The Kiwi Bottle Drive has expressed disappointment over members of the beverage and packaging sector "attacking" government ambitions to introduce a beverage container recycling scheme (CRS).
"Recent comments from NZ Food and Grocery are a throwback to the dark ages, and demonstrate how out of touch these organisations are with community sentiment", Zero Waste advocate Warren Snow said.
"It seems that the beverage and packaging industries will do anything to avoid contributing to the costs of keeping our landfills and oceans free of their single-use bottles. The equivalent of more than 700 jumbo jets full of bottles and cans go into landfill and the litter stream every year. A small refundable deposit on all beverage containers would ensure that as much as 95 per cent would be recycled, creating more than 2000 new jobs. The cost to the beverage industry would be about two cents per bottle, but they would rather trash the environment than pay a penny."
Countries around the world were adopting container recycling schemes, he said. The approach of putting a modest refundable deposit on bottles and cans in order to ensure they were returned for recycling was spreading rapidly.
Within the next couple of years, every state in Australia would have a CRS, and New Zealand is currently in the process of designing its own.
Olga Darkadaki, campaign co-ordinator for the Kiwi Bottle Drive, said the government was right to want to act on packaging pollution, given that single-use plastic, glass and other materials ended up in the litter stream, on beaches and in rivers.
"The community is right behind them, with 83 per cent of the public supporting a New Zealand CRS when surveyed in 2017," she said, "but the comments from Katherine Rich , CEO of NZ Food and Grocery (NZFG), demonstrate that the sector is completely out of touch with mainstream sentiment and cannot be trusted."
"Those comments included the "absurd proposition" that the price of a drink would rise by 35 cents.
"First, 20 cents of that would be a deposit, returned to the consumer when they recycle their bottle or can. Once the collection network is rolled out, then over 90 per cent of these 20 cent refunds could be redeemed," Darkadaki said.
"Second, Rich claims a 15-cent cost to operate the scheme. This is extraordinarily high, and would make it around five times more expensive than the best-performing schemes in the world. Norway, for instance, achieves 92 per cent-plus recycling of drink containers, yet the scheme has a nett cost of around 2-3 cents per container. Rich expands on this calculation, claiming a case of beer would rise by $8, which is false."
Meanwhile the glass industry and bottlers were mounting a campaign to keep glass out of any New Zealand CRS, again using false data that was repeated by the NZFG, she said.
The Glass Packaging Forum claimed New Zealand "enjoyed" 73 per cent recycling of glass, but that figure had never been independently audited, and included glass that was downcycled into roading or landfill cover, or stockpiled, which was hardly recycling. KBD's own extensive review in 2017 clearly showed that the recovery rates for glass were sitting at 50 per cent or less.
Snow, who wrote the report, claimed that Glass Packaging Forum members paid a "miserly" $3.90 per tonne as their contribution to the cost of collecting glass, whilst KBD estimated that councils were paying more than $350 per tonne.
"It is untenable that New Zealand would have a CRS that excludes glass," he said.
"This would disadvantage other packaging materials, be extremely confusing for consumers, leave local government still picking up the tab for glass collection, and miss an opportunity to remove glass bottles from our parks, rivers, beaches, and of course landfills.
"Given that glass is also the medium of choice for refillable beverages, excluding it from the CRS means we miss the opportunity to use the CRS to boost the refillables industry, which is crucial for reducing the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the beverage industry."
Further comments by the NZFG, that local government was "somehow" going to profit from a CRS, were both offensive and false, he added. Councils currently picked up the lion's share of the costs of all recovery and recycling of packaging materials via household kerbside collections.
"The goal of all product stewardship schemes is to take the cost of collection and recycling away from the community and back on to producers. The fact that local government is involved in designing the CRS does not mean they'll somehow be profiting from it," Darkadaki said.
Snow said the New Zealand CRS design process appeared to have become entangled in a web of competing vested interests that were trying their best to slowly whittle the scheme down.
"At some point the government must lead and mandate government policy to an obviously recalcitrant industry. The recent comments from the NZFG and their members demonstrate the sector has no intention of supporting the government to introduce a CRS, and will actively undermine the process and outcome," he said.
"An incoming New Zealand government and minister will be required to set an appropriate refund value. A 20-cent deposit/refund would place New Zealand at around average globally. This rate will also ensure New Zealand doesn't have to go back and increase the fee to keep up with inflation. All signals from the Australian 10-cent schemes are that those states will, in the short to medium term, raise theirs to 20 cents.
"It is extremely unfortunate that while the rest of the world moves forward in tackling the scourge of packaging pollution, here in Aotearoa the drinks industry uses false and misleading data and commentary to continue to avoid any responsibility."