Recycling Plastic Containers and Lids, why is Australia so far behind the rest of the World?

The different Container Recycling schemes running across Australia has shown once again that not having a single federal entity responsible creates a bureaucratic mess with massive duplication in costs for all involved and a minefield with different rules for each state creating confusion about what can and cannot be recycled.

Not a single state has chosen the Reverse Vending Machine model at the point of sale like successful implementations in places like Germany and instead the requirement is for millions of trips to be made to dedicated recycling sites which does nothing but harm the environment.

The next issue is that most states don’t recycle the plastic lids and require you to remove them before you return them and throw them into bins that are destined for landfill. This is contrary to the practices of other countries that have invested in recycling facilities and shows that once again our recycling in Australia in a joke. Organisations like Envirobank further confuse the issue with their ideas on how container lids should be handled and recommend that you put them into your recycle bin or use them for other purposes!

Did you know that the plastic in the lids are different to the plastic in bottles? This means they need to be recycled differently. Not only that, but if recycling batches are contaminated with lids it can mean the whole lot might get sent into landfill (Noooo!).

When lids enter a recycling facility’s sorting process, they often get lost along the way because of their small size and weight, and are then sent on to landfills. What a waste – right!

When lids are included in the recycling at our drop points it can wreak havoc on our machinery – causing technical issues, risking personal injury, and delaying your Crunch Credits being issued! So always make sure to remove the lids before dropping them in.

Loose lids on their own can be too small to be picked up by depot sorting machines which means they often get sorted out and end up in landfill.

Place your loose lids into a larger plastic bottle, like a milk bottle, before adding them to your yellow council bin for recycling so they are contained and make their way through the recycling machines.

Look for alternative ways to reuse them. For example, ask if your local schools and pre-schools would like to take some for their craft-hour.

23rd of June 2019 | Envirobank

The truth is that the lids don’t need to be removed as they can be recycled at the same time as the bottles and automatically separated during the washing process. If the lid is removed before this occurs it will likely end up in landfill. Some Australian States and organisations will tell you to remove the lid and put it into a recycling bin but this will see it likely end up in landfill due to it’s size.

In fact by being told that we can recycle without the lids this has created an issue with bottle lids now being in the top 5 items being found in beach cleaning and litter monitoring around the world. The top 5 in order of number are

  1. Fishing Gear
  2. Plastic Bags and Utensils
  3. Balloons
  4. Cigarette Butts
  5. Bottle Caps

In the summer of 2016, The North Sea Foundation and more than 2,000 volunteers picked up as many bottle caps as they could find along the entire Dutch North Sea coast. These bottle caps were analysed one by one. The survey shows the quantity, type and origins of the bottle caps that pollute the North Sea and its beaches.

The biggest issue in Australia is that we generally just send our recycling to other countries for them to deal with and each council area differs in their approach, some even send recycling to landfill directly as we have seen many times recently.

The following is from The Association of Plastic Recyclers who have an excellent FAQ that illustrates how far behind we are in Australia.

Caps On – Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve always heard that plastic recyclers needed caps to be taken off? Why make the change?
Two key reasons: First, when recycling gets easier, participation goes up. APR is dedicated to boosting participation in recycling programs. Second, the cap material is recyclable. Why dispose something that could be recycled? In the past the plastics recycling industry was not able to effectively recycle bottles with caps on so the message to remove the cap was created. Recycling collection and processing technology has improved, demand for the recyclable material has increased allowing the current caps on recycling message and process.

Are recycled caps marketable?
Yes. Generally, caps are made out of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) – both of these have high demand from applications in both domestic and export markets.

Caps are usually made of a different type of plastic than bottles. Do they have to be recycled separately?
No. Although closures may be made of a different material than the bottle, bottles are ground into flake before being vigorously washed in the recycling process. The washed cap material is then separated from the bottle material during a water bath float/sink process. PET will sink, PP and HDPE will float. Both materials are then recycled into new items.

