The new state of Container Deposit Schemes in Australia

2018 was a dynamic year in the Australian waste management industry.  The country launched new Container Deposit Refund Schemes in Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, following a New South Wales launch in late 2017.  Further, Western Australia approved its container deposit scheme to launch in 2020, meaning all but two states have schemes in place, or plans approved.

At the same time, in early 2018 China begin their import ban on raw recycling materials. This created a national debate on the best way to manage the crisis.  Whilst the waste management industry saw the issues as a catalyst to drive the nation towards a circular economy, councils struggled to manage the excess recycled goods on hand. 

In 2018, the federal government also introduced its new National Waste Policy which states: “The 2018 National Waste Policy embodies a circular economy, shifting away from ‘take, make, use and dispose’ to a more circular approach where we maintain the value of resources for as long as possible.”[2]

Despite these changes, globally, Australia is still behind our European OECD counterparts when it comes to Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) (otherwise known as ‘general trash and garbage’). Australia ranks 20th out of the top 25 countries.[1] Whilst being in the top 20 is positive, Australia has much it can do to improve.

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In alignment with the federal government vision, many states and territories in Australia have introduced new legislation in the past 18months to rapidly improve recycling rates. One of the largest changes is the dramatic increase in container deposit refund schemes.  South Australia has long been the leader in recycling with its heritage listed container deposit scheme, with The 2018 National Waste Report[3] showcasing the state's strong results.

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With the introduction of new legislation and new container deposit schemes, there is much opportunity for other states and territories, and Australia as a whole, to begin to achieve more impressive results. In this report, Container Deposit Systems reviews the current, and new, state of container deposit schemes in Australia.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT has displayed impressive recycling rates over the past 10 years, coming in a clear second place to South Australia.  To improve its score, in June 2018, the state introduced the ACT Container Deposit Scheme[4].  The scheme works closely with LEAD - a Canberra organisation that works with local businesses and government to provide employment opportunities to people with a disability.[5] The government’s ACT Waste Management Strategy: Towards a sustainable Canberra 2011-2025[6] plan, highlights the ambitious recovery rate targets of 85% by 2020 and 90% by 2025.  With the container deposit scheme achieving positive result early on[7], it is expected these targets will be met by the state.

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New South Wales

The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014-21[8] is highly focused on increasing recycling, diverting waste from landfills and litter reduction. Part of this strategy was the implementation of a Container Deposit Scheme in December 2017.  The scheme, Return and Earn, received a mix of criticism and praise in the first few months, however, the scheme appears to be popular with 900million containers returned in the first 12months.[9] As education and habits are key to the longevity of new programs, it may be a few years until the full impact of the new program is realised.

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Northern Territory

The NT Container Deposit Scheme was created in 2012, making it the second scheme in Australia.  The National Waste Report for 2016 stated that: “NT reported dramatic increases in recycling from low 2006-07 ‘baseline’ rates due to improved recycling kerbside recovery, potentially better data collection and, the establishment of a container deposit scheme.”[10] Whilst the NT rates are still low, the improvements showcase the importance of government legislation and container deposit schemes.

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In November 2018, QLD launched its Container Refund Scheme with an aim to improve the states recycling rate. QLD has one of the lowest recycling rates in Australia, at around 44%.[11] The scheme is being hailed a huge success with 80million containers being returned in the first 6 weeks.[12] Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch said: ‘More than 70 000 Queenslanders have also signed up to receive their 10-cent refund on containers and more than 500 jobs been created as a result of the scheme across the state.’[13]

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South Australia

SA has a well-established container deposit scheme which has been successfully running for more than 40 years. The state is a clear leader in recycling and continues to hold the top resource recovery rate rank at 82%.[14] In addition to the established container deposit scheme, the 2018 National Waste Report highlights that South Australia also leads the country when it comes to landfill bans and management of hazardous waste.

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TAS is one of the two states in Australia with no container deposit scheme in place or approved.  The state has been debating the benefit of a scheme for years with the budget and plans for a ‘Cash for Containers’ scheme put back on the table in 2018.[15] TAS has the third lowest recycling rate in the country. The state is currently also reviewing its 2009 waste management policy and it is expected to make a decision about a Cash for Containers scheme in 2019.

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VIC is the second state with no plans of a container deposit refund scheme.  A recent survey undertaken showed that 84 per cent of Victorians were in favour of a container deposit scheme[16] however, the current government has invested in boosting its recycling sector and encouraging the greater recycling of waste products; and the demand for recycled products. VIC has an impressive recycling rate of 68%. The government has argued continuously against a container deposit system and there are currently no expected changes on this stance.

Western Australia

WA has passed legislation to implement a new container deposit scheme in 2020.  The scheme is part of the state’s Litter Prevention Strategy For Western Australia 2015-2020[17] which focuses on reducing waste going to landfills. In 2018, the state implemented a ban on lightweight plastic bags which further shows dedication to the state reducing litter, increasing recycling and increasing resource recovery rates.

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All states and territories in Australia are actively investing in improving their recycling and resource management systems. Whilst container deposit systems are proven to increase recycling rates, education and buy-in from the general public are also vital to ensuring success. Strong community support, continued investment from industry, and positive legislation from local and federal government, will all be required to ensure Australia achieve more impressive recycling rate results and improve on our OECD 20th place position.


About Container Deposit Systems

Container Deposit Systems 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.

The company 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. 

Container Deposit Systems technologies are designed and manufactured in Australia with local partners Sage Automation and Macweld Engineering.

For more information, please contact us directly.