Crikey intern Ben Hagemann writes:

I am only a young man, but I make myself feel old when I talk about certain things, like how I can remember when Coca-Cola came in one-litre glass bottles that you could use to kill a man with a swift blow to the skull. I never actually did that, nor would I, but what I did do was collect them and trade them in at the local service station for 20 cents each. In the late 80s a young lad could make a veritable fortune this way and keep himself in lollies for the week, provided his father was partial to scotch and cokes of an evening.

I am, of course, an Adelaidian.

One of the first things I noticed about public transport in Melbourne is that frequently one encounters bottles and cans on the train, mostly empty, but sometimes they are half full, rolling around on the floor and covering everything, including the soles of your shoes, in sticky syrup. Surely I’m not the only one that finds this annoying?

This is not something you normally find anywhere in Adelaide. Quick as you drop your bottle on the ground, an enterprising homeless person will spy it from a distance and home in for the score. You may not be aware of their presence, but they are aware of you and the fact that you are dropping good money on the ground. They make money. These days they’re pulling down 10 cents a can — this is good money. 100 cans equals $10. How many cans of soft drink are drunk in the city in one day?

One of the most heartless things you can do in the city of Adelaide is to throw your cans and bottles in the bin. If you leave it on the footpath they wont have to rummage around a bunch of filthy sandwich wrappers to get it. Ironically you will be fined for littering if caught, which is why collectors usually fashion a long hook out of a coat-hanger, to prepare themselves for a good bin-rummaging.

Most people do not give a shit about recycling. Accurate data on this phenomenon is impossible to collect, but rest assured that it is human nature to simply discard their refuse and think no more about it.

Knowing of this natural inclination, it is absolutely infuriating to read in The Age that the Brumby government wants to resist the national drive for a bottle refund scheme because it will potentially undermine curbside recycling.

In case Environment Minister Gavin Jennings hasnt noticed, Adelaide’s curbside recycling program works just fine. People have been paying a refundable deposit on their bottled drinks since 1977 and believe it or not, they dont mind at all. Jennings says that ALL evidence to date suggests that a refund scheme would not be the best approach for the state.

Without wanting to sound churlish, I’d like to see this evidence. Because from where I grew up ALL the evidence shows that the system works beautifully, not only when it comes to getting people to stop trashing cans and bottles, but for keeping the streets and beaches and parks cleaner too. If the Victorian curbside recycling program is really so sensitive that its very equilibrium would be upset by the absence of a given percentage of drink vessels, one could suggest that its a pretty shitty system, and one which requires immediate review.

But that’s not what were saying here: one type of recycling program does not put another one out. The more recycling programs we have the better. They complement each other. There is no battle royale of the recyclers. It all goes to same place, a state recycling facility, where they employ people to sort the crap out. This is a good thing, right? Right? The difference with a refund system is that people will actually transport the bottles and cans to that facility by themselves. They will actually spend their own petrol money to get there – Are you hearing this, Jennings? This actually reduces the overheads on your curbside program, so you can spend more on the refund program.

The most hardened of drinkers in Adelaide, prior to the 2008 increase from five cents to 10 cents per bottle, knew that if they drank 33 slabs of beer, then bottle for bottle, can for can, they could turn in their empties and get back $40, and yknow what? That’s another slab of beer! One down, 32 to go! These days you only have to drink your way through 17 slabs to achieve the same result. That’s a lot better than the Borders reward card. These are halcyon days for the alcoholics of Adelaide, people, and that’s a good thing for everyone.

Time fore some more fun facts:

Clean Up Australia conducted a poll last year which found that 83% of Australians support a 10 cent refund levy on all plastic, glass, and aluminium drink containers. We elect our leaders on far lesser margins than that. How did you do at the last election, Minister Jennings?

Drinks manufacturers like Coca-Cola Amatil, Fosters and Lion Nathan are all squealing about how a levy will hurt low income families, that the levy will increase prices and trim profits.

Hang on, either it increases prices or it trims profits. It won’t do both. It is entirely within the power of manufacturers to pass on that levy to the consumer. If it adds three dollars to the price of a slab of beer, and you’re really bothered about it, then the consumer has the right to vote with their feet and get the bottles refunded. By that time they’ve forgotten all about the levy, and they think they’re getting free beer money. This is not rocket science — this is win-win.

Also, bear in mind the language employed by the arguments against the refund scheme. When the word levy is used, it works like a button that, when pushed, makes us think tax. This is not a tax – it is a 100% refundable deposit, designed as an incentive to return easily recyclable materials. The only part that makes it a levy is the fact that you must pay it. Remember that you can get it back without any problems.

In the 2007-2008 financial year South Australians got refunds for 515.7 million containers. By the following year, under the increased levy, another 592.55 million containers had been returned. Remind yourself that this is a state with an aging population that struggles for growth, and they’re probably not drinking more Coke. Thats 76.8 million containers that did not end up in landfill, just based on a levy increase.

It is simply not good enough to claim you have evidence that bottle refunds are not going to work in Victoria, Minister Jennings. You have to show us that evidence. Quit toadying to the manufacturing lobby groups, and do the state a favour. Do something for the homeless, for the alcoholics, for the connoisseurs of fruit juices and fizzy cordials, for local scout and girl-guide groups, for the lovers of nature in this fair state, sentient or not, that you are supposed to be protecting. You do not have the numbers, Minister Jennings. Listen to the people, and do your job properly.

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