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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9502

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (12:27): I am very disappointed in Senator Ruston's analysis of the container deposit scheme. She completely misunderstands the whole reason we had a Senate inquiry in the first place. To my knowledge, 20 million agricultural containers are not consumed outside the home by individuals and left lying around as rubbish, which was exactly the reason container deposit schemes were set up around the world in the first place.

I totally agree that anyone who uses a beverage container should be responsible for the disposal of that container. Unfortunately, human nature tends to intervene. No matter what fines and infringements we place on people—and I am sure Senator Ruston, coming from one of the cleanest states in Australia, would agree—they do not seem to work. We still get litter and we still get rubbish—and unfortunately that rubbish and that litter ends up not only in our environment but in our waterways and our oceans, and it breaks down into millions of pieces and finds its way into our sea life. Studies all around the world are now showing the ingestion of plastic from things such as plastic containers as far as the plankton food chain.

We know from packaging that 50 per cent of beverages in containers are consumed outside the home. It was fascinating to me, going to South Australia recently, to see how well kerbside recycling is working with container deposit schemes. South Australia—Senator Ruston's home state—achieves some of the highest recycling rates in the world: 84 per cent of containers consumed outside the home are recycled. This is a key point. We have kerbside recycling, and that is fantastic; nobody disagrees with that. But that is for containers consumed inside the home. I must say, my vineyard does not use chemical drums, because we are organic. I am a Green, but there are also non-Green people who are organic. I will make this point very clear: 20-litre drums of chemicals are not considered rubbish that people take to barbecues with them.

I have never seen someone turn up at a barbecue with a 20-litre drum of chemicals. I have never seen someone go to the football or a rock concert and dispose of a 20-litre drum of chemicals. It is an entirely inappropriate comparison to make and it shows a complete lack of understanding of our rubbish problem in this country.

It is not just Australia, Senator Ruston, that has implemented container deposit schemes. They have been successfully implemented all around the world. In fact, they started in the US to solve exactly this problem. How do we go from A to B and stop people from littering? We cannot. What we can do is work on the incentive that human nature responds to by putting a value on the rubbish that people leave lying around. Human nature lets us down on the left hand because people unfortunately litter when they are not supposed to and, on the right hand, people are prepared to go out and collect the rubbish. Why are they prepared to collect that rubbish? It is because there is an economic value on it. It is called a market based instrument. It is putting a price on pollution. It is using a market system. It is the most efficient system we have for solving our rubbish problem and it is a market based system. If you want to start sledging and throwing around comparisons about people who are on the left or the right and talking about regulation, that is using a market and a price signal to solve the problem. It is a very different point to what the senator was trying to make about the Greens being heavy on regulation. This is, in fact, not a regulation in the strictest sense of the word; it is an incentive. It is not a tax, as the Food and Grocery Council tried to make out. It is a levy that provides an incentive for people to do the right thing.

Let us talk about South Australia. I was very pleased to go there and see how proud they are of the container deposit scheme in their own state. Eighty-four per cent of all beverage containers are recycled. The Food and Grocery Council and other lobby groups for the beverage industry tried to make out that the packaging covenant, a co-regulatory approach that relies on volunteer agreements, is the best way to go. They could not provide any evidence as to how much packaging was consumed outside the home and how much of that was recycled, because their statistics relied on kerbside recycling, not rubbish outside the home. That is what container deposit schemes were set up for and that is what we were looking at in the inquiry.

It was also interesting for me to note that a state that was so proud of its scheme was surprised when the inefficiencies in that scheme were highlighted by a number of the key players. It is a lot worse in the Northern Territory, where a new scheme has been implemented and a large number of inefficiencies exist. I went to the Northern Territory and I sat and watched people stand in the sun and the dust for an hour with their children waiting to get their cans and bottles counted because people inside the depot were having to split 24 different ways every single container that came into their depot. It took people over an hour and a half to get their money before they left. That is a very inefficient system. All the participants we spoke to in the chain, including the beverage companies who own these supercollectors, agreed that the systems were inefficient and could be done much better.

In terms of rolling out a national scheme, yes, I agree with Senator Ruston: every state should take note of the existing schemes in the Northern Territory and South Australia. They should most definitely take note of what can be done better and what can be done more efficiently. There is absolutely no doubt from the Senate inquiry into container deposit schemes that we can do them a lot more efficiently. The use of new technology, only recently evident in both South Australia and Northern Territory recycling depots, will significantly reduce costs of the schemes.

It is also my view, and the view of the Greens, that beverage companies should not be part of this scheme. They should not be supercollectors. There is an inherent conflict of interest for companies that are fundamentally and ideologically opposed to using container deposit schemes being part of the system. It is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. There is no incentive whatsoever for them to improve the schemes. We believe that the inquiry has proven there has been profiteering in the South Australian scheme by Coca-Cola. That has been outlined in our dissenting report.

So, yes, future state schemes or a national scheme should be aware of the container deposits schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory. There are things they need to know and there are significant ways we can improve the schemes. But the one thing that the EPA in South Australia and most South Australians I talked to, who are very proud of this scheme, pointed out is that in its environmental aim and objective—that is, increasing recycling and removing rubbish from outside the home—it is highly effective. Eighty-four per cent of all beverage containers sold in that state are recycled because of the scheme, because of this market based instrument that puts a price on plastic pollution and gives people an incentive to get off their backsides, pick up bottles and cans, and take them back to the depot. If they will not do it, kids will. Nearly everyone I saw at the depots in South Australia and in the Northern Territory were children with their parents. It is children making money. It is the Boy Scouts, church groups and community groups profiting from a scheme that distributes that income around the state.

It also provides a fantastic opportunity to aggregate other forms of waste. The South Australian container deposit scheme has revolutionised recycling in that state, and I believe it will do so for every state that adopts such a scheme. The packaging covenant at the moment does not provide an integrated scheme for integrating waste, particularly things such as e-waste and other types of waste that we saw being brought in by the same people who were there to cash in their containers. It could also be rolled out around this country by using private investment at no cost to the beverage companies and at no cost to the taxpayer. We believe there is a market solution to this right around the country. We also believe that new technologies that are being trialled will allow the schemes to run very efficiently and very cost-effectively. There is no doubt in my mind at all from my visits to South Australia and the Northern Territory that this could revolutionise the way we recycle in Australia.

I certainly like the reports that Boomerang Alliance have put out on a Tasmanian based scheme creating 300 new jobs with seven depots around the state. Hopefully, given all the awful garbage that I have seen lying around the Tamar River in the last two weeks, which we have done media on, we could also improve our recycling rates and take plastic out of our rivers and oceans where we know it is damaging marine life. It is the biggest source of pollution in our oceans. (Time expired)