THE HERALD'S OPINION: Container recycling scheme needs more resources to succeed

OLDER readers might remember the earlier days of recycling in the 1960s and 1970s, when glass soft drink bottles were refundable at the corner store for a few cents.

It was a useful way for kids to make a bit of pocket money, and kept some rubbish off the side of the road at a time when it was starting to become a real eyesore.

Now, of course, we live with recycling of all sorts of materials as a necessary part of household and commercial life, but in introducing its new container deposit scheme, the NSW government has once again given drink recycling a financial incentive, and a bigger one than would ever be gained taking aluminium cans to the scrapyard.

Unfortunately, however, the government and its contractor, TOMRA Cleanaway, seemed to have underestimated the demands on the new service. Since December 1, some 71 million containers have been collected across the state, including 7.5 million in the Hunter. (The Hunter figures are not surprising, given that the region accounts for about 10 per cent of the state’s population and economy across a range of measures.)

As we are reporting, the problem is two-fold.

First, the reverse vending machines are spread too thinly, meaning people are having to drive – or take sacks full of containers on public transport – sometimes long distances to get to a reverse vending machine.

Second, the apparently limited capacity of the machines means they are filling up before their operators can get to them to empty them in time for arriving participants

Whether the government wants to admit it or not, the answers to this unsatisfactory situation are in its hands.

Having created a financial incentive for once-uncompensated recycling, the government needs to ensure the new system has capacity to meet demand, otherwise it may well do more harm than good to the waste-minimisation push. If there are not enough collection points, then more need to be provided. Examining the demands on the existing machines should help show where more capacity is needed. Something also needs to be done about the reliability of service, which needs to be virtually around the clock – or perhaps with a set service time before morning demand begins – to ensure that supporters of the service do not become disgruntled ex-users.

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