Container deposits face further delays

Written by Marie Sansom for Government News

NSW convenience customers may be waiting a while longer to be able to collect deposits on their drinks containers, as a group of Australia’s largest waste management companies has called for the NSW container deposit scheme (CDS) to be further delayed.

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC), whose five foundation members are Veolia, JJ Richards, Cleanaway, Remondis and Suez, last week voted to lobby the NSW government to delay the NSW scheme by seven months, so it can start on the same day as the Queensland CDS on July 1, 2018.

The NWRIC said the proposed state-wide network of more than 450 collection points that the government has asked network operators to set up is incomplete. The network could face further delays as some collection points need development applications and work on safety and traffic management.

The industry group argued that the scheme was not yet ready to be rolled out as scheduled by the NSW government on December 1, and said that pushing ahead with it this year could end in tears.

NWRIC CEO Max Spedding said there were several issues yet to be properly thrashed out and the rules around the scheme had been released only six months ago.

“The industry feels that the scheme is under done and a bit rushed. We’re concerned that there are still these unknowns that would like to see resolved earlier rather than later,” he said.

The issues included: awarding tenders; negotiations between local councils and industry about the ownership of deposit containers; achieving clarity around payment for containers (especially because of new regulations specifying that scrap steel trading must be cashless) and a final decision on which containers are eligible for refunds.

“The scheme may commence with sub-standard collection infrastructure and poorly implemented systems. Fraud may occur. This could undermine public confidence in this scheme and the industry more broadly,” Mr Spedding warned.

He said operators could pull out if the CDS did not work for them, especially if there was a lack of collection points that made the scheme unviable.

Another concern is that by starting the NSW container deposit scheme earlier than Queensland containers are stockpiled or transported across the border to NSW.

“This is always a risk where there are cross-jurisdictional market distortions,” Mr Spedding said. “It is industry’s experience that where money can be made by transporting waste, businesses are set up. More than half a million tonnes currently moves between NSW and Queensland to avoid levies.”

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said regulators were already working to harmonise the rules of both the NSW and Queensland container deposit schemes, so it seemed natural to harmonise their start dates.

“By delaying the start date of the NSW CDS by only seven months – to July 1, 2018 – both NSW and Queensland can prevent cross border transport of beverage containers and stockpiling issues,” Mr Richards said.

“CDS programs are complex, so it is also important that adequate time is given to network operators to establish collection and administration systems. These systems are needed to reduce disruption and deliver a high quality service to the public.”

But Mr Spedding said the NSW Environmental Protection Authority was adamant that the scheme would start by December at a meeting last week with major players, operators and processors, despite their protestations.

Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel shared Mr Spedding’s concerns and agreed the scheme was unlikely to be postponed.

“There has already been one extension and it looks extremely unlikely will be granted,” he said.

“There will always be problems with any start date and while NSW has left a relatively short period for the roll-out of the infrastructure [collection points and depots] I think all the stakeholders have to work as fast and as constructively as possible.”

Mr Angel said the Alliance still had concerns over whether there would be enough collection points and depots to ensure it was convenient for people to take part in the scheme.

Under the NSW CDS people can hand in most empty drink containers of between 150 millilitres to 3 litres and receive a 10c refund at a collection depot or reverse vending machine. Exceptions include milk and flavoured milk containers, casks, juice containers and glass containers for wines and spirits.

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