Aldinga environmental activist CHAS MARTIN looks at how the Container Deposit Legislation can be improved.

Before 1977, South Australia had a very effective drink bottle returns system, run by drink manufacturers.     Bottles could be returned to some shops or ‘Marine Stores.’     The bottles remained the property of the manufacturers, eg West End Brewers, Coca Cola Bottlers, Halls or Woodroofes.  People returning bottles would be reimbursed according to how the manufacturers set their deposits, a cent or two for a beer bottle or 5, 10 or 20 cents for soft drink bottles.     This system was very popular with the public for a number or reasons.

Roadsides and public areas were kept free of discarded bottles, by people collecting them in order to claim the deposits.     This is still the case in 2019.     In my observations, container deposit items (CDIs) on roadsides or in public places are gone quite quickly if they are accessible.      Many travellers comment favourably on South Australia, in terms of its relative freedom from bottle, can and carton litter on our roadsides.

Charities and community organizations derived huge benefits from bottle drives, Christmas / New Year, Easter, Labour day etc.      I think these benefits are underrated these days.     Bottle drives bring in hundreds or thousands of dollars to our local community organizations each year.

Many people who were short of money, eg pensioners or teenagers from low income backgrounds, could earn $10, $20, $30 a week, which made a big difference in their lives, eg a pub meal once a week or saving for a tennis raquet.     It also gave people something to do and kept them active.

With the increasing availability of drinks on offer in non returnable containers in the 1970s, there was a lot of well justified alarm about the potential litter problem from discarded non deposit drink containers.     In response to strong public sentiment, legislation which gave us our present drink container deposit system was passed in 1977.     The container deposit system has enjoyed a very high level of public support right up to the present time.

A litter and environmental contamination problem not covered by the existing legislation, is that from discarded take away drink and food containers.

In light of the experience since 1977 with South Australia’s container deposit system and the problems becoming apparent with recycling systems in general, I make the following observations.

THE VALUE OF REWARD SYSTEMS.    ———      Collections with a reward system result in higher quality feedstocks for recycling systems.     Contrast this with the general Kerbside collection systems, where contamination is a problem and it can be uneconomic to fully sort everything to obtain a clean feedstock.     Maybe, more sorting by householders with a good reward would be a better way to go.     This could go with expanding local recycling centres and the consequent gain in local jobs.        WHY MIX IT IN THE FIRST PLACE !!!!!!!


Something, little considered with our original container deposit legislation (CDL), was environmental damage to water and soil from microplastics, which contain plasticising chemicals as well as polymers which can attach to pollutants, ending up in the tissues of filter feeders in our beautiful gulfs, and hence in our food.


An issue which has been around since the Limits to Growth debate and consideration of recycling since the 70s, has been problems from composite materials, which are not amenable to salvage or recycling, eg plasticised linings to cardboard drink containers.     Has anyone thought to question papers & cardboards with polymer surface treatments?????    In efforts to reprocess the cardboard and paper, the result might be a huge plume of process water full of microplastics, with consequences as mentioned in the last paragraph.     Quite horrifying really.


  • Increasing the container deposit from 10 cents to 20 cents.
  • WINE BOTTLES to become container deposit items (CDIs)
  • ALL TAKE AWAY DRINK AND FOOD CONTAINERS to become CDIs. This could make available large quantities of PET clear plastics and waxed cardboard as high quality feedstocks for recycling and a great reduction of litter in public places.

Q,    Where do micro plastic particles from disintegrating roadside litter go?
A,     Into watercourses (eventually the sea) and soils.

I recommend complementary legislation, to phase out any problematic composite materials, which might be making take away containers difficult and polluting to recycle.

  • EXTENDING CDL to include all PET clear plastic containers, which are commonly used for food containers in general and are relatively easy to recognise and sort out.
  • More neighbourhood based options for recycling. The expanded recycling options available at the Willunga Environment Centre, are very popular with the public.     The lightweight domestic aluminium collection system we have is yielding about 20Kg every three months, which represents more than 1 tonne of CO2 emissions avoided.      That amount is only a tiny fraction of what could potentially be gathered locally with more education of the public.     Many people who come into the centre are keen to find more recycling options.

Send your views to Department of Environment / EPA (minister the Hon David Speirs).