Australians use between 13-14 billion drinks containers a year. While recycling makes a big difference, today, less than half of all these containers are collected for re-manufacture. This means around seven billion drink containers end up as waste in landfill, littering our beaches and streets, or in our oceans.
Marine plastic pollution has become a huge problem affecting all of the world’s oceans – up to a third of this material comes from the beverage industry. This material is known to be the cause of injuries and deaths of numerous marine animals and birds as they mistake it for prey and eat it. Many die as a result, literally starving on a full stomach.
The majority of the plastic – estimates are 80% - comes directly from land. Whales, dolphins, turtles, seals and countless other marine life have become victims of land litter. Marine plastic pollution is found floating on all the world’s oceans, even near to Polar Regions. It also contaminates the seabed. It is found everywhere, from the beaches of industrialised countries to the shores of the most remote, uninhabited islands.
According to Dr Jennifer Lavers, whose research focuses on the impacts of plastics on marine life, up to 85% of Australian marine birds are affected by plastics.
© Chris Jordan
“Beverage container recycling rates are appallingly low in most states. 40% of the rubbish we collect on Clean Up Australia Day is bottles and cans, but in South Australia, where they have container deposits they are just 8.4% of the rubbish we collect” Ian Kiernan AO Founder of Clean Up Australia and past Australian of the year.
A simple solution- known as a container deposit scheme (CDS), or ‘cash for containers,’ - is at hand. A 10 cent deposit gives people an incentive for returning containers for recycling. It’s just as easy as purchasing the drink. You pay a 10 cent deposit which is included in your purchase price and then you return your container to a designated recycling agent to receive your cash back.
South Australia has had just such a program in place for over 30 years and today, 81% of their bottles are recycled, around twice the rate of other states. The Northern Territory launched their scheme in January 2012– already reporting millions of containers diverted from landfill or our environment.
In South Australia alone the Scouts earn $2 million per year operating cash for container collections and depots that recycle these and other waste items. According to CleanUp Australia, the community service sector will earn around $70 million a year to re-invest into local communities if we adopt this approach nationally. A Newspoll survey from 2012 showed cash for containers is supported by over 80% of the Australian public.
What's the hold up?
Major bottlers led by Coca Cola have campaigned fiercely to pressure governments, keeping them from adopting recycling refund schemes. Coca Cola has even gone so far as to take the North Territory Government to court in order to shut the NT scheme down.
Whilst the beverage industry pedals myths about increased costs for the consumer, prices in South Australia are no higher than in other states. And again, according to CleanUp Australia, a national recycling refund program would cut current local government waste and recycling costs by $32 million.
With between a quarter and a third of all plastic marine pollution coming from the beverage industry a recycling refund scheme would go a long way to reducing the impact plastic has on our environment.
© Ian Hutton
What you can do
This year state governments are coming together to discuss implementing a recycling refund scheme nationwide. It’s down to us to tell Coca Cola and the beverage industry to stop trashing Australia and let our leaders know how much we want a scheme to keep our streets and beaches clean and protect our oceans.
TAKE ACTION: Email Premier Barry O'Farrell asking him to back a national 'Cash for Containers' scheme
READ: The benefits and, well, benefits! Your 11-step guide to effective recycling in Australia
WATCH: Our Coca-Cola ad that got banned from national TV
SHARE: the benefits of Cash for Containers' infographic