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Container deposit legislation in Australia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
CDL/CDS status in Australian States and Territories as of November 2023.
  Scheme in effect
  Planned scheme (Tasmania: 2024)

Container deposit legislation (CDL), also known as a container deposit scheme (CDS), is a scheme that was first implemented in South Australia in 1977 and over the decades has spread to the Northern Territory in 2012, New South Wales in 2017, the Australian Capital Territory in June 2018, Queensland in November 2018, Western Australia in October 2020 and Victoria in November 2023. The scheme is due to commence in the last remaining state of Tasmania in early 2024.[1][2]

A Newspoll survey found a majority of people in Australia support a deposit scheme,[3] and a national scheme has also been proposed many times over the years.[4] The NSW scheme had been strongly opposed by the beverage industry before its introduction.[5]

The value of deposits and the scope of their application have been influenced by the Australian federal constitution's guarantee of free trade between the states. The defining case in this issue was the attempt to introduce a differential between reusable and recyclable bottle deposits. The issue was taken to the High Court of Australia in the Castlemaine Tooheys Ltd v South Australia court case.[6] State-based schemes need to be exempted from the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act which guarantees products can be sold in any jurisdiction without requiring any special labelling. This formed the basis of legal action against the Northern Territory's scheme until an exemption was granted. The value of a container deposit is 10 cents for an eligible container.


Through the early 20th century, when the cost of producing glass bottles was higher, a natural industry of glass bottle collectors and merchants performed a similar function to the modern CDL. Bottle accumulators, a licensed and unionized workforce commonly known as "bottle-ohs" from their street cries, travelled by cart around the streets buying empty bottles from households and businesses. They would then sell the bottles to a bottle yard, which would store and sort the bottles before selling them in bulk to brewers and other bottlers. It was an industry from which a bottle-oh could make a good living; in 1904, they could buy a dozen beer bottles for 6d., sell them to the bottle yard for 9d., who could sell them to brewers for 1s.[7] The commercial reuse of glass bottles and the bottle collecting industry had all but disappeared by the 1950s.[8]

Soft drink and other beverage bottles were still collected in Queensland and returned for deposits up to the late 1960s. In Western Australia soft drink bottles could be exchanged for 10 cents and beer bottles for 2 cents until around 1982.

CDL by state and territory[edit]


Jurisdiction Container deposit scheme introduced? Commencement date
South Australia Yes 1 January 1977
Northern Territory Yes 3 January 2012
New South Wales Yes 1 December 2017
Australian Capital Territory Yes 30 June 2018
Queensland Yes 1 November 2018
Western Australia Yes 1 October 2020
Victoria Yes 1 November 2023
Tasmania No (proposed) Start date early 2024

South Australia[edit]

CDL in South Australia was put in place under the Beverage Container Act 1975 (SA) and came into operation in 1977.[9] Environment Protection Act 1993 (SA) now governs the levying and refund of deposits.[10]

There is a refund of 10 cents per can or bottle[11] (raised from 5 cents in late 2008). In the 1970s, deposits ranged from 20c for a 30oz bottle and 10c for a 10oz and 6½oz bottle. With the introduction of plastic and non-re-usable bottles, the deposit was reduced to 5c (including aluminium cans). This amount remained unchanged till late 2008.[11]

Around 600 people are employed in the recovery of bottles in South Australia with community groups such as the Scouts to operate container refund depots.[12] While there are professional collectors who collect on an arranged basis from particular venues (e.g. pubs and restaurants), usually operating small trucks for the job, there are also many socially marginalised collectors who forage in spots such as refuse bins for discarded deposit bottles; these collectors often travel by bicycle, sometimes with relatively elaborate and inventive modifications to allow them to carry bulky loads of bottles.

