The ACT government's Container Deposit Scheme has been labelled a mismanaged revenue-raiser after the program's sole recycling facility at Hume was shut down and busting beyond capacity.
The scheme has seen nearly 11 million containers deposited across the 10 Return It points in the territory since its implementation on June 30 last year and gives Canberrans back 10¢ for recycling their eligible bottles, cartons and cans.
But yellow bin kerbside collections are now also a means of cash-flow for the government, as they can effectively sell back the recyclable material to their own scheme.
"An aluminium can prior to the commencement of the scheme would have had a scrap value of about 3¢ per container, but its value today is now 10¢ [to the government]," Australian Beverages general manager Alby Taylor said.
"Effectively it's better than a 300 per cent price increase. A milk carton was effectively worth nothing and now it’s worth 10¢."
A government spokesperson said that all revenue claimed through the CDS is used to fund its regulatory administration, new waste management initiatives, and assist the Hume recycling facility in dealing with lower recyclate commodity prices due to market impacts.
Spatial concessions for the Container Deposit Scheme
The Hume Materials Recovery Facility was shut down on January 8 after WorkSafe ACT identified a number of hazards on the site, including blocked fire exits, missing guard rails and fire extinguishers.
The ACT government blamed WorkSafe's shutdown of the facility, which continued for eight days, partly on the scheme, which it said was causing "logistical challenges".
WorkSafe ACT lifted their Prohibition Notice on the Hume recycling centre on January 17, and it is currently fully operational.
A previously-unused part of the recycling facility was made operational during the shutdown to allow for an overflow of material - some six months after the implementation of the CDS.
But the ACT government still directed that tonnes of recyclable material be disposed of in Hume's active tip face and landfill with other mixed waste as a "stop gap" solution to spatial constraints.
Minister for City Services Chris Steel said in the tonnes of recyclable material that was dumped, there was none from the scheme.
Garth Lamb, the chief development officer of Re.Group - which runs the facility - said prior to the shutdown, the facility had not received direction from the government or WorkSafe ACT to use the extra space for additional material.
"We [Re.Group] certainly were talking about the need to utilise that part of the site before WorkSafe. But the events of last week meant that we've fast-tracked it," he said.
Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Andrew Wall said the lack of expansion at the facility prior to the shutdown showed the ACT government had "no contingency plan" on how to deal with material from the scheme.
"It seems the ACT government was more interested in raising additional revenue ... than it was in actually fixing and improving recycling practices in the ACT," he said.
Minister Steel said the shutdown of the Hume recycling centre was "not directly related to the scheme, but how the volume of material was being managed".
Material from the scheme comes into the facility "clean" and already grouped by container type. It then has to be processed, stored and baled separately from other recycled material.
"Feedback to date has been positive overall, and implementation of the scheme has been progressing well with container return numbers more than tripling since the scheme began in June 2018," Minister Steel said.
"The Container Deposit Scheme has only been operating since June 2018 and is still going through a bedding down process as the community becomes aware of the scheme and the Network Operator continues to roll-out additional locations."
The fourth Container Deposit Scheme in the country
The ACT's scheme was the fourth to be introduced in Australia, with South Australia the first in 1977; the Northern Territory followed many years later in 2011; and NSW launched its own on December 1, 2017. Queensland joined in on November 1, 2018, following the ACT's introduction in June that year.
Western Australia is committed to introducing their own scheme in early 2020, and Victoria and Tasmania do not have container deposit schemes.
Minister Steel said the ACT government undertook "extensive research" prior to implementing the national capital's own scheme, including looking into South Australia's - which is considered the nation's most successful.
"The Directorate undertook site visits and meetings at facilities in South Australia and New South Wales, as well as conducting research with ACT residents’ which demonstrated strong support for a community-based model, which made it easy to participate in and provided benefits for social enterprise," he said.
South Australia's Environmental Protection Authority director of regulation Peter Dolan said the state had about 130 collection points for scheme material.
The ACT currently has 10 - three bulk depots and seven express return points, with an additional eight points scheduled to be operational by July 2019.
The Hume recycling centre is the only facility in the territory that bales the material and prepares it to be sent to market.
The cost to consumers
The ACT opposition said it believed the scheme wasn't justified environmentally and passed on a 15 per cent tax to beverage consumers.
This figure is yet to be confirmed given that the program has only been running for six months, but it is expected to emulate that of NSW's scheme.
"The population of Canberra is circa 500,000 people ... so the reality is that container numbers which are being collected in the ACT Scheme will likely just blend into those from NSW," Australian Beverages general manager Alby Taylor said.
A report by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW found that non-alcoholic beverages had increased by an average of 10.1¢ due to the state's scheme. Alcoholic beverages had increased by an average of 5.1¢.
"We still think the case for the Container Deposit Scheme is unfounded. The ACT had one of the biggest capture rates of single use plastic bottles and containers in the country [prior to the scheme]," Mr Wall said.
It's presumed that much of the material recycled through the scheme would have been litter prior to its implementation, and so it is "extra material" for recycling facilities.