Investigations into Queensland’s Container Recycling Scheme have revealed “serious inadequacies” and a lack of transparency at the hands of the beverage industry.
Last week, Total Environment Centre released a report with information from its own investigations, public data and the Queensland Productivity Commission highlighting two main issues, and calling for greater transparency and reporting, an increased number of refund locations and expansion to the types of bottles and cans which can be recycled.
TEC executive director Jeff Angel said, “serious cultural attitudes have inhibited the scheme to reach its potential”, and says he would like to see the beverage industry’s influence removed.
“We think there is a case to be made that there is excessive influence of the beverage industry on the scheme and that is linked to its transparency and performance issues,” he said.
“In New South Wales, there is very accurate information for all sales data and the only way you can work out a recycling rate is to compare the recovery numbers to the sales. In Queensland, it is virtually impossible to get accurate, reliable sales data; they argue it’s commercial in confidence.
“That’s a traditional private industry view – that’s the sort of culture that we think is the problem.”
In NSW, it is a legal requirement to provide sales data to the government and the public, but that is not the case in Queensland, Mr Angel said.
The recycling scheme, coordinated by a single body, Containers for Change (CoEX), has now been operating for two years.
In its first year, 1.4 billion containers of the approximate three billion sold each year were collected by the scheme.
The review into CoEX followed an investigation into the Northern Territory and NSW recycling schemes.
Mr Angel said Total Environment Centre has been “battling” for best-practice container recycling schemes for decades and is committed to keeping them under review for the best environment and economic outcomes.
The report found the refund point infrastructure is “clearly lacking” in its capacity to meet the 85 per cent recovery rate target – giving rise to the waste crisis.
It found it is more expensive than the NSW scheme and has an unacceptably high ratio of refund points to population (one refund point per 39,000 people in South East Queensland, compared with one for every 12,000 in NSW and one for every 2500 in best performing European countries).
“Queenslanders currently return about 40 per cent of eligible containers via the new network but the scheme has a target return rate of 85 per cent, or 2.5 billion containers every year, by the 2021/22 financial year, so there’s still a long way to go,” Mr Angel said.
The report detailed eight recommendations, including regular transparent reporting subject to an independent audit, an expansion to the scope of the scheme to include a wider range of beverage containers, and more refund points to be located at retail centres and supermarkets.
“The CoEX board is dominated by the beverage industry and CoEX nominees,” the report states.
“It is also of great concern that a smaller group of beverage interests took highly significant decisions about the network, prior to the full board being established.
“A primary focus on costs to the sector can adversely influence the type and spread of refund points, negatively affecting convenience.”
Mr Angel said he hopes it is not too late to see change.
“My message to CoEX is admit you have problems, and then we can work it out from there,” he said.
“The community fought hard to get the scheme, it faced years of opposition despite the multiple benefits to the community and the environment.
“There are a lot of contracts concreted in place, it is a good boost to charity income and we all know what damage these bottles do to the ocean.”
CoEX has been contacted for comment but did not respond before publication.