Reviewed to death for a 10c piece

The Government has been strongly criticised this year for rolling out massive policy initiatives without properly thinking through the costing and institutional frameworks required to make them work. The $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) and the home insulation scheme are two examples of big picture budget items that proceeded at breakneck speed unhindered by the normal process of internal checks and balances. The tragic results are a matter of record in the case of home insulation; the jury is still on the fence with regards the NBN. But what happens when the reverse occurs – when a simple good idea falls foul of bureaucratic inertia?
This seems to be the case with national Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) – one of the brighter ideas in an otherwise bleak waste management landscape. The concept is simple and familiar to anyone in South Australia (and now the Northern Territory). You get 10c when you return your used beverage container.

That’s it.

Since this time yesterday, Australians used and discarded about 38 million beverage containers. Maybe read that again. 38 million cans, bottles and tetra packs used once and then biffed – about half of them recycled, and the other half headed for landfills, rivers and the side of the road. Since yesterday.

Putting a 10c deposit on each container will lift recycling rates into the 80 or 90% range, provide a handy source of income for sports clubs and school groups, create more than a thousand jobs, and save about 1.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas. It will also establish a network of neighbourhood recycling collection points around the country that will also be a handy place to bring dead batteries, tyres and other intractable byproducts of the throwaway age.

A couple of years ago the Commonwealth Government noticed the manifest benefits of introducing such a scheme nationally, glanced at the South Australians where the scheme has run since 1975 (for 5c initially) and taken the idea up for serious consideration within COAG. That was a couple of years ago. Something sad and familiar has been happening since then.

Sections of the beverage industry are extremely concerned that a scheme that will force them to take a small measure of responsibility for the products they pump into the world is supported by only 80% of Australians. They’ve run a focused and highly deceptive campaign of misinformation to which COAG has responded by smothering the national CDL scheme under a paralysing series of reviews, counter reviews, peer reviews and willingness to pay studies. The last time the WA Government tried to bring in a state scheme the industry did the same, and effectively killed the idea within the former Carpenter Government.

Consider the alternative: a national electronic waste scheme is just about to get on its feet, with $23 million dollars worth of Commonwealth funding and concerted support from zero waste advocates, major industry players and the general public. Unlike a national broadband network, this really isn’t rocket science.

The way the gossip goes, Environment Minister Peter Garrett wants this scheme up and running, and industry opposition is fractured and half hearted. Unlike previous phases of industry push-back, key industry players including Alcoa, Revive Recycling, Eco Waste and SITA Environmental Solutions are now in support. A handful of Commonwealth bureaucrats are now the only ones holding out, piling review on top of review in an attempt to suffocate the scheme to death.

To get an idea of how this works in practice, spend ten minutes in an estimates hearing here and see if you feel like faceplanting the table by the end – I certainly did.

There’s more on the benefits of a CDL scheme here courtesy of Boomerang Alliance.

If you’ve seen enough, maybe just email Peter Garrett and remind him that you’re one of the 80%.

It’s time to call off the process of death by review, and get on with it.