Bounty on bottles adds fizz

Marty Hoffart – presents the case for a bounty on bottles.

“It’s probably a perfect time for the government to ramp up this issue and have a serious look at introducing deposits on beverage containers in New Zealand.”

Marty Hoffart – Tauranga’s waste watcher and the city’s waste minimisation guru – is making a concerted pitch to give rubbish value.

“Bottles with a redeemable value of 10 cents each would have the greatest impact,” says Marty. “Then people would have a reason to save them and return them.”

He’s talking a container deposit scheme - simply put, a scheme operating effectively around the world to encourage greater recycling of beverage containers and reducing litter.

Suddenly, recycling would become worthwhile for those not already engaged. “CDS schemes have been proven to work,” says Marty. “But at the moment, there’s little or no incentive to recycle for some people.”

Waste Management[MOU1]  in Tauranga stopped accepting glass in their kerbside recycling bins. “Unsustainable,” the company claimed in a letter to customers. “Including glass in mixed recycling means less glass is recycled and leads to considerable contamination of other recycling materials.”

It was a business decision, an economic one. Tauranga’s collection companies are privately owned and operated, leaving ratepayers prone to business decisions.

“That’s because glass was thrown into the truck with all the other recyclables,” explains Marty. “It was breaking and much of it was not getting recycled, when it should have been sorted at the kerbside or put in separate bins like we used to do.

“It was the system that wasn’t working. Glass is 100 per cent recyclable.”

It set off a round of harrumphing at all levels. “That creates concern in the community as well as at council,” said Steve Morris, chair of the Tauranga City Council’s environment committee, “because it’ll likely result in more glass ending up in landfill.”

A Bethlehem resident says she’s already hearing that people can’t be bothered with recycling. “This means a lot of people will walk up to their general waste bins, open the lid, chuck their glass in and it’s going to end up in the landfill.

“Since they’ve paid for the service in advance, why not fill the bin up[MOU2] .”

Research bears her out. According to a report put out by Envision NZ, the numbers, on a national scale, are shameful. At least 45,865 tonnes of beverage containers are discarded into the litter stream, waterways and landfills each year – the equivalent of 700 Boeing 747s filled with containers, which is two a day.

After 20 years of voluntary measures, a study shows New Zealand’s beverage container recycling rates remain persistently low – estimated at less than 40 per cent.

A CDS would fix that, according to Marty Hoffart. “If you put a value of 10 cents on something like a beverage container, people won’t throw it in the rubbish, or walk past it. They will stop, pick it up and bring it in to redeem it.

“Look at Germany – one of the highest recycling rates in the world at 95 per cent. You can buy a pilsner beer in a supermarket for 19 cents, but the container deposit is 25 cents.

“The container is almost twice the value of the product. Of course they’re going to redeem the container, of course they’re going to recycle.”

He says some of the largest companies in the beverage industry worldwide – that’s anyone who sells something you drink from a container – are opposed to container deposit schemes or CDSs. They have done it all over the world. “They don’t want to have to worry about the end of life for containers,” says Marty. “A one-way trip for containers, that’s all they’re interested in and they have been lobbying against it for decades in New Zealand.”

Recently, Auckland City Council commissioned Sapere Research Group to conduct an independent cost-benefit analysis to assess the impact of a mandatory, national container deposit scheme or CDS.

It confirmed international findings - that benefits to a city like Tauranga would be three-to-six times greater than the costs.

Recycling of beverage containers would increase from the current rate of between 45 and 58 per cent to between 79 and 82 per cent. Society would be better off between $184 and $645 million over ten years and, even in the worst case scenario, the benefits of a CDS are more than double the costs.

Detailed modelling shows councils and ratepayers could expect to save up to $20.9 million a year in collection costs. Another $8.1 million would be saved annually through the reduction of waste to landfills and up to $4 million by reducing collections and maintenance of public space.

“There’s a certain inevitability about a CDS here because there has been a huge uptake in Australian states recently. Scotland’s bringing it in and England’s looking at it too.”

The idea is gathering momentum here too. Local Government New Zealand, an association of the country’s 78 local and regional councils of which Tauranga City Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Councils are members, is also a strong advocate of a CDS scheme. Some 90 per cent of members support the idea.

And the Trade Association Forum, which assists strategic development of business sectors, rated the establishment of a CDS in New Zealand as one of its top priorities.

“The only cost of a container deposit scheme to you and me would be just one half of one cent per container,” says Marty. ”I don’t think anyone is going to notice half a cent, let alone worry about it. There are no down sides.”

And there’s tentative buy-in from new associate environment minister, Eugenie Sage. She has the portfolio for waste[MOU3] .

“I’m supportive of any new ideas to turn around New Zealand’s rubbish record on waste,” says the minister.

“CDS schemes have been successful overseas and will be considered as part of a review of the implementation of the Waste Minimisation Act – a good law which has not been implemented effectively.”

And further analysis of all potential options is needed to understand how well they incentivise recycling. “It is early days for this government and we are still looking at the broader issue of waste management and reduction. All options will be considered.”

Tauranga City Council has plans for a rates funded waste and recycling service in its long term plan. But it’s exactly that – a long term plan that won’t happen until 2021 due to the lead time required. In the meantime, it’s looking at an interim rates-funded glass collection service.

Waste management has also set up a series of bottle banks or glass recycling stations.

But Marty Hoffart isn’t sure how many bottles those bins will capture. “I it’s a mean nice idea,” he says, “but some people will choose not to drive somewhere in their car to dispose of bottles when there is no return on them. There is just no incentive for some people.”

 [MOU1]Hunter I don’t want to bash Waste Management in the media. They are trying to do something with their drop off bins. Can we leave out that I’m speaking out against them as I do support what they are trying to do as Councils stuffs around for the next 3-4 years to sort out a rates funded system with glass collected separately.

 [MOU2]Not sure if you want this, but people want to get their money’s worth. They have already paid for the collection.

 [MOU3]David Parker is the Minister. Eugenie has the waste portfolio as associate minister.