Until 2008, every beverage container in Australia bore the words "5c refund at SA collection depots in state of purchase". This changed to "10c refund at SA collection depots in state of purchase" in late 2008. Since the Northern Territory started their own scheme in 2012, this message has changed again. With other jurisdictions implementing their own schemes a common label has been developed. The new label reads: "10c refund at collection depots/points in participating State/Territory of purchase".[13]

Northern Territory[edit]

The Northern Territory introduced a container deposit scheme similar to South Australia's from 3 January 2012.[14] The introduction was challenged in the Federal Court by Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes Australia and Lion Pty Ltd using the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act and the scheme ceased on 4 March 2013.[15] Immediately after the Federal Court loss, the NT government personally stepped in to keep the scheme going until a permanent exemption to the Mutual Recognition Act could be secured. On 7 August 2013 the Federal Executive Council (ExCo) ratified the permanent exemption making the NT container deposit scheme completely legal and permanent.[16]

Due to this, all beverage containers sold in Australia now must bear the words "10c refund at SA/NT collection depots in state/territory of purchase". With other jurisdictions implementing their own schemes a common label has been developed which will start appearing on bottles and cans: "10c refund at collection depots/points in participating State/Territory of purchase"

New South Wales[edit]

A Return and Earn reverse vending machine, December 2017.

In the 1960s and 1970s Sydney had a bottle return scheme whereby retailers returned bottles to the manufacturer for refunds. If the retailer supported it, members of the general public could return bottles to the point of sale for refunds.[17]

In the 2000s the New South Wales government indicated it wished to push ahead with a container deposit scheme as part of a raft of new policies aimed at protecting the environment and preventing litter.[18] The scheme has strong backing from the public, various politicians, NSW councils,[19] and various environmental groups such as Cleanup Australia, Boomerang Alliance, and Total Environment Centre. At the time the proposal was opposed by major beverage manufacturers, which mounted a sustained but ultimately unsuccessful lobbying campaign.[20]

On 8 May 2016 the government announced a ten-cent container deposit scheme for packaged drinks between 150 ml and three litres. Wine bottles and milk cartons were excluded, as were beverages packaged in paper or cardboard.[21] The scheme was initially proposed to begin in July 2017 but was delayed until December 2017 following requests from environment groups and industry bodies.[22] In July 2017 the NSW Environment Protection Agency announced the scheme coordinator would be a joint venture called Exchange for Change,[23] comprising major beverage manufacturers Asahi, Carlton & United Breweries, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coopers Brewery and Lion. The announcement was opposed by the NSW Greens party, as some of the manufacturers had not previously supported container deposit schemes.[24]

Initial implementation of the scheme – named "Return and Earn" – generated substantial returns of containers along with some community criticism for increasing drink prices, litter around container collection centres and insufficient return points in regional areas. By February 2024, 11 billion containers had been returned via the scheme, $1.1 billion have been returned to New South Wales residents, and $54 million donated to charity.[25] There are 615 return points across NSW.[26]

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

The ACT Container Deposit Scheme legislation was passed into law on 9 November 2017 and a public consultation period was conducted ahead of the scheme's implementation in 2018.[27] The scheme began on 30 June 2018 and operates under the "Return and Earn" scheme in neighbouring New South Wales.[28]


An opinion poll in 2013 indicated public support for a Queensland container deposit scheme. Despite this, it was opposed by the Newman government on the grounds that it might increase the cost of living.[29] In February 2015 the newly elected Palaszczuk government gave in-principle support for the scheme and established a public consultation process on structure and operations.[30] On 22 July 2016 the government announced the introduction of a Container Deposit Scheme "to get drink cans and bottles off our beaches, and out of our parks and public areas".[31] Legislation implementing the scheme was introduced in 2017 along with a statewide plastic bag ban.[32]

Queensland's container refund scheme, known as "Containers for Change", began on 1 November 2018.[33][34] The scheme is administered by the non-profit company COEX,[35] with collection points operated by Envirobank or TOMRA.[36] The Queensland Productivity Commission was commissioned to review the scheme's impact on prices, with submissions closing on 12 June 2019 and a draft report due on 1 August 2019.[37]

Western Australia[edit]

