Speech supporting the introduction of a Container Deposit Scheme in NSW

In Parliament | 19.10.16

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE ( 12:11 : 0 ): I cannot count the number of people who have said, "I remember when I was a kid we used to collect cans for money", which means that a lot of people still remember that behaviour. It is already embedded and already people think it is a good idea. People think it is ridiculous to have to fight so hard for the implementation of a container deposit scheme. They think that this is a no-brainer and they ask why this did not happen many years ago. To Liana di Stefano, who is a community volunteer from Gladesville, I am now able to say, "Here we are today with container deposit legislation." She should be very pleased with the outcome of her extremely hard work and the broad community support for this proposal. We know that every minute of every day 21,000 bottles and cans are littered or go into landfills across Australia. We know that the current system is not working. Perhaps this is best reflected in the observation made by Will Gould, who is a former President of the University of Newcastle Student Environment Club:

It is like we are picking up the same piece of garbage again and again. We clean it up one day and the next day it is back—the same bottles, cans and plastics—in exactly the same way.

Labor is pleased to support the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Amendment (Container Deposit Scheme) Bill 2016. It is an important bill that has been a long time coming. I will spend some time discussing the history related to this legislation. Cash for containers is something that those of us who were around in the 1970s remember very well. We recall finding cans and bottles and taking them back to a retailer, getting money for them, and either spending the money at the shops, or contributing it to community fundraising. It was in the 1970s when drink companies moved away from recycling of bottles and the money that came with it to the idea of disposable containers. We have been living with the impact of that decision ever since. It is very clear from all the evidence that the minute we stopped returning bottles and cans, litter overwhelmed our parks and public spaces and found its way into our waterways. We have been cleaning it up ever since.

The community realised that very quickly and called for the return of the container deposit scheme, but it is true that over a long period governments, with the notable exception of South Australia, adopted a range of other ways in which to try to combat the huge quantity of litter that is found in public spaces. There has been a long history of different attempts to try to resolve the problem. Essentially, the attempts include national packaging covenants, anti-litter campaigns, important changes in relation to recycling that include kerbside recycling—the success of which local government must take great credit—but it is clear that we need to do more. It does not take long to look around any open space and see cans and bottles that are littered every day, and the problem is overwhelming us.

I draw the attention of the House to a very important report of the Boomerang Alliance published in 2013. I congratulate David West, who has done an incredible amount of work on the report. The alliance basically tried to examine the exact type of waste that was being found in public spaces. The alliance visited 25 sites and did a very detailed survey of 19 of them. The alliance compared the very good work done by Keep Australia Beautiful to the national litter index, which collects a whole range of littering statistics. The findings of the alliance in 2013 lay out how serious the matter is when we are talking about litter in public places.

The survey found that within 1,000 square metres, Tamarama Park and Tamarama Gully had 844 pieces of rubbish, which is a huge quantity. That area of public land has two public place recycling stations, lots of bins and a good stormwater drain. But we know that no matter where it is, plastic bottles and cans find their way into public spaces. Bondi Beach is particularly terrifying. It is also one of the most cleaned-up places in Australia where there are 212 bins, at least 37 recycling stations, the beach is swept daily and weekly, and there are community litter clean-up campaigns. Despite that, when the survey was done in 2013, in 1,000 square metres 1,270 pieces of rubbish were collected comprising mostly plastic, glass and metals. There is a great group at Bondi known as the Responsible Runners of Bondi. They clean up the area every day, and had this to say:

Bins just don't cut it. They are always overflowing. The wind catches them. People miss the mouth when they dispose of their rubbish. We do a 30-minute clean-up every Sunday afternoon. Since last September we have collected more than 3.5 tonnes of rubbish including 35,000 cigarette butts, 8,700 recyclable beverage containers, 6,100 straws and 6,900 plastic bottle caps.

This is a serious issue. Many good intentions have been directed towards dealing with it. The one thing we know that has worked and is working all over the world, including in our backyard in South Australia, is a container deposit scheme. Labor endorses implementation of a scheme and will vote for this legislation in Parliament. I turn now to discuss the bill as it has been presented. The bill, which is very jargon-laden, will establish a scheme under which a variety of eligible empty beverage containers, which include cans and bottles between 150 millilitres and three litres, can be returned to collection points for a 10¢ refund from 1 July 2017. The scheme is better known as cash for cans. The objects of the bill are important because they acknowledge there is a responsibility within industry and the community to properly and sustainably deal with significant quantities of waste generated by product packaging, which in this case is beverage containers. The two major objects of the bill are to:

(a)recognise the responsibility that the beverage industry shares with the community for reducing and dealing with waste generated by beverage product packaging, and

(b)establish a cost effective State-wide container deposit scheme … to assist the beverage industry to discharge that responsibility and to promote the recovery, reuse and recycling of empty beverage containers …

As members in the other place have acknowledged, the rationale for the scheme can be found in some pretty sobering statistics. Each year over half of the litter in New South Wales comprises beverage containers representing 160 million containers discarded, which is nearly a 40 per cent higher volume than the national average. To put that in context, the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] data shows New South Wales has a population of 7.7 million, so the quantity of litter to which I have referred represents every single person in New South Wales littering 21 drink containers a year. If we can imagine every person in the State throwing one drink container onto the street every fortnight or so, an incredible quantity of recyclable waste is being discarded into the environment. It cannot continue.