Should bottles and containers be flattened before replacing the cap?
APR’s primary message is EMPTY AND REPLACE CAP. According to a recent MRF Material Flow Study, flattening bottles can lead to improper sortation, and they may end up in the paper stream. Retaining a 3D form can help containers be successfully sorted.

Can bales of bottles with caps on be marketed at the same rate as bales without caps?
Yes. APR’s model bale specifications do not downgrade for the inclusion of caps. APR member companies regularly buy and recycle bales of caps-on bottles and containers.

Can I get a good bale compaction rate with caps on bottles?
Yes. Good bale density is important – too light and it’s hard to hit load requirements. Too tight and the material is over compacted, and recyclers cannot break them apart very well. While the answer varies by the type of baler, generally speaking 100-120psi of pressure should allow most balers to compress plastic bottles with caps on. Large-scale 2 ram systems, most commonly used in MRFs, should have no trouble as they often range in the 150-300+ psi range. A single ram, closed door baler usually operates at 70-120 psi. While larger balers of this format should be fine, those running at the low end of that range will generally have trouble securing a good bale. A single ram extrusion auto tie also needs to operate more at 100-120psi range but there’s some finesse needed. By running a load of cardboard before the bottles, the operator then gains something hard to push against and should be able to reach compaction.

Must the bottles go through a perforator machine before baling in order to get a good compaction rate?
Generally, no. Most current Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) do not operate a perforation machine to puncture the bottles before baling. Heavy duty horizontal balers take care of the job using plenty of pressure.

Will the caps shoot off during baling?
APR strongly suggests all baler safety equipment such as guards be left untampered, unmodified, and unchanged to prevent incidents and accidents. Rupturing bottles in a baler can create projectiles and baler manufacturers have included the guards for worker protection.

Are there things I can do to design my products to make them more recyclable?
Yes. The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability is the most comprehensive design resource outlining the plastics recycling industry’s recommendations in the marketplace today with the ultimate goal of all plastic packaging to be compatible with the plastics recycling infrastructure. Size and shape are critical parameters in MRF sorting, and this must be considered in designing packages for recycling. Items smaller than three inches in all dimensions are non-recyclable per APR. Most caps are smaller than three inches. If they are not replaced on bottles, they will not be recycled, and end up in the landfill.

Are metal caps really a problem?
Yes. Steel caps may damage machinery and aluminum caps may slow down production. They may cause contamination issues in the float/sink process, as they sink with PET material. Metal caps may also cause plastic bottles and containers to be separated from the plastics stream in the eddy current (magnetic) step of the sortation process at the MRF.

My MRF says that they do not accept caps on plastic containers. What should I do?
Please let them know that APR supports caps and closures to remain on containers before being placed in a recycling cart or bin. We understand that for some MRF’s accepting caps on is readily done and for some it is a challenge. Our message is that the market accepts bales for which the caps and closures are left on the bottles, but the equipment and policies at the local level may take time to adapt. Please feel free to share this information or direct your MRF officials to: www.plasticsrecycling.org.

NSW Government lies about Container Deposit Scheme benefits and the costs

The Return and Earn Scheme

The NSW Government told the suckers people of NSW that cans and bottles make up 43% of all litter and their new Container Deposit Scheme will reduce this by 25%. Impressive numbers as this would be a nearly 11% reduction in litter. They would call this scheme “Return and Earn” when it’s really “Return and get your deposit back”, clearly they don’t understand the definition of the word earn and as will be seen below words like integrity.

The NSW Government is serious about reducing litter.
The Premier has committed to reduce the volume of litter in New
South Wales by 40% by 2020.

The Premier of NSW | September 2015

But of course the NSW Government misled the people of NSW and the only way to find out is if you read the Litter prevention strategy for NSW 2017-2020. The only report you will find is a draft report, the final report was due in the first half of 2018 but we’re almost into the second half of 2019 and it still hasn’t been released. Make of that what you will.

