Taking conflict of interest out of container refund legislation

By Gayle Sloan

Tasmania and Victoria will soon have their own container refund schemes (CRS), taking Australia closer to this scheme operating nationally, providing an essential service and benefit to communities across the country. This is a significant step for both states, and one the waste and resource recovery sector supports.

The advantages of a well-run CRS are numerous and proven – it maximises recovery and recycling, reduces litter and plastic pollution, creates jobs, and generates new revenue opportunities for householders, the community and charity groups.

Tasmania, like Victoria, has an edge many other states that have gone before it did not – it has the advantage of hindsight. Tasmania can leverage off the experience – some decades-long – of the jurisdictions with similar schemes, including SA, NSW, the ACT, Queensland, and the NT. It is imperative Tasmania learns from these jurisdictions by picking the very best elements of existing schemes to ensure the state has a best practice CRS that meets Tasmania’s needs. It is an opportunity we hope will not go to waste.

The two most significant features of a best practice CRS that will drive the success of the system are the ease of access to return sites and facilities, and effective community engagement. Both these attributes can best be achieved if the scheme design reflects and supports the same goals as the Tasmanian Government and the community – and that is maximising convenience, access and recycling. 

There are multiple important players with distinct responsibilities in a best practice CRS, including the beverage industry, which can play a part in the governance arena and ensure equitable distribution of costs across the sector. However, to drive accessibility and community engagement, a strong scheme requires a recycling-driven approach, where the governance body establishing and administering the scheme is not conflicted by a primary objective of minimising costs to beverage suppliers.

Tasmania should take this opportunity to develop a scheme that is fully aligned with the government and community objective of delivering the highest quality, most accessible scheme. The most expensive scheme, from a customer’s perspective, is one in which they cannot easily redeem their container for the refund amount. Those involved in the design and administration of the collection network must have a natural incentive and desire to publicise and grow the scheme, including its network of redemption locations.

The NSW/ACT scheme provides an example of a structure designed to manage the inherent conflict of interest associated with higher return rates leading to increased refund costs for beverage suppliers. In both these schemes, the network operators are incentivised to maximise container return rates and have exceeded minimum collection point targets. NSW has had more than four (4) billion containers returned through the network since it was established just under three (3) years ago. A significant proportion of these collection points are operated by charity and small business operators. The approach taken has meant a planned network, which ensures consumer convenience.

It now appears the Victorian Government will adopt this approach of managing the inherent conflict, and maximising convenience, by the adoption of a split responsibility model. It is hoped Tasmania will do the same.

It is only when the players – who have the same objectives as the government and the community – are matched to the right roles, through an open and transparent appointment process, that we will see the biggest impact of a CRS for the Tasmanian community.

The Tasmanian Government has a responsibility and obligation to the people of Tasmania to provide the best possible CRS for the state. It should not simply be handed to the beverage industry to design and deliver.

Gayle Sloan is Chief Executive Officer of the Waste Management and Resource Association of Australia.