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Bottle-refund experts support National scheme announcement

A working group on container deposit schemes, made up from waste minimisation experts around New Zealand, say they welcome the National Party’s announcement to include a container deposit scheme as part of its policy to minimise waste, if elected to government next year.

The party announced last week it was keen to introduce a scheme, whereby people get cash refunds for plastic and glass bottles and cans, in association with existing kerbside and recycling programmes.

The deposit working group, made up of members from the waste minimisation sector and including specialists from councils and communities, says they support the establishment of a scheme in New Zealand, but warn it needs to work for councils and communities, not just industry.

Working group spokesperson and coordinator of the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council Hannah Blumhardt says container deposit schemes are getting great results in other countries and a well-designed scheme could increase New Zealand’s recycling rates (for beverage containers) up to 90%.

“We support the National Party’s policy to establish a scheme here, and would like to see Labour moving forward on this too - this kind of scheme could be a game-changer in terms of waste minimisation because it redistributes the responsibility and cost of waste to the industry producing it, instead of community and councils bearing the brunt of managing and paying for waste and litter,” she says.

“We lose millions of cans and bottles a day to landfills and street litter and it’s totally unnecessary - with a deposit scheme all these containers would be returned and re-used or recycled.”

Recent research from Australia and the USA has demonstrated that deposit schemes can reduce drink containers in the ocean by 40%.

“Local recyclers are highly supportive of the idea because they get high volumes of good quality material to recycle. Wellington based PET recyclers Flight Plastics have told us they are in favour of it and are happy to take all of New Zealand’s clear PET,” Blumhardt says.

Flight Plastics estimates that currently only 30% of clear PET is being collected for recycling, says Blumhardt.

National’s policy paper also offers an alternative plan whereby the industry ensures 90% of beverage containers are saved from going to landfill. The working group acknowledge that industry has to be involved but Blumhardt says there is a larger group of stakeholders that can contribute to the mechanics of a deposit scheme approach.

“What we need is a reset to the way we view waste. A deposit scheme reintroduces value back into empty containers. We don’t want a scheme that is driven by profit taking. We want to reposition the market such that innovation through design will lead to empty containers being viewed as a resource rather than a disposable piece of packaging.”

The group looks forward to working with cross party support towards a deposit scheme for New Zealand that learns from the experience of others and puts the interests of society first, Blumhardt says.

“Industry-led, rather than a deposit scheme is fine in theory, but there need to be some very clear parameters - the easiest solution would again be to have a deposit scheme, because it’s the only way we’re going to get 90% recycling rates for beverage containers.”

The government would need to ensure the target of 90% was based on the number of containers recovered, rather than the weight of recyclables, Blumhardt says.

“Otherwise, they will just chase the heavy containers - glass - as that sways the outcomes significantly and it’s very important we go after all containers, particularly given public concern is on plastics,” she says.

“Any kind of scheme needs to be industry-funded. A core principle of producer responsibility is that externalities sit with producers and consumers, as directly as possible. This shouldn’t be an opportunity to just cost-shift to councils, for example through advocating enhanced kerbside recycling or public place recycling.”

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