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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NSW consumers return and earn with TOMRA app

More than 100,000 people have downloaded TOMRA’s recycling app linked with the NSW Return and Earn scheme.

The free app, called myTOMRA, shows the status with Reverse Vending Machines (RVM) in NSW and has partnered with digital payment provider PayPal.

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Users can scan their personal barcode at the RVM and claim money from returned containers electronically.

The app shows whether a RVM is open, almost full, temporarily unavailable, or in sleep mode during out of hours periods. It also includes a map which can direct users to the nearest RVM.

The Return and Earn scheme was implemented in NSW on 1 December and has seen more than 310 million containers returned since it launched. It aims to reduce the amount of litter across NSW by 40 per cent by 2020.

Consumers are able to claim a 10-cent refund when they return an eligible drink container to a collection point in NSW. Most 150 millilitre to three-litre drink containers made from plastic, glass, steel, liquid paperboard and aluminium are returnable.

TOMRA Cleanaway is the network operator for the scheme, with TOMRA providing the RVM technology and Cleanaway delivering the logistics and sorting for collected containers.

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