Each year, Australians consume drinks in about 17 billion containers. Less than half of these are recycled, meaning more than 8.5 billion recyclable cans and bottles go into landfill or end up littering our land and waterways.
Organisers estimate that 48% of the rubbish collected nationally on Clean Up Australia Day is beverage industry related. According to the CSIRO, waste from the beverage industry makes up between a quarter and a third of all marine debris globally.
It’s hard to overstate just how big the plastic pollution problem is: 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year; there are an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean right now; the volume of plastic in the ocean will increase ten-fold by 2020 without action.
Besides being an eyesore, and hugely wasteful of reusable resources, this pollution is an enormous environmental problem and often fatal to native seabirds and marine animals. Scientist Dr Jennifer Lavers of Monash University has estimated that up to 85% of Australian seabirds are now affected by plastic pollution. Plastic is found in the stomachs of fish, whales, and seals - even oysters.
So it is particularly galling that soft drink behemoth Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most recognisable brands, is using its corporate muscle to lobby against NSW having a 10 cent deposit on beverage containers. Coke has tried this before, having challenged the Northern Territory’s container deposit legislation system, ultimately unsuccessfully.
In February 2015, Premier Mike Baird promised a “world’s-best practice’ container recycling system, by mid-2017. The NSW government will vote on this within months.
South Australia’s successful scheme, which has been running for more than 35 years, has recycling rates of over 80% - around double the national rate. The outcome is impossible to argue with: in NSW, drink containers make up 44% of litter; South Australia, 2.2%.
The beverage industry has argued that the cost of a 10c deposit system would be passed on to consumers, but this hasn’t been the case in places where such a system operates, like South Australia.
Numerous studies have shown that the cost of operating a container deposit system is offset by the benefits of recovering and reusing material and avoiding the environmental damage from manufacturing with raw materials.
Professor Stuart White, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, was commissioned in 2000 by the then NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus to conduct an independent review of container deposit legislation. His report concluded that there were significant net benefits arising from its implementation, including both a reduction in litter, and economic benefits from avoiding the unnecessary production of new materials.
While Coke is fighting against a 10c deposit system, Greenpeace Australia Pacific staff and volunteers will be joining thousands of people at Clean Up Australia Day events around the country on March 6, to help pick up some of the 160 million drink containers littered in NSW every year.
NSW politicians need to choose a side. Make no mistake, if Premier Mike Baird breaks his promise over recycling it will be because he put Coca Cola before the voters of NSW.