Environmental vandalism or magic bullet? Panellists debate CDL at KNSWB Congress: Less Litter, Live Better

Like the imperishable plastic it haggles over, the debate over Container Deposit Legislation just won’t go away. Dubbed the ‘undead zombie’ of recycling by Keep Victoria Beautiful representative Dick Gross during a panel discussion hosted by Keep NSW Beautiful at their 2014 Congress: Less Litter, Live Better, it reared its head again.

However this was not the hostile atmosphere which has characterised acrimonious discussion on the topic up to now, but a climate of measured debate.

Panellists with diverse opinions and experiences – from South Australia which has had a Container Deposit System for decades, to Victoria, the cleanest state in the country without one – came to the table to nut out the gritty details.

Attending the discussion in support of CDL were: Jeff Angel, Executive Director of the Total Environment Centre and Convenor of the Boomerang Alliance; Geoffrey Webster, Treasurer of KESAB in South Australia; And Julie Hegarty, representing LGNSW.

Speaking out against Container Deposit Schemes were Dick Gross, Director of Keep Victoria Beautiful; and Chris Jeffreys, General Manager of the Packaging Stewardship Forum.

“CDL is tantamount to environmental vandalism, in that it really undermines the long term trend of improvement in both litter and recycling in Australian society.” Said Dick Gross. “Victoria doesn’t have CDL, and long may that reign.”

“There is a limit to the number of bins, there is a limit to the amount advertising that can be done,” countered Jeff Angel. “You have to accept the fact that if we get rid of a big part of the litter stream, the stuff that’s easily recyclable, you can use resources we spend now on the really difficult litter.”

Those supporting CDL pointed out that a user-pays system, with costs passed on to industry, reflects environmental justice and cited the 96% recovery rate of South Australia’s Container Deposit Scheme. It was also said to enable community groups and charities to turn a profit from cleaning up the environment.

The implicit tolerance of littering under the assumption that others – those very community groups, charities, Scouts, and underprivileged citizens – will pick it up, was a key concern for those who think there is a better solution available.

This flies in the face of the anti-litter culture which current efforts in raising awareness are working towards creating in Victoria and NSW, they said, advocating a National Bin Recycling Network and its accompanying education and awareness campaign instead of CDL.

Also raised was the prohibitive cost involved in setting up the infrastructure: $680 million, as cited by an independent study. The costs involved stem from a re-haul in recycling infrastructure to account for the new separation of litter streams, and necessary changes to processing methods.

Chris Jeffreys also pointed out that the ongoing costs would mean an increase of $300 to the average family’s yearly grocery bill.

Whether the effects of a CDL are worthwhile boils down to opinion on the psychology of a dollar-value incentive, along with concern for how to apportion costs which are still highly speculative.

As Clr Julie Hegarty said, “this is just another example of cost shifting to local governments… If people are going to drop it on the ground then it doesn’t matter what kind of bin you have, it still isn’t going to make it into the bin.”

It is too complex an issue for one debate to finally put the ‘zombie’s to rest, but at least the combatants were able to leave their stakes at home this time.

Congress Presenting Partner

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Congress supporting partners 


7 Responses to “Environmental vandalism or magic bullet? Panellists debate CDL at KNSWB Congress: Less Litter, Live Better”

  1. March 26, 2014 at 11:34 pm, Fran Corner said:

    I clean up the roadside and I don’t think I am underprivileged!! Behind everything you say here there are the unquestioned South Australia works- the other states don’t. It may cost $300 million to set up but it will also stop our forests being cut down to get a thin layer of glass sand that kills our koalas and other arboreal animals and I have seen figures that state it will create more jobs.
    I lined up at my local shopping centre last National tree Day and said I HAVE TREES TO GIVE AWAY, I HAVE LEAFLETS ABOUT OUR BUSHLAND AND I HAVE A CONTAINER DEPOSIT PETITION. Almost everyone said KEEP THE TREES BUT I WILL SIGN YOUR PETITION….WHEN I WAS A BOY……..and they all had stories about collecting and cashing in bottles.

  2. March 27, 2014 at 9:30 am, Toby said:

    Curious to know if there are points of agreement in this debate or is it all controversial?

    • April 04, 2014 at 8:23 am, Keep NSW Beautiful said:

      Hi Toby, good question. There were some points of agreement: Obviously all parties are looking for the most cost-effective method to increase recycling and reduce litter. Everyone agrees broadly on the cost and the difficulty of implementation, but the disagreement arises in the details – exactly how effective, exactly how much cost, and whether that makes it worth it. We’ll be publishing more detail about the discussion in our green paper – if you’re not on our mailing list, please get in touch and ensure you are so that you receive it when it’s ready, in the coming weeks!

  3. March 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm, John H said:

    The CDS will only add to the cost of a family grocery bill if they choose to drop the litter on the ground. I have visited SA several times in the last couple of years & rode around the state by bicycle, an ideal way to observe litter levels on the ground. In several thousand kilometres of riding in that state I have been able to count the number of pieces of litter on one hand, a pretty impressive feat considering the amount floating in our own Cooks River in NSW. If our LGA has to pick up the litter, then 10c per item is returned to the Council, more money to spend on other forms of beautification. If I have the option to place my litter in a bin for a certain charity, then I can donate freely. If the homeless person decides to pick up my discarded rubbish, then 50 pieces may buy them a sandwich. Now, I pay for the litter in my council rates anyway, so why should I object to a penalty being imposed on those thoughtless enough not to return their rubbish to a bin? You still have to get the lazy people to walk to a bin. Just visit Bondi on a Sunday morning before the garbage collection takes place to see the litter lying on the street within view of a bin. Concentrate on the litter generated by the fast food outlets & smokers, perhaps a wrapper deposit scheme might be another idea to pursue.

  4. June 17, 2014 at 11:25 pm, John Forrester said:

    This discussion is avoiding what is happening to our world. A CDL scheme may cost money but in the meantime our platypus, sea animals, birds and humans are eating plastic and its chemical components are being found in mothers milk. We need to act as it is more than an economic or amenity problem. It is a human health issue, and will cost much much more if we agree to disagree and do nothing.

  5. November 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm, John Maine said:

    Another talkfest being planned – how about a report of this year’s Congress – what has been achieved – and how ?

  6. January 04, 2015 at 11:09 pm, nita said:

    A compulsory container tax should only be introduced if the consumer can obtain a refund of the container tax near the point of purchase.