Waste Management Review explores the retail sector’s engagement with Return and Earn and the role of corporate responsibility in shaping positive recycling outcomes.
Waste Management Review speaks with Return and Earn charity and community return point operators about collective community action and the social side of CDS.
A container deposit scheme that follows best practice leads to better performance and innovation and should be top of mind for Victorian and Tasmanian Governments as they develop their state-based schemes, writes Rose Read, NWRIC CEO.
Environment Minister Matt Kean has congratulated communities across New South Wales for making the Return and Earn program a success, with over four billion containers recycled through the scheme.
Return and Earn has delivered exceptional results across litter reduction and participation since launching in 2017. Exchange for Change explains the five key factors behind the scheme’s success.
Since Return and Earn launched in December 2017, a staggering 3.4 billion containers have been returned for recycling.
Millions of containers are now returned every single day and more than $1 million has been raised for charity and community groups through reverse vending machines (RVMs).
Put in perspective, prior to the scheme’s commencement, more than 160 million drink containers were littered across the state each year.
Since the scheme’s launch, litter from drink containers has reduced by an annual average of 40 per cent in NSW, supporting the NSW Government’s commitment to reduce overall litter by 40 per cent by 2020.
The Return and Earn scheme is delivered through collaboration with three partners.
The NSW Government who designed the scheme; Exchange for Change (EFC), the scheme coordinator, and TOMRA-Cleanaway who operate the network of return points.
Importantly, it is an excellent example of producer-responsibility, with the beverage industry funding the scheme and the community receiving a 10 cent refund when they return containers.
Since the launch of the scheme in December 2017, 3.4 billion containers have been reused or recycled.
CEO of Exchange for Change, Danielle Smalley says it’s the collaboration between the NSW Government, EFC, TOMRA-Cleanaway, and the beverage industry that drives great results.
“Return and Earn has fundamentally shifted people’s thinking around litter and waste. The community is no longer seeing containers as something you throw away, they’re actually seeing it as a valuable commodity,” she says.
She says that it’s the community that has really benefited from the success of Return and Earn. Danielle highlights that there has been a significant reduction in litter.
The scheme has also created significant opportunity for smaller and local businesses to play a role collecting containers as over the counter return points or automated depots. This also generates the potential for local job creation.
Last, but not least, the scheme shares the wins with everyone, including consumers, councils and charities.
More than $1 million has been raised for official donation partners listed on reverse vending machine return points since the scheme launched, and countless more funds raised for charities, schools and community groups through their own return and earn activity.
Public participation in Return and Earn is also very strong, with 59 per cent of NSW adults having participated in the scheme.
The majority – 78 per cent of these participants, which is nearly half the population of NSW, return containers every month or more.
Danielle says it’s repeated behaviour that is really important.
“There was initially awareness building and then when people started to engage, it was about getting them to make it habitual and Return and Earn has been successful on both fronts,” she says.
“A great deal of the repeated behaviour can be attributed to the excellent customer experience. It’s accessible, easy to return and there’s an instant refund, so people come back again and again.”
This positive experience has been driven by the customer-centric design of Return and Earn, which mandated that return points needed to be located at convenient locations in existing paths of travel for consumers.
These community access principles were central to the tendering process for the scheme. On the ground, the customer centricity is being delivered through TOMRA Cleanaway’s network of more than 635 convenient return points widely available across NSW.
These include over the counter, RVMs, automated depots and donation stations. Variations between the type of return point, whether it be cash refund, donation or voucher, and the quantities they accept also make it easier for the public to choose a return system that suits them best.
The scheme is also data-rich thanks to a strong technology foundation through TOMRA Connect, enabling scheme partners to respond to issues quickly and rapidly adapt to the needs of the customers.
For example, a live data feed is connected to the Return and Earn website and the myTOMRAapp, helping NSW consumers find the nearest return point and to quickly check availability before returning.
The network of return points also enables real-time monitoring of the scheme, helping identify the busiest points and enabling evidence-based decision making on possible future locations and how best to optimise network use.
At the time of writing, in response to COVID-19, consumers could access Return and Earn for returns if it was in line with the most recent advice from the NSW Government Public Health Order.
The network operator has been able to adapt to the unfolding situation, introducing ‘touch-free recycling’ at RVMs with no need for consumers to touch machines, alongside a range of extra measures to ensure participants follow government advice on good hygiene and maintaining social distancing.
Looking at the future, there is real potential for the model of partnerships and producer-led responsibility to help deliver the NSW Government’s vision for a circular economy.
