Coke/Northern Territory lock arms in containers refund fight

Coke/Northern Territory lock arms in containers refund fight


The Northern Territory minority Labor government is headed for a battle with beverage giant Coca-Cola Amatil over plans to introduce a refund scheme for drink containers.

Last Friday, in a radio interview, Coca-Cola spokesman Alec Wagstaff revealed the drinks-maker planned to challenge the so-called “cash for containers” laws in court on the basis it breaches the federal Mutual Recognition Act (MRA).

“That’s an act that says basically if a product’s legal to sell in one state, it’s legal to sell in another state,” Mr Wagstaff told ABC Radio.

The statement sparked a verbal battle, with NT Environment Minister Karl Hampton calling on the beverage industry to “accept the wishes of Territorians” and drop opposition to the scheme.

NT’s Country Liberal Party opposition spokesman on legal issues, John Elferink, said the scheme risked being derailed and described the laws as “rushed”.

Under the planned laws, a 10-cent refund would be available for a range of empty containers such as bottles and cans bought in the NT.

People will be able to return containers to collection depots, where beverage makers will ultimately have to pay the refund.

The move is designed to promote recycling and reduce rubbish, and is due to start in January next year.

Drinks-makers such as Coca-Cola believe the refund will act as a new tax on their product, and could see sales fall.

Although a similar scheme has been in place in South Australia for decades, that state is permanently exempted under the MRA on the basis the laws are a litter management strategy.

Mr Hampton has asked the industry to drop attempts to overturn the laws and warned the government would be prepared to meet the drinks industry in court.

“I am extremely disappointed to hear of industry’s plan to drag cash-for-containers through the courts to try and stop our scheme from going ahead,” he said.

Now, Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan has joined the debate, telling ABC Radio the legal challenge to the container deposit laws would threaten the future of recycling in Australia.

“If they win, it will be a huge win for an irresponsible beverage industry and a huge loss for the environment, and the citizens of Australia,” he said.

Coca-Cola issued a statement that said the best way to increase environmental outcomes was to make it as easy for people to recycle away from home as it is at home.

The company said it had invested $1.2 million this year into recycling infrastructure in public places.

EcoNews understands the federal government is looking at the introduction of a national container deposit scheme but this is still grappling with issues such as how collection and recycling would be handled on a national basis.