South Australia’s container deposit scheme (CDS) 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 product stewardship program for 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 the person who discards an empty container forfeits the right to the refund, and someone else can 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 a CDS, 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 76% in 2022–23. Beverage containers make up only 2.8% of litter because of this refund scheme.
South Australians enjoy the convenience of an extensive depot network to return eligible empty containers. Many of the depots accept a wide range of other recyclable materials making them a ‘one stop shop’ for the public. Our depots are ideal for returning large amounts of beverage containers and many South Australians store their empty bottles and cans for a few months before taking them back in one load for a refund.
Each year around 660 million drink containers (about 40,000 tonnes) are returned by South Australians for refund and recycling, preventing those containers from being littered or sent to landfill.
The container deposit scheme also provides a financial benefit to community groups, sporting clubs and charities that collect empty containers for refund.
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 prescribed in Part 8 Division 2 of the Environment Protection Act 1993. The EPA is the government regulator of the scheme and working with the beverage, retail and recycling industries, ensures that the 10-cent 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.
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 having their own voluntary return in place, to recover and refill their glass bottles such as the pickaxe beer bottles. These glass bottles were much heavier than those used for beverages today, and were specifically designed to withstand repeat washing and refilling.
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.
The collection depot system as we know it today was built upon the foundation of the network of licensed marines stores which existed for the return of the refillable beer bottles used by local brewers. The 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-use, non-refillable beverage containers in the 1970s meant that the new containers could not be used again and were of no further use to the beverage industry once sold. Beverage manufacturers ignored any type of return system for the new containers with the result that single-use beverage containers soon became highly visible in the litter stream posing a potential threat to the environment.
Oregon in the 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 CDS since its inception largely relating to the scope of containers within the scheme. In particular, in 2003 the legislation was amended to include flavoured milks and fruit juices (pure) in containers less than 1 litre. Then in 2008 the refund amount increased from 5 to 10 cents. Both these changes led to more South Australians participating in the scheme, resulting in less litter on our streets and less beverage containers sent to landfill.
A success in litter reduction
According to the Keep South Australia Beautiful (KESAB) CDL Containers and Plastic Shopping Bags in the Litter Stream Report 2018–19, beverage container litter currently represents only 2.9% of litter items in South Australia.
South Australia continues strong recovery, recycling and litter reduction of beverage containers with a current, overall return rate of 76% in 2022–23.
The EPA uses the term 'return rate' to determine how the container deposit scheme is performing. Return rates are calculated based on industry data on the number of eligible beverage containers sold in South Australia, against the number of those containers returned for a refund. This data is provided to the EPA according to beverage container material types.
Over 660 million containers (38,101 tonnes) were returned for a refund and recycling. This means more than $66 million was refunded to the South Australian community during the last financial year.
Glass beverage containers included in South Australia’s container deposit scheme include those used for beer, cider and soft drinks. The scheme does not currently include glass bottles used for wine, spirits or cordials.
South Australia’s glass cullet is considered the highest quality and value. New products made from the recycled beverage glass include new glass bottles and jars, and a sand substitute in concrete.
In 2022–23, the return rate for glass beverage containers was 85.6%. Approximately 28,783 tonnes of glass beverage containers were returned for a refund and recycling.
Aluminium beverage containers included in South Australia’s container deposit scheme are used for a wide range of alcoholic and soft (non-alcoholic) drinks.
Aluminium cans recovered for recycling 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 beverage cans
In 2022–23, the return rate for aluminium beverage containers in South Australia was 80.9%. Approximately 4,646 tonnes of aluminium beverage containers were returned for a refund and recycling.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage containers included in South Australia’s container deposit scheme are mostly for soft (non-alcoholic) drinks.
PET containers recovered for recycling 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 textiles for clothing and furniture, and road stabilising material. Recycled PET can also be used in the making of new PET bottles
In 2022–23, the return rate for PET containers was 66.9%. Approximately 3,893 tonnes of PET beverage containers were returned for a refund and recycling.
High density polyethylene (HDPE) beverage containers included in South Australia’s container deposit scheme are mostly used for fruit juice and flavoured milk drinks.
HDPE containers recovered for recycling 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.
In 2022–23, the return rate for HDPE/mixed beverage containers was 63.3%. Approximately 302 tonnes of HDPE/mixed plastics were returned for a refund and recycling.
Liquid paperboard (LPB) beverage cartons included in South Australia’s container deposit scheme are used for fruit juice, fruit juice drinks and flavoured milks.
LPB containers recovered for recycling sent to processing factories where the LPB is recycled into high quality products, such as whiter office paper suitable for printers and copiers.
In 2022–23, the return rate for LPB beverage containers was 50.5%. Approximately 476 tonnes of LPB were returned for a refund and recycling.
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.
Recycling from A-Z show how to recycle or dispose items responsibly.