A container deposit scheme, and no more plastic shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags will be phased out in Queensland, and Queenslanders join South Australia, the Northern Territory and (from December) New South Wales in being able to obtain refunds on container deposits, under a new Bill introduced on 14 June.

The Queensland Environment Minister has proposed amendments to the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 to implement the bag ban, and new container deposit scheme, which will each come into full effect on 1 July 2018. The Bill has bipartisan support and so is expected to pass quickly through parliament and into force once it has completed consideration by the Agriculture and Environment Committee.

Plastic bag ban

The ban on plastic bags will apply to carry bags with handles made in whole or part from plastic, at or below a specified thickness. Single use plastic bags are already banned in South Australia, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Tasmania – however, Queensland’s ban also relates to biodegradable plastic shopping bags, due to the impacts on the environment when such bags are disposed of as litter.

The aim of the ban is to shift behaviours away from reliance on single use plastic bags and towards reusable alternatives. It will not include plastic packaging for sealed goods (barrier bags). All retailers – persons who sell goods in trade or commerce – are covered by the ban. Once it comes into force, a retailer may not give a banned plastic shopping bag to a person to use to carry goods that retailer sells from its business. The maximum penalty will be 50 penalty units (multiplied by 5 for a corporation). One penalty unit in Queensland is current equal to AUD 121.90.

There are also penalties for retailers who give false or misleading information about a banned bag. Retailers are not prevented from charging customers for providing an alternative shopping bag.

There will be a phase out period beginning on commencement of the Bill, and ending on 30 June 2018. During this period, retailers may still offer single use plastic bags, but must ensure an alternative bag is available if requested by a customer.

Container deposit scheme

The container deposit scheme will provide for a system of 10 cent refunds for recycling most drink containers between 150ml and 3L in volume. The scheme aims to encourage recovery and recycling of empty containers in Queensland, which reportedly has one of the lowest recycling rates in the country, as well as ensuring beverage container manufacturers take product stewardship responsibility for those containers. The ACT and Western Australia will also introduce their own CDSs in 2018, following New South Wales at the end of this year. The refund amount and scope of containers under the Queensland scheme will be consistent with the NSW scheme.

The scheme will be administered by a new Product Responsibility Organisation (PRO). It provides for a number of different ways for refunds to be paid. It also permits container collection operators and waste recycling facilities to claim payments from the PRO for containers collected or recovered, where they have an agreement in place with the PRO.

Beverage container manufacturers whose products are ultimately sold in Queensland, and importers of beverage containers into Queensland, will be required to contribute to the cost of refunds and administration of the scheme, and ensure their containers are packaged using recyclable materials. Such persons will not be permitted to sell beverages in Queensland unless a container recovery agreement is in place for the relevant container between the manufacturer and the PRO, the container is registered, and it displays refund scheme information marking and a barcode.

There will be a transitional period during which beverage manufacturers may still lawfully sell containers without the refund marking, up to a specified manufacture transition day, which will be set by regulation and must be at least one year from the date the regulation commences.

A second transitional period will apply to operators of container refund points, who may accept containers without the refund marking up to the collection transition day – the day six months after the manufacture transition day.

Clarifications to end of waste regime

The Bill also includes changes to the recently introduced "end of waste code" regime (replacing the previous beneficial use approvals regime), under which certain materials that would otherwise be considered waste may be re-used for beneficial purposes without the need to obtain additional licences.

The changes relate in part to more clearly defining the point at which waste ceases to be a waste and becomes a resource, pursuant to the applicable end of waste code or approval. These codes or approvals may stipulate that a waste becomes a resource only after the waste meets a certain quality and is delivered to the site of re-use. A new concept of a "resource user" will also be introduced, being the person who uses the resource in the manner designated by the relevant end of waste code of approval. This is intended to enable the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to control the use of former waste as resources when necessary, by placing conditions on certain resource users, who will now be required to register with the Department.

Where a resource is used other than by a resource user, or in a way not consistent with the end of waste code or approval, the resource may revert to being a waste, and will then have the associated additional requirements for use, storage, transport and disposal associated with waste materials.

Further changes relate to clarification and revision of the processes for:

  • introducing new end of waste codes and approvals,
  • imposing conditions,
  • amendment, extension, lapsing, cancellation and suspension,

as well as new penalties for breaches of these processes, and failures to comply with those approvals.

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