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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The convenience model: TOMRA

Markus Fraval, TOMRA Collections Strategy Director, highlights competing Container deposit scheme models and Return and Earn’s success.

When the Tasmanian Government announced it would implement a container deposit scheme (CDS) by 2023, it became the seventh state or territory to do so, leaving Victoria as the single holdout.

The CDS waste collection model is similarly growing overseas, with widespread uptake in North America and Europe. While all CDSs share a common goal, there are multiple implementation models including return to retail, convenience kiosks and large-scale drop-off depots.

Markus Fraval, TOMRA Collections Strategy Director, says most European CDSs operate under a return to retail system. He says this is generally supported by government regulated extended producer responsibility legislation.

“Businesses that sell drink containers are obligated to take the container back in some way, and because it’s so easy, those markets typically achieve 90-per-cent-plus return rates,” he says.

“We commonly employ South Australian style models in Australia, whereby people are required to go out of their way, generally to an industrial area, to return their containers.”

According to Markus, depot models require significant time and organisational commitment from consumers and, as such, are often ineffective. He adds that in lieu of return-to-retail legislation, conveniently positioned reverse vending machine kiosks are a more effective model for Australia.

Markus says despite New South Wales not having the benefit of a return to retail network, the Return and Earn system was designed to be as similar to the European model as possible.

He says this was achieved by positioning reverse vending machine kiosks in shopping centres and supermarket carparks throughout
the state.

“Accessible kiosks allow consumers to participate in the scheme as part of their normal routines and daily habits,” Markus says.

“This provides incentives for positive consumer behavioural change that are not too extreme or inconvenient.”

TOMRA, in a joint venture partnership with Cleanaway, was appointed Return and Earn network operators by the New South Wales Government in 2017.

The role incorporates network design, establishing new drop-off facilities and maintaining the
state’s more than 600 existing collection points.

“We know from our experience in over 40 global deposit markets that the big drivers for successful return rates are deposit value or financial incentive, and the level of returning convenience,” Markus says.

He suggests TOMRA’s focus on convenience and access is the reason that in just under two years, 55 per cent of New South Wales residents have participated in the scheme and return rates have been high.

Since commencing on 1 December 2017, Return and Earn has collected more than two billion containers through a combination of TOMRA kiosks and more traditional depot collection points.

“The first billion containers were collected in the first 12 months of the program, with the next billion collected in the following seven months. This suggests the scheme is still accelerating,” Markus says.

“Return and Earn is now averaging well above four million containers per day.”

While reverse vending machine kiosks represent only half of the total collection points in New South Wales, Markus says approximately 80 per cent of all returns come through TOMRA reverse vending machines.

“It is critical for a successful CDS to have a network of small footprint collection points capable of high capacity collections,” he says.

“It’s also important to facilitate an integrated supply chain that spans collections, logistics and processing.”

Markus says while collection quantity is key, CDSs need to operate as efficiently as possible to keep price impacts at a minimum.

“As network operators, TOMRA Cleanaway has processed well over 100,000 tonnes of material for commodity trading in domestic and international markets,” Markus says.

“For instance, we ship bales of aluminium cans overseas for smelting and remanufacturing into sheet metal, which can then be used to produce new beverage containers.”

Additionally, Markus says roughly half the plastic sold by TOMRA Cleanaway is used for domestic bottle-to-bottle manufacturing, with the remaining half exported oversees to make bottles, textiles and plastic films.

TOMRA’s optical sorting and reverse vending machine technology is available to all operators across the CDS spectrum.

“Our technology scans bottles from 360 degrees, taking one gigabyte of images per second,” Markus says.

“The speed and ease of use of our machines allow TOMRA to collect more than 40 billion containers through reverse vending machines around the world each year.”

According to a recent state government survey, over 85 per cent of New South Wales residents support Return and Earn.

“There are different models out there, and while I think it’s useful for people to understand the success of CDSs more broadly, there is something to be said for the New South Wales model,” Markus says.

“It is undoubtedly the most convenient scheme in Australia.”

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