Australia’s Container Deposit Schemes: how do we compare to the rest of the world?

Recycling and waste management is a global agenda. Approximately 91% of plastic globally isn’t recycled.[1] . The lack of management of this prominent issue has led to the creation of major plastic islands; including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is estimated to be 3.5million square kilometres.[2] Due to the upwards trend of waste, scientists are expecting ocean garbage patches to continue to increase in size and impact.  (Currently, world cities generate about 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year. This volume is expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.[3] )

It is therefore vital for world leaders to implement programs and incentives to encourage ‘everyday’ recycling and begin to curb this trend.  In OECD[4] countries, many governments have implemented contain deposit schemes to incentivise recycling. Container deposit schemes (also known as bottle-bills, deposit refund schemes and deposit return schemes), encourage the public to return bottles, cans and containers to established Container Deposit Recycling Facilities to receive a cash refund.

Container deposit schemes not only benefit the environment, but also the economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that global recycling of all used plastics could create $80bn-$120bn in revenues.[5] However, the report (The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics) argues those revenues will never be fully achieved without designing new ways to breakdown and reuse 30% (by weight) of the plastic packaging that isn’t recycled because the material is contaminated, too small for easy collection, has very low economic value or contains multiple materials that cannot be easily separated.[6]

Container Deposit Systems (CDS) supports Container Deposit Recycling Facilities across Australia to develop these innovation technologies and systems, to increase recycling rates and drive efficient and effective recycling solutions. This approach ensures recycling facilities can rapidly process all materials (including small and contaminated materials); overall increasing the facility’s recycling capacity.

In Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales current have container deposit schemes in place. Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory will introduce schemes this year (2018). Read more about Australia’s National Recycling Agenda here.

When it comes to comparing Australia’s recycling performance on a global basis, we are falling behind our OECD counterparts. Australia produces 2.23kg of waste per capita per day according to the World Banks’ What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management. This is close to double the global average of 1.2kg per capita per day.[7] And, we only recycle 41% of this waste. [8]

 Global Recycling Rates.jpg

Australia is ranked 13th out of all OECD counties when it comes to how much we recycle.

In addition to an average performance when it comes to recycling, Australia also has a long way to go when it comes to performance on material recovery. Overall, Germany and its European neighbours lead the material recovery and energy recovery rates, with Australia ranking 22nd out of 35 OECD counties for its material recover efforts. [9]

Global waste rates.png

European Nations are world leaders in recycling and innovation. This is arguably due to the continent’s strategic approach to the issue. In 2005, the EU (European Union) developed ‘The Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste.’ The strategy is a long-term goal for the EU to become a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource. To this end, the Strategy sets out key actions to modernise the existing legal framework and to promote waste prevention and recycling, with waste disposal only as last resort.[10]

Between 2005 and 2006 around €4.1 billion were spent to support the closure or rehabilitation of unauthorised landfills. This further included investment in development of waste management infrastructure and supported separate collection and recycling schemes – such as container deposit incentives.[11] The strategy has resulted in decreased landfill waste, improved recycling rates and improved container deposit schemes across the union.

Container deposit schemes are not a new initiative. The concept was first implemented in 1799 in Dublin, Ireland by company A & R Thwaites & Co.  In these early days, schemes were run by beverage companies such as Schweppes.[12]  In 1885, Sweden become the first country (on record) to legislate a container deposit scheme of aluminium cans.[13]  Since this time, countries have been establishing recycling incentives through schemes. However, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that legislation began to trend in OECD countries across the world.  

So how does Australia compare?

Australia’s incentive of a 10cents refund for bottles and cans is relatively low in comparison rest of the world.  The below graph highlights a sample of countries and US states which implement container refund schemes.

Container Deposit Scheme Refund rates.jpg

When analysing the data, what is very clear is the connection between Container Deposit Schemes incentives and recycling rates of recyclable products (bottles, plastics, cans).

Container Deposit Scheme Refund rates and recycling rates.jpg


Germany continues to outperform all countries due to its dedication to recycling schemes and incentives.  The government’s 2003 policy entitled ‘Ordinance On The Avoidance Of Packaging Waste’ makes manufacturers responsible for taking back the packaging of their products and sets targets for refilling and recycling rates.[14] 

South Australia is singled out as the only Australian state with a long running successful Container Deposit Program. However, even South Australia falls behind overall recycling rates. South Australia implemented the first scheme in 1977 with an incentive of 10cents (equating to 6pence). Norway, which implemented its scheme at a similar time in 1974, recycles 14% more than the Australian State.  The core difference is the container refund amount.

Overall, Australia has a long way to go to compete with the world’s most impressive recycling nations, however we have picked up pace. The introduction of new container deposit schemes in three states in 2018, combined with new innovative technologies to drive effective recycling will continue to drive our performance as a country.  CDSA looks forward to continuing to support Australia’s recycling performance through the implementation of innovative recycling systems to increase recycling capacity and overall recycling rates in our country.


About Container Deposit Systems (CDS)

CDSA was formed with a vision to oversee the implementation of improved operational practices in recycling facilities.  The company offers a range of services to recycling depot facilities to drive productivity improvements and transition traditional recycling facilities into modern technically advanced operators.

CDSA achieve this through patented technologies which deliver manufacturing automation to auto-sort materials via a highly sensitive multi-sensor integration.  Systems integrations enable facilities to further gain efficiencies through workflows, materials handling, logistic processes, facility layout and design, customer interaction and data acquisition and management. 

CDSA technologies are designed and manufactured in Australia with local partners Sage Automation and Macweld Engineering.



[4] The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has 35 partner countries. More information can be found: