News, Western Australia

Big beverage has little say in WA CDS

“When we look at commentary about Western Australia generated out of the east coast we get frustrated because there is this myth about the scheme being run by ‘big beverage’, which is simply not true.”

So says Tim Cusack, the CEO of WA Return Recycle Renew (WARRRL), the entity responsible for the Containers for Change container deposit scheme (CDS) for Western Australia. Cusack is passionate about the state’s CDS but is perturbed about misinformation that has stated WARRRL is nothing but a mouthpiece for the big beverage manufacturers who fund the scheme.

“Big beverage has three of nine seats on our board [those three seats don’t have higher voting rights than the other six seats], and they have provided seed capital for the scheme to be established, getting it ready to operate on October 1, 2020,” he said. “It operates like any board. It has an independent chair and five independent directors who very much protect their independence. Look at the results. I ask those who critique our scheme to look at the results, which speak for themselves.”

Cusack said the scheme has been successful and has so far returned just over $108 million to communities throughout the state. It has 77 refund point operators that provide 258 refund points. One achievement that he is especially proud of is that any person who lives in the Perth metro area only has to travel a maximum of four kilometres to find a place to dispose of their containers.

“We have an internal objective to get it to 290 refund points before the end of the year,” he said. “We have an incredible array of refund points across regional WA, which is amazing when you think the size of WA is the size of continental Europe. And let’s not forget the isolation of some very remote communities, so to have a presence in those areas is fantastic and speaks to how much the community has embraced the scheme.”

The beneficiaries of the scheme include local government organisations, aboriginal corporations, sporting organisations and community organisations such as Lions Club and Men’s Shed. Cusack said there are diverse not-for-profit groups in the mix, including the disability sector. Two of the biggest disability employers in Western Australia – Good Sammy Enterprises and Ability Centre – are both operators within the scheme. As for big beverage companies, Cusack said they have limited influence. Being on the board they do have a say, but not a majority opinion, he said. People need to be less cynical about them as entities and look at what they are doing. In other words, look at the reality, not the perception.

“I will give you two examples. Gage Roads Brewing is an independent WA brewing company,” he said. “It has agreed to promote the container deposit scheme on its packaging. The first beverage company in Australia to do so. Why? Because they actually have a genuine commitment to resource recovery. They have a corporate commitment to that. To manifest that commitment, they put it on the packaging to encourage their consumer to get the material, once finished, back to a refund.

“Then you look at Coca-Cola. There are critics of Coke, but you look at what they commit to publicly in all of their corporate statements and look at what is on their packaging. They have a real commitment to it. They are about to build a PET site, part of a joint venture with PACT and Asahi, that is going to build massive investment on the east coast. This is multi-million dollar investment in recycling. I don’t hold a candle for Coke, but I just want to make the point; if you look at the beverage sector generally, you can see incredible commitment to resource recovery and recycling.”

The scheme has been ongoing for the past 16 months and so far has a redemption rate of just over 76 per cent. While Cusack wants that number to increase, he is happy with the way the scheme is running, albeit with a minor hiccup.

“The only issue we’ve had has been our IT point of sale system,” he said. “Only really in the sense of functionality gaps, if that makes sense. There are things our refund centres wanted the operating system to do that it couldn’t do. We are now on the latest version, and we have done a lot of enhancements to that software environment. As we roll out we fix those bugs, we provide functionality enhancements. That is being really well received and is very popular and the community have embraced it.”

He said they also use what is called the Member Number scheme. It is a facility that allows organisations and individuals to send their refund to a bank account rather than receiving cash.

“It can be their own account, or even a charity or community group they support,” said Cusack. “So far, we have transferred more than $3.7 million to community groups in donations alone. We have transferred many more millions – somewhere along the lines of $12-13 million – to the community groups that actually run refund points because they get 100 per cent of the handling fee where they are providing the refund point service, which is another unique feature to our scheme.”

As the CEO, Cusack is looking ahead and sees two key opportunities that he would like to take advantage of over the next 12 to 18 months. One is to continue to extend the reach of the scheme – to make it more localised than it is today.

“We have 4500 community groups and charities with a member ID number,” he said. “That tells you the amount of interest right across one end of the state to the other, and those organisations can provide access to the scheme though donation points.

“We are actively pursuing that at the moment. We do expect to see a much wider presence in the community through an informal donation structure than simply relying on the refund points themselves.”

He said that they also need a stronger partnership with the waste management sector. The WARRRL already has a strategic partner in the form of Cleanaway, who provides the majority of logistics and processing services outside of Perth. In Perth, they have a relationship with REMONDIS, who is the provider of logistics and processing for non-glass items.

“We have good partnerships with those two companies, but we are working hard to extend those partnerships to the other major players in the waste sector in WA because they are all involved in capturing eligible containers,” said Cusack. “And not all of that material is getting back to the scheme. It is about making sure we have opportunities for separation of source in all settings – not just residential settings. To pursue that, we are attempting to build stronger partnerships, closer relationships with the waste sector in the state.”