South Australia’s container deposit scheme keeps our state free from unsightly beverage litter. Many people who visit South Australia comment on our clean streets, parks, beaches and river systems.
South Australia introduced its container deposit legislation (CDL) in 1977, and in 2017 celebrated its 40th anniversary. Our container deposit scheme continues to be a highly successful environmental program aimed at litter reduction and resource recovery.
The container deposit scheme is one of the first pieces of environmental legislation to focus on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, meaning that if someone discards an empty container they forfeit the right to the refund and someone else would benefit by picking it up and collecting that refund.
It is also one of the first pieces of ‘product stewardship’ legislation in which industry is obliged to take greater responsibility for its packaging after it has been sold. In the case of CDL, beverage suppliers must ensure that a system is in place for the recovery and recycling of their empty beverage containers
South Australia leads the nation in the recovery, recycling and litter reduction of beverage containers with a current, overall return rate of 79.9%. With the refund scheme, beverage containers make up only 2.9% of litter.
In 2016–17, almost 587 million containers (43,298 tonnes) were recovered by collection depots for recycling. This means that over $58 million was refunded to the community during that period.
The container deposit scheme also provides a financial benefit to community groups, sporting clubs and charities that collect empty containers for refund.
See testimonials of organisations that have organised fundraising by collecting beverage containers.
South Australians enjoy the convenience of an extensive depot network throughout the metropolitan and regional areas of the state. Many of the 132 approved depots accept a wide range of recyclable materials making them a ‘one stop shop’ for the public.
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South Australia leads the nation in the recovery, recycling and litter reduction of beverage containers with a current, overall return rate of 79.9%.
The return rate for beverage containers in South Australia in 2016–17 was 79.9%. More than 586.8 million containers (43,298 tonnes) were recovered by collection depots for recycling. This means more than $58 million was refunded to the community during that period.
Glass beverage containers covered by South Australia’s container deposit legislation include a range of containers used for beer, cider and soft drinks. The legislation does not currently extend to glass bottles used for wine or spirits.
The glass is usually sorted at the collection depot into clear, green and amber (brown) colours ready for recycling into new products. The new products may include glass jars and bottles, sand substitute in concrete and abrasives for removing rust, barnacles and coatings.
In 2016–17, the return and rate for glass beverage containers was 84.9%. Approximately 34,667 tonnes of glass beverage containers were sent for recycling.
Aluminium beverage containers covered by South Australia’s container deposit legislation are used for a wide range of alcoholic and soft (non-alcoholic) drinks.
Aluminium cans recovered through collection depots go through a smelting process, where the aluminium is made into ingots and sold to manufacturers of aluminium products to become outdoor furniture, screen doors and window frames for houses, along with bike and car parts. A large percentage of recycled aluminium is also used to make new aluminium cans (source: Zero Waste SA).
In 2016–17, the return rate for aluminium beverage containers in South Australia was 88.8%. Approximately 3,806 tonnes of aluminium beverage containers were sent for recycling.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage containers covered by South Australia’s container deposit legislation are predominantly used for soft (non-alcoholic) drinks.
PET containers recovered through collection depots are sent to processing factories where the plastic is shredded, washed and formed into pellets or powder ready for remaking into new plastic products. PET can be recycled into a range of products, including fleecy jackets, furniture fabric and road stabilising material. A large percentage of PET containers are recycled into new bottles (source: Zero Waste SA).
In 2016–17, the return rate for PET containers was 65.8%. Approximately 3,927 tonnes of PET beverage containers were sent for recycling.
High density polyethylene (HDPE) beverage containers covered by South Australia’s container deposit legislation are predominantly used for fruit juice and flavoured milk drinks.
HDPE containers recovered through collection depots are sent to processing factories where the plastic is shredded, washed and formed into pellets or powder ready for remaking into new plastic products. HDPE can be recycled into a range of products, including detergent bottles, compost and garbage bins, and agricultural and irrigation pipes (source: Zero Waste SA).
In 2016–17, the return rate for HDPE/mixed beverage containers was 53.5%. Approximately 234 tonnes of HDPE/mixed plastics were sent for recycling.
Liquid paperboard (LPB) beverage cartons covered by South Australia’s container deposit legislation are predominantly used for fruit juice, fruit juice drinks (such as Pop Tops) and flavoured milks.
LPB containers recovered through collection depots are sent to processing factories where the LPB is recycled into high quality products, such as whiter office paper suitable for printers and copiers (source: Zero Waste SA).
In 2016–17, the return rate for LPB beverage containers was 67.4%. Approximately 663 tonnes of LPB were sent for recycling.
SA Heritage Icon
The container deposit scheme in South Australia is so successful that in 2006 it was awarded the status of State Heritage Icon.
The BankSA Heritage Icons list records, recognises and protects items that have made a significant contribution to South Australia’s cultural identity.