In 2011, opposition Labor and Greens MPs called for the introduction of a container deposit scheme. The Minister for Environment, Bill Marmion, said that WA would wait for a national "consultation regulatory impact statement" to be completed at the end of 2011 before taking any action.[38]

In August 2016, the WA Government announced a state container deposit scheme commencing in 2018. Minister for the Environment Albert Jacob said that efforts to pursue a national scheme had "fallen by the wayside" but that Western Australia's policy should be aligned with recent changes in Queensland and New South Wales.[39] After a change of government at the March 2017 election, the new Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said he wanted to make a container deposit scheme a priority. In August 2017 the new WA Government held public consultation, and it will start a container deposit scheme in 2020 in a bid to lift the State's low recycling rates.[40] The scheme launched under the banner "Containers for Change" on 1 October 2020.[41]


Reverse vending machine in western Melbourne

The state of Victoria once had a container deposit scheme in the 1980s called "Cash for Cans" but was rescinded in 1989.[19]

In 2009 the Victorian Greens introduced a bill for a 10c deposit scheme, which was passed in the upper house but the government quashed the bill in the lower house, allegedly on constitutional grounds, by refusing to allow it to be debated.[42] Despite supporting the Greens' bill when in opposition, when it later became the government the Coalition decided it would not back a bottle refund scheme. Instead, it said it would support a national scheme if one were created.[43]

In 2012/2013, the Napthine government indicated its strong support[44] for a state-based scheme possibly in partnership with NSW.

In February 2015, then Environment Minister, Lisa Neville, under the Andrews government, had publicly said she was not in favour of a container deposit scheme for Victoria. She believed the recycling programs at that time were good enough, even though Clean-up Australia claimed beverage-related rubbish in Victoria outnumbered cigarette-related rubbish.[45]

In July 2017 her successor Lily D'Ambrosio confirmed the state's continuing opposition to a state scheme on the basis that the costs would outweigh the environmental benefits.[46]

In February 2020, as part of a recycling policy overhaul, D'Ambrosio announced that the state would introduce a container deposit scheme which commenced on 1 November 2023, after consulting with industry and local government.[1] This made Victoria the latest Australian jurisdiction to support introducing a container deposit scheme.[47]


In December 2014 a state-based deposit scheme was rejected by the government, citing costs and the need to ship containers to the Australian mainland for processing.[48] Various environmental organisations, including The Greens and many Tasmanian local councils[49] have been pushing for a scheme in Tasmania for many years. Most people are in favour of a scheme according to various studies that have been conducted over the years.