The evidence shows that the scheme will significantly change those statistics and ensure that the vast bulk of containers will be recycled and diverted away from our landfill waste system or our rivers, beaches and the ocean. Evidence from similar schemes around the world indicates that the schemes are highly effective in reducing container beverage litter.

The Government has stated that it has designed this proposed scheme to be similar to the long-standing scheme in South Australia and the more recent scheme in the Northern Territory. The scope of containers eligible under the scheme will be ascribed by regulation, but I note and welcome that the scope is expected to largely match the existing schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory. This is important not just because of the illegal cross-border trade in relation to containers but also because we know that once New South Wales moves on such a scheme other States looking to introduce such a scheme will move and that could mean that we are not too far away from a national scheme that is easy to understand and will make a difference. The Opposition notes that both Queensland and Western Australia have indicated that they are working on introducing similar schemes. We also know that Australian Capital Territory Labor, which had a very good win at the election at the weekend, made a commitment to introduce a container scheme in the Territory after its successful re-election, so we know that will also go ahead.

The proposed scheme in New South Wales provides for the Minister to open an application process to enter into a contract with a fit and proper person to be the single scheme coordinator to administer the scheme. The scheme coordinator will be responsible for the financial management, data monitoring and reporting of the scheme and for ensuring the scheme meets performance targets for access and convenience of container collection points and rates of container recovery. The scheme coordinator will be essential to making the scheme work. The Opposition wants to know that consumers with empty beverage containers can easily find a place to deposit those containers. They can either give away the 10¢ they receive in return to their local community group or they can keep the money, but we know that the container will find its way into recycling and not into the local river.

I seek a response from the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech in reply on some concerns that have been raised with me in relation to privacy and protection of that data. Beverage companies operate in a highly competitive market, and there are a lot of different companies in the market. The scheme coordinator will collect a huge amount of data, and I seek information on how that data will be protected through the regulations and through contracts to ensure the protection of the sensitive data from suppliers, particularly smaller suppliers.

The scheme coordinator will be required to enter into arrangements with suppliers that require the suppliers to pay the scheme coordinator contributions towards the cost of management, administration and operation of the scheme, and also with network operators who will have the responsibility for the establishment, administration and operation of collection points. In this way the costs of the scheme are to be met first by beverage suppliers bringing eligible containers into New South Wales. The scheme coordinator will be required to pay to the network operators the refund amounts and associated administration and handling costs for containers that are collected at the collection points. Networks will be able to build and operate collection points themselves, or they will be able to contract other organisations to do this, which could include small businesses, retailers, councils, charities and social enterprises. Again, an important part of the design of the scheme is to embrace these networks and I welcome the attention that has been paid to ensuring that social enterprises and charities in particular can take advantage of the scheme to raise money for all of the good work that they too.

Collection points could range from small reverse-vending machines to large recycling depots alongside existing facilities. Section 25 of the bill provides for the regulations to make performance targets to be included in contracts with the scheme coordinator and network operators. These targets are not available for scrutiny now as they will be established in the regulations. However, the Opposition will be paying close attention to ensure the Government's stated intentions are met when this detail is provided. I note the Minister in his second reading speech undertook to consult with stakeholders prior to finalising targets in their regulation. The Opposition will hold the Minister to that promise.

I thank the Government for the briefing I received on the bill. In the briefing and in the Minister's second reading speech it is clear that these performance targets are expected to be crucial to the scheme's success. We were told that they will create an additional set of incentives to ensure collection points are located at an adequate amount of convenient and accessible places for the community to use, and that they collect enough containers to reach recovery targets. Should these targets and their corresponding penalties not result in the community making ample use of the scheme, or if there is an increase in areas where the public has limited or no access to collection points, it is my view that there is a risk that the scheme could be underutilised. Having done the work to implement the scheme, it is critical to make sure it succeeds, especially through the early transition and adoption phase.

In order to ensure that a mechanism exists for collection points to be placed at locations accessible and convenient to the community, I indicate to the House that I will be moving an amendment to provide the Minister with the power, should it be required at a future time, to require the establishment of collection points by retail suppliers. In the Committee stage I will go through the detail of that amendment. I note that the Minister has stated that network operators will be required to run a network of container collection points in a specific region and I acknowledge that this is to give the scheme every chance to be accessible to the community. Operators will be required to service all areas in the region, rather than just choosing the most highly profitable locations. These are important and welcome aspects of the scheme that will give good access to all communities in New South Wales, particularly those in regional and remote areas. However, without indicating the detail in the legislation, it will be left to close analysis of the subsequent regulations to make a final judgement as to whether the Government has got it right regarding equal access and opportunities to the scheme.

