Why NSW needs Return and Earn

The NSW Government has introduced Return and Earn to reduce drink container litter. About 160 million drink containers were littered in 2014–15, costing the people of NSW millions of dollars in clean-up fees. This money could have been better spent on community facilities.

Litter is a significant problem

Environmental impacts

Litter damages natural environments, and harms terrestrial and marine wildlife. It can also make places look unsightly and uncared for, and attract more litter.

  • In 2015, Clean Up Australia Day volunteers removed 6351 tonnes of rubbish from parks, waterways, beaches and bushland. This was up from 5962 tonnes in in 2014. Drink containers made up 36% of litter collected.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from landfill in NSW account for 3.4 Mt of carbon dioxide, representing 3% of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Refilling keep bottles at a Sydney Water refill station located near a skate park in Liverpool, NSW resulted in 13,616 x 500 ml refills, saving 11,347 plastic bottles from entering landfill in May 2017.

Impacts on human health

Litter like broken glass and syringes can injure people. The presence of litter makes it more likely that other antisocial behaviours will occur, like graffiti and property damage

Loss of easily recyclable and valuable resources

Valuable resources are lost when people litter. Even if litter is collected, it is often too contaminated to be recycled. Sixty-five percent of NSW consumers drink an average of 5.4 drinks outside the home each week. Of those, 70% of the containers are not brought home to recycle.

Economic impacts

  • About 160 million drink containers were littered in NSW in 2014–15. This represents about 44% of the volume of all litter in NSW.
  •  On average 3.5 litres of litter per square kilometre was dumped on NSW roads and highways in 2016. Beverage containers that would be eligible for a refund under the Scheme made up 45% of that litter.
  • Drink containers make up the largest proportion of litter volume in NSW, twice as much as the next largest proportion, which is takeaway cups and food containers.

In September 2015, the NSW Government committed to reducing the volume of litter in NSW by 40% by 2020. Return and Earn will complement the broad suite of litter reduction initiatives that are already under way as part of the $802 million Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, in which the Government has dedicated $50 million over nine years to tackle litter.

The main beneficiaries of the Scheme will be the environment and the community. Economic analysis shows that the Scheme will deliver $1.33 of benefits for every $1 of cost. Over the next 20 years, the Scheme is expected to result in

  1. 1.6 billion fewer drink containers littered
  2. Almost 11 billion fewer drink containers ending up in landfill
  3. 12.6 billion more drink containers being recycled

In addition, councils are estimated to save $155 million in container collection and transport costs, and costs will be reduced for recycling processors by $33 million.

Support for Return and Earn

  • Social research undertaken by the Government in November 2016 found that 79% of respondents across the state are in favour of the Scheme.
  • South Australia and the Northern Territory already have container deposit schemes in place.
  • The Queensland and Australian Capital Territory governments have announced they will introduce similar schemes in 2018.
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