Meet the change makers: Container Exchange

Through Queensland’s container refund scheme, Containers for Change, one local recycling business has grown their employment rate by six times. Ken Noye of Container Exchange explains.

Situated a three hour drive north-west of Brisbane, Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council was found to be the most disadvantaged local government area in Australia in the 2016 census.

Fast forward just four years, and the region is in better shape, with workers at the shire’s material recovery facility (MRF) honoured with the state’s Deadliest Start-Up Change Agent award in January.

The MRF, which is the only recycling centre within a 150-kilometre radius of the shire, operates the region’s Containers for Change container refund point.

The Change Agent award was presented in recognition of facility manager Andrew Beckett’s commitment to using the scheme to drive employment opportunities in the region.

In addition to the Deadliest Start-Up Change Agent award, Andrew and his team were honoured at Container Exchange’s inaugural Change Maker Awards in October 2019.

Presented by Chairman Mark O’Brien, they received the Change Maker Chairperson’s Award for the outstanding positive impact they have brought about in their local community.

While it would be naive to suggest one program could completely shift the social and economic environment of a region, Andrew says Containers for Change has had a significant impact on his community. He adds that since the scheme commenced, litter in the region has dropped significantly.

“It’s also made a difference in the attitude and self-esteem of our mob. The workers that we’ve employed, are happy people and their lives have changed,” he says.

“We all have a connection to country, so it’s very important that we look after, and protect land. It’s part of you really, it’s in your DNA. That’s hopefully the mentality of all Australians.”

Andrew says by showing respect to the land, the Queensland community can make significant environmental and social inroads.

“We talk about climate change and carbon emissions, and I think it’s about the next generation. If we don’t demonstrate to our children the right thing to do, how are they supposed to learn?” he says.

The benefits associated with Containers for Change employment are more substantial than simply a wage, Andrew suggests, with externalities including better civic engagement, enhanced social interaction and overall gains in self-esteem and wellbeing.

Operated by not-for-profit Container Exchange (COEX), Containers for Change was launched in 2018 in a bid to address the state’s relatively low recycling rates.

Since the scheme’s launch, Queensland has seen a 35 per cent drop in container litter, with over one-and-a-half billion containers returned since the scheme commenced.

The return rate, according to Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, was a third higher then predicted: highlighting the container refund scheme as an effective litter prevention and product stewardship mechanism.

Despite impressive return and recovery rates, Ken Noye, COEX Chief Executive Officer, says the scheme’s value is multi-faceted and also lies beyond the environmental sector.

“There’s no question about the positive environmental impact that Queenslanders are having on the volume of beverage container litter across the state. But the scheme has many other benefits, including providing opportunities for people to find employment and learn new skills,” he says.

Rockhampton’s Kanga Bins for instance, is helping keep Central Queensland beautiful through their nine drop-off and refund points.

“While they’ve processed more than 55 million containers, an impressive feat, what’s really significant is how Kanga Bins have used the scheme to create 36 new jobs – six times the number employed by the company pre-scheme,” Ken says.

Kanga Bins is one of many Containers for Change success stories, Ken says, highlighting the scheme as a mechanism for positive social change. He adds that  COEX developed its Change Makers series – a selection of short, engaging online videos – to shine a light on community benefits.

“Our Change Makers work at the coalface of the Containers for Change recycling program. They’re refund point operators, container collectors, charity workers, local club members and even school kids,” Ken says.

“And they’re living proof that everyday people can make a difference and are at the heart of a successful recycling program.”

Janelle Zordan, another COEX Change Maker, runs a booming Containers for Change depot in Capalaba. Her business, Advanced Metal Recycling, serves upwards of 200 customers a day.

With a background in hairdressing, Janelle says Containers for Change is a “far cry” from where she saw herself ending up.

“We heard about Containers for Change and knew it was something we wanted to jump on board with. It started off with just myself, my two cousins and one other employee, and then we rapidly grew from there,” she says.

In just over a year, Advanced Metal Recycling has grown into a full-service depot with 45 staff.

“We get a lot of different people through the depot, lots of families and little kids are getting on board with recycling. Sporting and community groups are also using the scheme. Not only are they doing a good thing by recycling all their containers, but they’re able to use it for fundraising as well,” Janelle says.

“I think we all need to make changes as a nation. We need to band together and be mindful of the footprint we make.”

Hear first-hand from the Change Makers and watch their stories at: containersforchange.com.au/changemakers.

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