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Container deposit schemes are the first step in changing the way people think about the circular economy and the importance of reusing precious resources, TOMRA’s Ryan Buzzell explains.
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,”
“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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Over 2.7 billion containers have been returned through NSW’s container deposit scheme Return and Earn, as the program celebrates its second birthday.
Parliamentary Environment Secretary James Griffin said Return and Earn now has over five million drink containers returned everyday, with a current redemption rate of 67 per cent of eligible drink containers supplied into NSW.
“This time last year we were celebrating one billion containers returned on the first anniversary of Return and Earn. The growth of the scheme has seen us knocking on the door of three billion a year later,” Mr Griffin said.
“There’s no doubt Return and Earn has been a great success and has fundamentally changed people’s thinking and behavior around litter.”
This summer, users can opt to donate their 10 cent refund to Bottles for the Bush to support fire and drought affected communities, according to Mr Griffin.
“Return and Earn was launched with the aim of reducing litter and it’s doing that. Other flow on benefits have been revealed as people find new ways to utilise the fundraising benefits of the scheme,” Mr Griffin said.
“Alongside scheme coordinator Exchange for Change and network operator TOMRA Cleanaway, we look forward to continuing to work closely with industry to find new and innovative ways to make ‘Returning and Earning’ even easier and continue to grow.”
According to recent Return and Earn consumer research, eight out of 10 residents are satisfied with the New South Wales container deposit scheme (CDS), and over two-thirds believe it contributes to long-term recycling outcomes for the state.
TOMRA Cleanaway CEO James Dorney applauded the New South Wales community for their role in the scheme’s success.
“The success of the scheme is a testament to the incredible efforts of the NSW community who in July, returned and earned more than two billion containers in just 19 months since the scheme began,” Mr Dorney said.
“The survey showed that more than half of NSW residents are using the scheme, which in turn demonstrates how easy access to drop-off points and a well-planned network of collections and recovery infrastructure are critical to the success of any recycling system.”
According to the survey, 55 per cent of the New South Wales population have used the scheme, up from 48 per cent in December 2018.
Additionally, the survey showed that 78 per cent believe the scheme will benefit the environment.
Cleanaway Solid Waste General Manager David Clancy said the scheme had far exceeded expectations, reaching one billion containers in a year and two billion in 19 months.
Mr Clancy estimates that Return and Earn is likely to hit three billion containers before the end of 2019, accounting for almost half of all beverage containers sold in the state.
“Container deposit or refund schemes incentivise customers to return their drink containers to collection points in exchange for a refund,” Mr Clancy said.
“They are a perfect example of delivering on the triple bottom line of sustainability – there’s less litter in the environment, refunds can be used to benefit local community groups, associations and charities, and finally recycled containers become a part of the circular economy, extending the use of existing materials while reducing reliance on natural resources.”
Return and Earn broke records for recycling over the Christmas – New Year period, setting a new daily record and processing more than 91 million drink containers.
NSW Government Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said a new state record was set on 2 January, when an incredible 6.8 million drink containers were returned across the state.
“Between 21 December 2018 and 7 January 2019, there were six days with more than six million drink containers returned a day, and the daily average is now 5.8 million drink containers a day being processed across the state,” Ms Upton said.
“This shows strong community support for the NSW Government’s Return and Earn scheme as more and more people are recycling drink containers rather than throwing them away.
“Since the scheme started, more than 1.2 billion drink containers have been returned, which is a massive turnaround in the way people dispose of their empty drink containers.
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Ms Upton said that as well as reducing litter, Return and Earn is creating jobs and helping charities create an alternate income stream.
“Employment charity Hoxton Industries is running Return and Earn bulk depots at Villawood and Ingleburn, enabling them to create jobs for people who would otherwise face barriers to mainstream employment,” she said.
Garry Carr, Director of Hoxton Industries, said running a Return and Earn depot has transformed the employment charity’s operations.
“Return and Earn meant we could expand our operations, employ ten additional staff, and return nearly $200,000 to the community,” Mr Carr said.
“Our mission is to create jobs for people who face barriers to mainstream employment, and we can now do this in new areas and with new employment skills.”
Ms Upton said that, as a result of Return and Earn, eligible drink container litter volume have dropped by 44 per cent and now represent an all-time low of 37 per cent of the NSW litter volume stream.
“At the same time, the state’s overall litter volume has dropped by 48 per cent.
“Return and Earn has been a success because it is backed in by the people of NSW and it’s fantastic to see them help to reduce the amount of litter in the environment,” Ms Upton said.