NSW is one step closer to implementing a container deposit scheme, a targeted approach to the 160 million beverage containers littered in communities across the state every year.
Environment Minister Mark Speakman has invited the public to have their say on the NSW government's container deposit scheme discussion paper, to decide how a potential scheme would operate in the future.
"The premier has made it his priority to reduce the volume of litter by 40 per cent by 2020," Mr Speakman said, adding that "an efficient and cost-effective deposit scheme" would help NSW reach this goal.
"I'm pleased we've got to this point. We're one step closer to delivering a scheme and we're on track to fulfil the election promise of doing that by July 1, 2017."
In June, Mr Speakman established a nine-person advisory committee, with representatives from government, the beverage industry and community groups to lead consultation on the design of the scheme.
The release of Saturday's discussion paper is the result of those consultations. It covers key issues such as incentives, impacts on kerbside recycling, the scope of containers, collection infrastructure, governance, and suggests two possible schemes.
The first, a "Refund CDS" would be framed around a financial incentive: "A consumer would pay an additional 10 cents on the price of a drink and receive it back if and when the empty container is returned to a designated collection site."
Option two, "Thirst for good", is an alternative industry proposal, developed by the major beverage companies.
The proposal would be a "$15 million annual investment by the beverage industry in a suite of programs aimed specifically at reducing litter".
It would include "some programs that involve both financial and non-financial incentives", including community cash for containers, litter collectors, new litter bins, reverse vending machines and community education.
Reviews conducted by the advisory committee found that all the legislated schemes examined globally that used a financial incentive – including those in South Australia and the Northern Territory – demonstrated high levels of drink container recovery.
"All studies emphatically state that financial incentives are what works," said Jeff Angel, a member of the advisory committee and convenor of the Boomerang Alliance of 34 environmental groups, who worked on proposing the Refund CDS.
He was critical of the "Thirst for Good" alternative, calling it a "dodgy alternative plan".
"It's miles away from matching container deposits and does little to stop litter in the first place. Nor should [the industry] be allowed to run a cash-for-containers program. We support a non-profit, independent group overseeing it."
However, the Australian Food and Grocery Council said the "Thirst for Good" approach would target littered beverage containers at a significantly lower cost to consumers than a traditional container deposit scheme.
"A cash-based CDS by nature and design targets all containers, not just out-of-home litter, diverts materials from kerbside and increases costs to consumers and industry," an AFGC spokesperson said.
"It is an expensive solution. Estimates show a potential set-up cost of more than $75 million and annual operating costs approximately $200 million."
An important component of any scheme would be the scope of containers included. Recommendations from the advisory committee suggest the NSW scheme should harmonise with the South Australian and Northern Territory schemes, which cover bottles and cans between 100 millilitres and three litres.
Mr Angel said adopting a true refund container deposit scheme is the only way to meet the Premier's 2020 litter target and his election promise of a "world's best scheme".
"'World's best' can really be achieved and the discussion paper contains our scheme for cash for containers, based on extensive research into the 40 other programs around the world," he said.
"It achieves virtually the entire 40 per cent litter reduction target in an efficient, low cost manner. We can find no other proposal from industry or business-as-usual that can do the job."
NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi said a proven container deposit scheme was the only answer to the state's problem with litter.
"A genuine container deposit scheme is one of the most effective litter control and recycling policy tools available to the NSW government."
Public consultation is open until 26 February 2016. To read the discussion paper visit here.