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Australia backs container deposits in the Northern Territory

By: Kate Tilley

May 1, 2013

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — The Australian Government will introduce regulations to legalize the Northern Territory Government's container deposit scheme (CDS).

The decision follows a court ruling last month that the scheme conflicts with federal law.

Three beverage manufacturers — Sydney-based Coca-Cola Amatil (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. (CCA), Melbourne-based Schweppes Australia Pty. Ltd., and Sydney-based Lion Pty. Ltd. — had challenged the legality of the CDS in the Federal Court in Sydney.

Under the CDS, commonly called a cash-for-containers scheme, consumers are refunded 10 cents when they drop off plastic and other containers at retailers and recycling depots. The Northern Territory and South Australia are the only Australian states or territories to introduce schemes.

The bottlers argued that the Northern Territory scheme conflicts with a federal law governing trade between the states and territories. When the territory's CDS was introduced in 2012, it had a temporary 12-month exemption from the federal law, but that expired on Jan. 3, 2013.

On March 4, the Federal Court upheld the beverage manufacturers' argument. The territory then applied for a permanent exemption from the federal law.

On April 19, Australia's peak intergovernmental forum, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to the Northern Territory Government's application for a permanent exemption.

Northern Territory Environment Minister Peter Chandler's spokeswoman said it could take "a couple of months" before the exemption is enacted.

Sydney-based Total Environment Centre Executive Director Jeff Angel congratulated the territory for "standing up to CCA" and defending a scheme that he says doubles bottle and can recycling rates over a year.

Angel said COAG's decision is "a turning point" in the battle for a national scheme because it demonstrates bipartisan political support. Plans for a national CDS have been in progress for years.