Small businesses bracing for Return and Earn container deposit scheme

The menu at Two Ones Cafe in Randwick has all the Sydney staples – smashed avocado on toast, corn fritters and organic coffee.

As of Friday, the little cafe on Clovelly Road will offer an unusual extra, becoming one of nearly 200 collection points in Sydney for the Return and Earn container deposit scheme.

The long-awaited program offers 10-cent refunds for certain drink containers when they are presented at a reverse vending machine, approved depots, or at over-the-counter collections, including cafes, newsagencies and delis across Sydney.

Two Ones manager Martin McCleave said his customers will be happy to see the recycling initiative as part of the cafe, and one person has already asked about dropping off 1000 containers for a $100 refund.

Mr McCleave doesn’t believe the program will be too onerous for his business, which will receive a 3-cent handling fee for each eligible container collected.

“The selling point for me was more about bringing in customers, it’s encouraging people to come here. If they get $2, they’ll maybe buy a coffee while they’re here,” Mr McCleave said.

The cafe will use a side entrance for big collections of containers, so customers won’t have an extended wait for their flat white or bacon-and-egg roll. The containers will be stored in the cafe’s backyard and a nearby garage for collection the next day.

Across the state, cash refunds will be offered at the over-the-counter collection points, while reverse vending machines at major train stations will allow for electronic transfer using PayPal via a phone app, in-store credit at Woolworths, or to donate the refund to charity.

The scheme has attracted a lot of criticism, particularly after the government appointed the Exchange for Change consortium as co-ordinator, a group made up of major suppliers such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Carlton & United Breweries, Asahi, Coopers and Lion Nathan.

The Australian Beverage Council says the cost of the scheme will typically be passed on to consumers, who will pay about 15 cents more per container, or up to $3.60 extra for a case of beer, to cover the 10-cent refund and other fees.

Kerrie Abba, the owner of Nomad Brewing Company in Brookvale and imported craft beer distributor Experienceit Beverages, said the scheme’s focus was on big companies, who can deal with the extra costs and administration.

Ms Abba said Experienceit will have to pay $80 for each line of beer imported, which varies widely, and it remained unclear how much the brewery would have to pay for each bottle or can they put into the market.

“We’re calling it the container debacle scheme,” she said. “There’s been a lack of communication, lack of consultation, and just ignoring small businesses.”

Many regional areas do not have collection points, though the NSW government says the roll-out is only just beginning.