Monitoring and reporting will also be crucial to the success of the scheme, especially in its early stages. It is critical that the Government does not allow this scheme to falter in the start-up stage and ensures a smooth process that encourages the community to make use of the scheme from the beginning. From reading the bill's monitoring requirements, the Opposition believes that reporting on the scheme is inadequate at this point. The proposed monitoring conditions provide for a report to be delivered once a year by the scheme coordinator, with 90 days granted for the report to be presented to the Minister and then a further nine months granted to the Minister to present the report to the New South Wales Parliament. In effect this means that the Parliament and the community might not receive the first response on the scheme until two years after it has begun, which I note also takes the first report to a time beyond the next State election in 2019.

Given it will be critical to get the scheme right from the start to ensure it is fully utilised, this reporting architecture is insufficient. I will move another set of amendments, which are minor, to provide for a twice-yearly reporting structure in the beginning. The amendments are also designed to try to capture the differences in beverage consumption according to the seasons; people consume different amounts in winter and summer, and it would be good to have clear and transparent reporting of these trends early in the scheme. These amendments will ensure the first report on the operation of the scheme will be received at the very latest after one year of operation, or potentially sooner if the Minister is willing to offer a greater level of transparency.

Further aspects of the bill place necessary obligations on containers suppliers including ensuring that correct markings appear on labelling and providing for corresponding penalties for failing to comply. I note details of which containers will require approval and the required refund marking will be included in the regulations including the scope of eligible containers and the process for gaining approvals. Further obligations and penalties will be placed on collection point operators to reduce the possibility of fraud. With the significant amount of money about to be available to what is essentially a new market, the Labor Opposition believes that this is important. I am pleased that containers in the existing curbside recycling will be able to be redeemed, and that the scheme is intended to be complementary to the current curbside recycling scheme.

The Minister's office has advised me that the refund amount through curbside recycling is to be shared by agreement between councils and the recycling contractor. The Opposition will watch the implementation of this closely to ensure that there are no obstacles to the effective operation of home recycling for residents. I understand that there are some fairly serious challenges when calculating the value of glass when it comes to curbside recycling. The Opposition looks forward to seeing the final methodology devised for dealing with these challenges.

It is rare for the Opposition to be happy about the consultation process leading up to the drafting of a bill, but I want to acknowledge the extensive consultation process in relation to this bill. My view is that the Government has invited the right people to sit around the table and that there has been a good public consultation process. The Government has also paid very close attention to the implementation of the scheme. I formally thank those who are on the implementation working group, including Steve Beaman from the Environmental Protection Authority—I think he is present in the gallery today. The implementation group has held many meetings during which they have pored over a lot of detail in relation to the scheme. The consultation process has been important because as New South Wales moves on the scheme, we know that others States and Territories will implement similar schemes.

I also acknowledge the work done by the various advisory groups that were set up during the consultation period. These groups included a collection network, a resource recovery group, a technology and innovation group, and a beverage retail industry group. Shadow Ministers know that the Government has pretty much got legislation right when those affected say, "We are basically happy with the draft bill, although we have a few concerns at the end of the day." I therefore know that a lot of the detail and the difficult arguments have happened behind closed doors and those involved have come up with a fair degree of consensus, which I wish to acknowledge.

I acknowledge that litter is one of the Premier's key priorities, although I have said here and in many places that I think that is wholly inadequate when we are dealing with the environmental priorities of this State. Given we are talking about litter today, the other issue I wish to put on the agenda which we have also been talking about a lot is plastic pollution beyond container deposits. There is a significant issue of microbeads and microplastics coming into our marine environment. Most importantly, there is also something we can do about single-use plastic bags. The Minister is on the record saying he wants to do something about this. The pace of reform via the national Meeting of Environment Ministers is glacial, but there is an opportunity for us to do something here.

South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have dealt with single-use plastic bags. Retailers know how it works, and we know that if we deal with single-use plastic bags 61 million fewer bags will find their way into our waterways. I urge the Government to support the Opposition's bill on single-use plastic bags. There is massive support for this across the Parliament. There is no reason why it should not proceed, and it is taking too long. Again, I thank the Minister's office and people from the Environment Protection Authority for the briefing; I thank the stakeholders who have all come to discuss the issues of the bill with me; and I particularly thank all those who have been working on this issue for a very long time. It has been 13 years of campaigning. As Boomerang Alliance said:

Over the last 13 years tens of thousands of people have helped the campaign with letters to and meetings with MPs, petitions, media events and actions, community stalls and cleanups; and we have lobbied governments; countered industry misinformation; and developed a best practise Container Deposit System.

This is the work of many, and I pay tribute especially to those from the Boomerang Alliance, Jeff Angel and the 41 national, State and local groups that have never lost sight of this. The Total Environment Centre, Clean Up Australia and Take 3 in particular have led the charge. After a very long campaign, I think they are on the cusp of a national scheme once this bill is passed in New South Wales, and they should be congratulated for it. Campaigners often tire out from long campaigns, but when they see what they have been campaigning for pass through the Parliament they know they have done the environment and the community a very good service. I thank them.