Looking at the volume estimate Container Deposit Scheme beverage containers make up 43% of litter.

If we view this as the number of items and Container Deposit Scheme beverage containers make up 9% of litter.

The earlier estimate from the NSW Government was that a drop of 25% would be achieved which would reduce the 9% by volume to 6.75% which is a drop of 2.25% in the total number of items littered.

Looking at the comparison figures for the period 2005 to 2016 there have already been drops each year so why the rush to implement what became a flawed and expensive Container Deposit Scheme.


The document proceeds to talk about South Australia but only mentions the reduction in containers, it does not talk about a substantial increase in bottle lids.

Checking the statistics on containers does show a decrease in South Australia on the number of beverage containers in the CSIRO Marine Debris Project Final Report Aug 2014.

It’s not all roses in South Australia however because Australian container recyclers refuse to take bottle lids and you have to remove them before you return them. The rest of the world that have container refund schemes take the lids including the machines that crush them in the store so they don’t need to be removed. The flaw in Australia’s recycling is that in South Australia a substantial number of the lids are thrown away and end up on the beaches, in the water, parks and everywhere litter is found. The logical solution to this would be to require the recycling facilities to take the full complete bottle with lid and recycle or dispose of the plastic lid.

In Queensland this is also a safety issue because apparently when being crushed the pressure created can cause the lid to fly off and injure or kill.

The Strategy document claims that the cost of collecting litter in 2016 for councils, public and private land managers and community groups is $180 million per year with claimed savings from a Container Refund Scheme of $45 million a year.

The Real Figures

The NSW Government figures which will frankly be no doubt over-inflated show a reduction in litter of 2.25% however this comes at a cost, a huge cost that all beverage consumers are paying.

In the first three months of the scheme from December 2017 to February 2018 the scheme took in $110 million in deposits and paid out $8.3 million leaving the bottlers with a profit of $101.7 million or $406.8 million for the year.

As is usual in Australia the NSW Government did not want any responsibility for managing the scheme so allowed the five largest beverage companies to set up the Exchange for Change which is used to run and manage the NSW Container Deposit Scheme. This didn’t stop them for hiring over 18 staff to “oversee” the scheme.

Asahi, Carlton United Breweries, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coopers and Lion eagerly setup this new scheme as the NSW Government made no allowances for deposits that are not claimed so these are returned as profit from the scheme to the beverage companies. When does the idiocracy stop? Are the village idiots given priority in government positions?

December 2017 to March 2018 saw 1.556 billion eligible containers were sold in NSW but only 204 million were returned which is 13.1%. Assuming this rate remains the same this is an additional cost to consumers of $406.8 million per year. One of the benefits of this Container Refund Scheme was to reduce the cost for councils in collecting litter but with such a low rate of returns this is unlikely to occur in any meaningful way and the beverage manufacturers are profiting in an obscene manner when these funds would cover the councils costs of litter collection nearly three times.

According to the Return and Earn Media Release each container has between 11.13c and 14.07c added to it but this is based on a much higher recovery percentage so not only is their profit in making it hard for consumers to claim but also in the overstated costs per container. This is a win-win for the companies who setup the scheme and who keep all the excess funds.

Updated figures for December 2017 to January 2019 (14 months but the ABC call it 15 months!?!?!?).

5.446 billion eligible containers sold in this period and 1.3 billion returned has increased the rate of the return to 23% which is lower then it was when they were collected in the roadside recycling bins. However Government figures have it at 54%, are we being lied to again?

Lies, Lies and more Lies

The NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s business case for the setup of a Container Deposit Scheme stated that eligible containers were recycled at a rate of 53%. Other government documents put it at 50% and the following document from the NSW Government puts it at up to 60% and note that they mention that hoarding may occur in the leadup to the Container Deposit Scheme.

We have assumed that the Return and Earn scheme must be prepared to fund a potentially high total recovery rate in the initial months, with NSW kerbside recycling already recovering
as much as 60% of all supplied containers based on available statistics, and the potential for container hoarding prior to December 2017.