The award citation:
South Australia was the first … Australian state or territory to have Container Deposit Legislation and it enjoys wide public support. It’s a self-cleansing, self-policing system that has greatly contributed to South Australia’s reputation, an increasingly valuable tourism asset, as Australia’s cleanest state. For that contribution to our living heritage the bottle and can deposit legislation is elevated, onto the pedestal and into the spotlight, as a BankSA Heritage Icon.
How does the container deposit scheme work?
South Australia’s container deposit legislation is contained within Part 8 Division 2 of the Environment Protection Act 1993. The EPA is the regulator of the scheme and ensures that the refund is made available for the person returning the empty container to the collection depot and that the empty containers are collected for recycling or reuse. However, the EPA has no direct involvement in the collection of the deposits or the recycling of the material which is the responsibility of industry.
Historical overview of container deposits
Prior to the introduction of the Beverage Container Act in 1975, South Australia already had a history of recycling beverage containers dating as far back as the late 1800s with local beer and soft drink manufacturers practising their own form of voluntary recycling and return in order to recover and refill their refillable bottles such as the pickaxe beer bottles.
South Australian consumers returned soft drink bottles to retailers and beer bottles to 'marine stores' for a refund amount that was set and managed by industry. Marine stores were originally established by the Adelaide Bottle Company to collect, wash and re-hire the glass bottles for refilling by local breweries, such as the South Australia Brewing Company and Coopers Brewery.
The introduction (and increasing popularity) of single-trip (non-refillable) beverage containers in the 1970s meant that the new containers could not be used again and were of no further use to them once sold. Beverage manufacturers ignored any type of return system for the new containers with the result that ‘single trip’ beverage containers soon became a highly visible part of the litter stream and a potential threat to the environment.
Oregon, USA passed the first bottle bill (also known as a deposit law) in 1971, requiring refundable deposits on all beer and soft drink containers. It was this piece of legislation that would provide the springboard for South Australia’s own ‘bottle bill’.
Based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle and reinforcing the existing return systems previously established by industry for its refillable containers, the South Australian Parliament passed the Beverage Container Act 1975, which commenced operation in January 1977.
Read the story in the Canberra Times.
There have been a number of significant changes to the container deposit scheme since its inception largely relating to the types of beverages/containers covered. In 2008 the refund amount increased from 5 to 10 cents. This led to more South Australians participating, resulting in less litter on our streets and less waste sent to landfill.
Origins of the collection (recycling) depot system
The collection depot system as we know it today was built upon the foundation of an already recognised network of licensed ‘marines stores’ which existed to encourage the return of the refillable beer bottles used by local brewers.
The large network of original marine stores formed the basis of the new ‘can’ depot network when the beverage container legislation commenced. The new legislation, introduced in 1977, only applied to single-use steel cans (the only non-refillable beverage containers being used at the time) and many marine store dealers agreed to sign up as can depots to collect containers (and the associated handling fees) covered by the new legislation.
Meanwhile, containers not covered by the legislation such as refillable glass soft drink bottles and refillable beer bottles continued to be returned to retailers (soft drink) and marine stores (beer) for refund amounts set and managed by industry.
As time went by, the container deposit scheme has expanded to include more container types and a larger number of depots. There are currently over 132 approved depots throughout South Australia metropolitan and regional centres.
Many collection depots have expanded their operations to recover other items for recycling, such as scrap metal, e-waste, cardboard, non-deposit glass, etc. It is estimated that the collection depot industry now employs around 1,000 people throughtout South Australia.
Northern Territory's Cash for Containers Scheme
New South Wales container deposit scheme
In February 2015, the New South Wales Government announced its commitment to introduce a cost-effective container deposit scheme (CDS). On 8 May 2016 after extensive community and industry consultation it confirmed a CDS would commence in NSW.
The scheme started on 1 December 2017. Most beverage containers between 150 ml and 3 litres will able to be returned for a 10-cent refund. A network of depots and reverse vending machines will open across NSW to receive the empty containers.
Queensland's container refund scheme
Following a feasibility investigation, the Queensland Government announced a container fefund scheme will start on 1 November 2018, to tackle litter and plastic pollution and improve recycling.
For more information go to the QLD EPA website
ACT container deposit scheme
The ACT container deposit scheme (CDS) commenced 30 June 2018. Consumers are now able to return eligible beverage containers to designated drop-off points and receive a 10 cent refund for each container.
For more information go to ACT CDS.
WA container deposit scheme
The Western Australian Government has committed to implementing a container deposit scheme. Further details will be available at the Department of Environment and Environmental Regulation website.
To find your nearest depot, visit the list of metropolitan and regional collection depots.
For more information, take a look at some frequently asked questions.
Application forms can be accessed online.
Use the recycling directory which is South Australia’s guide to waste minimisation. Within these pages you will find out how you can recycle just about anything in South Australia.