRecycle, of trying to control the scheme.
"If we just have beverage designing and delivering it, we'll see what we see in Queensland, with depots opening up right next to each other, not highly accessible to the Victorian community," she said.
"We want the best opportunity to develop the best scheme for Victoria."
She said the split scheme was the best way to ensure an efficient program, that benefited community groups, the environment, as well as the waste and beverage industries.
"It's about having transparency, accountability, a genuine balance of power where the parties can work together to deliver the best scheme for the community, and not just a scheme that is low investment, low accessibility, and meets just beverage needs," she said.
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VicRecycle's chairman, Paul Klymenko, said the beverage industry wanted to see community groups profit as much as they could from the scheme.
"It's going to cost the industry the same, but we want to see the community get the best benefit," he said.
Mr Klymenko said the scheme should have multiple operators, so it was not a monopoly, and could be flexible.
"To have a successful scheme you've got to have great outreach, you've got collection depots all around the countryside," he said.
"That will obviously minimise litter and maximise recycling and that's what the beverage industry wants to see."
VicRecycle also argues their proposal will lead to more jobs.
Mr Klymenko said the size of the scheme, and how transparent it was, was up to the Victorian government.
"The government should insist on the transparency — it's the government that sets the rules and so that's really important that that transparency is there and we support that," he said.
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