NSW Government Return and Earn Scheme Costs | August 2017

The NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton claimed that container recycling had jumped 69% in the twelve months since the scheme began from 32% to 54%.

Which is true?

Looking at key points in the Ministers media release and it looks like the Container Deposit Scheme has been an outstanding success despite the massive cost but has it?

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said Return and Earn has been an outstanding success and changed the way people dispose of empty drink containers.

Eligible drink containers collected and recycled: up by 69 per cent
Eligible drink container litter volume: down 44 per cent
NSW total litter volume: down 48 per cent since 2013

“More than half the drink containers in the marketplace (54 per cent) are now being recovered, compared with the 32 per cent that was being collected in yellow bins before Return and Earn kicked in.

“While litter volume has pleasingly dropped across all litter categories, the largest reduction is from eligible drink containers which now represent an all-time low of 37 per cent of the NSW litter volume stream,” Ms Upton said.

“This means the Premier’s target of a reducing litter in NSW by 40 per cent cut by 2020 is going to be well and truly met – and then some.

“This shows the impact and undeniable success of Return and Earn on reducing litter across the state.

Return and Earn: A billion reasons to celebrate | 2nd of December 2018

Where does the 32% figure come from when NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s figure was 53% and the schemes own figures are up to 60%?

The figure was based on the EPA looking at a cross selection of recycling bins in 29 council areas across the state with 100 households from each council area selected for examination. Households were notified beforehand and were able to opt out. So not only is this not a proper audit of the bins as you have notified residents and given them an opt out right but this audit was performed TWO months AFTER the scheme started so people were stockpiling them to return them so the results are worthless..

So the NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton is using a figure that was collected in a manner that is stupid beyond all comprehension and ignoring all the previous figures because they show that this scheme has achieved nothing! When are politicians going to be held accountable for lying to and misleading citizens to cover up the fact that they have wasted BILLIONS of taxpayer money on a scheme that does nothing!

Ms Upton said that, as a result of Return and Earn, eligible drink container litter volume has dropped by 44 per cent and now represents an all-time low of 37 per cent of the NSW litter volume stream.

Return and Earn breaks records | 18th of January 2018

This is outright deception by the Minister Gabrielle Upton. The recycling rate has increased from 53% to 54% so how it is possible for the litter volume to drop by 7%?

At best the NSW Container Deposit Scheme has increased recycling by 1% and at worst they have decreased by 6%. The true figure is probably somewhere in between so the billions of dollars in setting up the scheme and lost productivity have all be for nothing.

Minister Gabrielle Upton unable to do the maths!

Is it asking too much for a minister earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, a generous pension and a large team of staff to actually know their portfolio?

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has dodged questions from Ben Fordham over a crucial Return and Earn detail.

Ms Upton insists the container deposit scheme is now “steady” and going “real places” but can’t give a figure on how many containers are going through the vending machines as a percentage of how many containers are sold.

“There are almost 640 million drink containers through the system since it began,” the Minister says.

Ben, “Does that work out to be 10 per cent of the total number of containers that are sold? Or 25 per cent or 50 per cent?”

Minister Upton, “Look, it is a percentage of the drink containers that are sold. Not every drink container, Ben, is going to be put through the system. People are making a choice.”

Ben, “But what is it? 50 per cent? Do you know what it is?”

Despite not being able to answer the question, Ms Upton says the figure wouldn’t determine “whether this scheme is a success”.

“There are many millions of drinks that are eligible to be returned, sold every day,” she says.

“People make choices about whether they will claim back a deposit.

“The strong numbers, just under 640 million drink containers, indicates that lots and lots of people every day are returning it and participating in the scheme.”

Ben has since crunched the numbers, and has the figures.

“The return rate is 27 per cent,” he says. “So out of 100 containers sold, 27 are handed in on average.

