Charitable containers: TOMRA

With over $1,000,000 raised for charity partners through Return and Earn, TOMRA’s Markus Fraval explores the added social benefits of container deposit schemes.

After bushfires ravaged Australia’s eastern and southern states in 2019 and 2020, families and businesses were faced with the task of rebuilding. Burning an unprecedented amount of the land, the economic consequences of the fires was significant, with lost tourism earnings adding a further layer of heartbreak and complication to those affected.

After dominating much of the environmental conversation in 2019, waste and resource recovery took a back seat, with discussions of regeneration, wildlife rehabilitation and strategic conservation more vital than ever.

However, the sector was keen to lend its support to rebuild efforts, with the NSW container deposit scheme (CDS) Return and Earn raising $500,000 for affected families in just four months.    

Proved to dramatically increase container recycling, CDSs across the country boast significant collection rates. In just over two years of operations, for instance, Return and Earn saw three billion containers returned.

According to Markus Fraval, TOMRA Australia Director, CDSs are about more than producing positive environmental outcomes. They have the ability, he says, to function as simple and streamlined donation points. There are currently 320 Return and Earn kiosks across NSW, with more than 1200 reverse vending machines (RVMs) run by network operator TOMRA Cleanaway.

“RVMs feature up to four donation partners, including a blend of state-based charities and local charity partners,” he explains.

“Each time NSW recyclers return their containers they have the option of choosing ‘donate’ on the interactive touchscreen, foregoing part or all of their refund to one of the available charities.”

Return and Earn on average receives five million containers each day, which, when refunds are donated, is the equivalent of putting $500,000 back into the pockets of people across NSW daily, Markus says.

“Donating a few 10-cent containers might seem like a small thing, but with the popularity of Return and Earn it can add up very quickly,”
he says.

“This money can help those in need in our communities, even if just a small percentage of the containers are donated rather than redeemed.”

Bottles for the Bush, TOMRA’s bushfire appeal, was launched in November 2019 in partnership with Rural Aid.

The initial goal, Markus says, was to raise $250,000 to help those affected by drought and bushfires by the end of February 2020.

“As Australia’s bushfires became front page news, not just in Australia but around the world, Aussie recyclers rallied to the cause, with the amount of people donating some or all of their drink containers quadrupling in just two to three weeks,” Markus says.

“The original target of $250,000 was smashed in just eight weeks, at which point TOMRA doubled the target to $500,000: a figure that was achieved three days before the end of the appeal.”

Within the first few weeks of the campaign, Markus says Rural Aid had already delivered more than $100,000 to NSW farmers and rural families in need of hay, food and water.

“Funds raised through Return and Earn were making a real difference in those communities hit hardest by drought and bushfires,” he adds.

Return and Earn’s appeal isn’t its first, with TOMRA launching the first major CDS crisis appeal in August 2018 as drought began to hit NSW. The appeal, Markus says, encouraged people to donate to Rural Aid through the “Buy a Bale” campaign.

“The appeal raised over $75,000 in 13 weeks, and further reinforced the potential of Return and Earn as a force for good and a way to help those most in need,” he says.

According to Markus, high-profile charities are not the only ones benefiting from CDSs, with Return and Earn containers providing vital funding for many smaller, volunteer-based organisations and community groups.

“Charity donation partners and community groups not yet on the RVM screens can benefit from the scheme by simply setting up a free account,” Markus says.

“Those groups can then share their unique scheme barcode with their supporters to scan at their local RVM when donating containers.”

Since Return and Earn began in December 2017, Markus says close to 500 not-for-profit organisations have participated and benefited, including charities, social enterprises, schools, sporting clubs, community groups and disaster appeals.

“Some of the largest organisations to benefit, raising tens of thousands of dollars, include the Salvation Army, Cancer Council, OzHarvest and the RSPCA,” he says.

Top-performing local organisations, Markus adds, include PCYC Singleton, Lions Club Gerringong and Ronald McDonald House Greater Western Sydney.

“In addition to those who have raised funds via the RVM machines, hundreds of other not-for-profit organisations and community groups are raising funds their own way, by encouraging supporters to raise money for them through the Return and Earn network,” Markus says.

“Now, with more than one billion Aussie animals losing their lives and millions of them with their habitats destroyed, TOMRA and Return and Earn are urging recyclers to donate to ‘Cans for Koalas’, which is raising funds for WWF’s Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund.”

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First Return and Earn charity partners for CDS NSW

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has announced the first four Return and Earn donation partners to feature on the state’s reverse vending machines.

It comes as NSW plans to introduce its Container Deposit Scheme on 1 December.

People returning eligible containers will be able to donate their refunds to the Cancer Council, St Vincent de Paul, Surf Life Saving NSW and Planet Ark at reverse vending machines from 1 December.

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“Our first four donation partners make incredible contributions to communities across the state – giving people an option to donate their refunds to these four organisations is a great way to open the scheme,” Ms Upton said.

“Charities, community and sporting groups, schools, and other not-for-profit organisations can also register their interest to become a donation partner under the rotation system.”

Interested groups can visit the Return and Earn website to register their interest to become a donation partner.

To donate a refund to a donation partner people will need to insert an eligible drink container into a reverse vending machine and select the ‘donate’ option and choose a group. Where relevant donations of $2 or more are made, customers will be issued with a receipt to claim a tax deduction.

“Local groups can also fundraise from 1 December by collecting eligible drink containers and returning them for a 10 cent refund at Return and Earn collection points,” Ms Upton said.

People can also choose to receive their refund into a registered PayPal account via the myTOMRA app, or receive a printed retail refund voucher to exchange for cash or an in-store credit at a local retail partner.

Containers should be empty, uncrushed, unbroken and have the original label attached to receive the 10 cent refund.

For more information about Return and Earn and how to register to be on a reverse vending machine visit: www.returnandearn.org.au

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