In June 2019 the Tasmanian government announced the introduction of a refund scheme in 2024.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Victoria to introduce container deposit scheme to tackle recycling crisis". The Guardian. Australian Associated Press. 24 February 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  2. ^ Ross, Selina (8 April 2022). "Tasmania is getting a container refund scheme. Here's how it will work". ABC News. Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  3. ^ Pauka, Charles (7 August 2012). "Container deposit scheme gathers momentum". Transport & Logistics News. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Why we need a Container Deposit Scheme". Clean Up Australia. Archived from the original on 17 May 2018.
  5. ^ Needham, Kirsty (8 November 2014). "Beverage giants lobby against NSW container deposit scheme". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. ^ Castlemaine Tooheys Ltd v South Australia [1990] HCA 1, (1990) 169 CLR 436 (7 February 1990), High Court.
  7. ^ "How people live V: the accumulator – money in bottles". Evening News. 28 January 1904. p. 2.
  8. ^ "The silence of the bottle-oh". Sydney Morning Herald. 15 December 1951. p. 2.
  9. ^ "Beverage Container Act 1975". Government of South Australia. 1975. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  10. ^ "South Australian Legislation – Environment Protection Act 1993". Attorney-General's Department, Government of South Australia. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  11. ^ a b "BottleBill.org – Beverage Container Legislation in Australia".
  12. ^ "What are Bottle Bills". Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Eligible Containers for Recycling | Return & Earn NSW". Return and Earn NSW. Retrieved 30 September 2022.
  14. ^ "Cash for Containers - NRETAS Internet Site". Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  15. ^ "Coca-Cola wins Federal Court case, cash for containers recycling found illegal". News.com.au. Archived from the original on 4 December 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  16. ^ "Container deposit scheme back on full-bottle track". www.abc.net.au. 7 August 2013.
  17. ^ "Soft-drink deposits up". The Canberra Times. 29 August 1974. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  18. ^ "NSW Government set to introduce a drinks container deposit scheme". ABC News. 4 January 2015.
  19. ^ a b "NSW councils back container deposit scheme". Government News. 15 December 2014.
  20. ^ "How beverage companies joined forces to attack Baird recycling scheme". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 February 2015.
  21. ^ "NSW cash for cans: 10 cents for every drink bottle you can find". 7 May 2016.
  22. ^ http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/MinMedia/EPAMinMedia17021601.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  23. ^ "Home". exchangeforchange.com.au.
  24. ^ "'Utter stupidity': Greens attack Coke's role in NSW container scheme". 31 July 2017.
  25. ^ "11 billion drink containers recycled". Return and Earn NSW. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  26. ^ "Return points". Return and Earn NSW. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  27. ^ "Your say: ACT Container Deposit Scheme".
  28. ^ Kirsten Lawson (14 January 2015). "Canberra likely to follow NSW into refunds for drinks containers". Canberra Times.
  29. ^ "Most Queenslanders want container deposit laws introduced but the Government cans the idea | The Courier-Mail". Archived from the original on 20 June 2013.
  30. ^ Amy Remeikis (20 May 2015). "Environment Minister Steven Miles tackles Queensland's recycling issue". Brisbane Times..
  31. ^ "Container deposit scheme for Wueensland". qld.gov.au. Queensland government. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  32. ^ Branco, Jorge (5 September 2017). "Queensland's plastic bag ban is official, along with recycling refund". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  33. ^ McCosker, Ruth (31 October 2018). "Where to cash in your containers in Queensland". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  34. ^ McCosker, Ruth (12 November 2018). "Teething problems for Queensland's new container scheme". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  35. ^ Moore, Tony (22 September 2018). "How to use Queensland's new container recycling scheme". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  36. ^ Moore, Tony (1 November 2018). "I tried out Queensland's new recycling scheme so you know what to expect". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  37. ^ Caldwell, Felicity (1 May 2019). "Queensland's container refund scheme to drive up the cost of drinks". Brisbane Times. Nine Publishing. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  38. ^ Peterson, Oliver (16 November 2011). "A container deposit scheme is proposed for WA". ABC News.
  39. ^ O'Connor, Andrew (17 August 2016). "WA container deposit scheme: Consumers to get 10c for bottles, cans in recycling push". ABC News.
  40. ^ "WA Container Deposit Scheme". Government of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 30 December 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  41. ^ Logan, Tyne (30 September 2020). "Container deposit scheme starts in WA with remote communities opting for refunds in voucher form". ABC News. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  42. ^ McMahon, Stephen (25 June 2009). "Brumby Government halts Greens law to reintroduce bottle deposit system". HeraldSun. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  43. ^ Lucas, Clay (5 March 2012). "Baillieu retreats on bottle refund scheme". The Age. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  44. ^ "Victorian Premier Denis Napthine backs cash-for-cans recycling scheme". The Age. 22 March 2014.
  45. ^ "Lisa Neville against cash-for-containers recycling scheme in Victoria". The Age. 7 January 2015.
  46. ^ Heffernan, Madeleine; Preiss, Benjamin (27 July 2017). "Victoria open to 'going it alone' on plastic bag ban if national deal not reached". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  47. ^ "Victoria to introduce container deposit scheme as part of recycling industry overhaul". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 February 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  48. ^ Kilian, Zsuzsanna (19 December 2014). "Container deposit scheme rejected in Tasmania after report estimates $4m cost". ABC News.
  49. ^ "Tasmanian councils harden push for container deposit scheme". Government News. 19 December 2013.
  50. ^ "Studies into Container Deposit Systems".

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