“So if 640 million have been handed in in total, the total number of containers sold since December 1, would be approximately 2.3 billion.”

‘Do you know what it is?’ | 30th of August 2018

What other costs are there for the NSW Container Deposit Scheme?

The NEW environmental protection agency requires 18.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) staff to oversee the Container Deposit Scheme. The cost of these staff? $2.8 million per year.

NSW Container Deposit Scheme
EPA’s fees for monitoring, compliance and approving containers
24 September 2018

Return and Earn Depots

I’m not going to go into these for NSW, the fact is that there are too few places to return and they don’t have many Reverse Vending Machines (RVM). The system is poorly implemented like the Queensland system and billions of dollars have been wasted on schemes that just make no sense in anyway.

It would have been cheaper, had minimal impact on the environment, had a very high container return rate and been a lot quicker to implement to have Reverse Vending Machines fitted to most supermarkets. This way the consumer can return the containers when they do their shopping next, no need for special trips, no environmental issues with all the travel, no time wasted as it becomes part of your grocery shopping, no need to register to multiple services nor have to work out how it works at another deport. All you do is insert your containers and when you are done you receive a voucher for the supermarket which you can also receive cash for.

The Queensland Container Refund Scheme continues to worsen and what is the cost to the environment?

The Container Refund Schemes (called a different name in every state of course) in Australia are so utterly absurd. I’ve written about the Queensland system and shown that a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) would have been a fraction of the price and meant that people can return their empty containers when they do their shopping.

We already knew from South Australian experience that depots experiences long queues of cars lined up idling for long periods of time and your average car can hold maybe 200 to 500 containers depending on how many bottles you have and this gives you $20 to $50 but factor in your costs of getting to the deport in time and wear and tear and how much are you really getting back and what cost to the environment are all these trips?

Reed Recycling in Townsville

What a great way to spend the weekend, sitting in your car and sucking on the fumes of the car in front whilst waiting to get a return on a deposit that may end up costing you money to get back.

Reed Recycling in Townsville

And when you do get to the front of the line you get to unload your car, and if you left the bottle caps on to stop them leaking you have to remove them before you hand them over for counting. And don’t crush or otherwise damage the containers or they won’t be accepted if they can’t see the barcode area.

Reed Recycling in Townsville

Job creation in Queensland at work. Instead of using machines that can process these at the point of sale and take care of all the work we get humans to double, triple and quadruple handle the containers.

Container drop off in Bowen

Drop your containers off at some locations but of course they are often full so some people put their labels on your bags! And don’t forget that some companies will keep all your containers if you don’t have the exact number that they specify in the bag. Why would you want to return your containers when you go shopping, it’s much more interesting going on a road trip and burning your fuel.

Staff and contractors have been ripped off by a Charters Towers depot that has since done a runner. Payments being delayed for six or more weeks are still common.

COEX spokesperson Adam Nicholson would not discuss specifics while investigations were ongoing, but said their priority was ensuring customers were not left out of pocket.

“We have seen a massive response, far more than we or anyone else predicted,” he said.

“I think we are experiencing twice the number or volume of containers as seen in New South Wales, so we’ve really load-tested our scheme since day one.

“The positive is that we know where our areas for improvement, are and we’re working really hard behind the scenes.”

COEX spokesperson Adam Nicholson

So Queensland has experienced twice the number or volume of containers as seen in New South Wales? That doesn’t sound correct but surely COEX wouldn’t mislead us?

Between the 1st of November 2018 and I assume the 21st of January 2019 (going by the date on the article) COEX has processed 150 million containers. That is roughly 11 weeks so 13.6 million containers per week.

The NSW system handled 1.3 billion over 14 months so 61 weeks which is 21 million containers a week.

So COEX has been caught misleading the public with false statistics, if I can look them up surely COEX can. Is it asking too much for Government sponsored organisations to actually know the industry they are working in?

Container deposit scheme demand creates mountain of cans at recycling depot