Two years of change: Container Exchange

Two years of change: Container Exchange

On the eve of Containers for Change’s second birthday, Ken Noye, Container Exchange CEO, looks back on the scheme’s achievements and shares what’s next for this recycling success story.

In November this year, Queensland’s Containers for Change will celebrate its second year in operation.

Launched in a bi-partisan effort to tackle high levels of beverage container litter and low recycling rates, the container refund scheme (CRS) has seen over 2.65 billion returns across more than 300 refund collection points.

Before the scheme’s commencement, kerbside recycling was offered by only 31 of Queensland’s 77 council areas.

As such, Ken Noye, Container Exchange (COEX) CEO, explains that containers previously had a greater chance of ending up in landfill or litter, than being recycled.

“The introduction of the Containers for Change scheme gave around 45 local government areas access to recycling for the first time,” he says.

The CRS, which is run by COEX, has a daily collection average of 4.3 million containers. As a result of the Queensland community’s enthusiastic uptake, the state has seen a 54 per cent decrease in beverage container litter since the scheme’s launch.

While these numbers are significant, for Noye, it’s the scheme’s community and social benefits that are most noteworthy.

Noye highlights Central Queensland Pet Rescue, which through a band of volunteers collecting containers in the Central Highlands region, has raised almost $30,000 to fund their work.

He also notes Oshan, a young boy from Cairns, who by collecting containers with his father, has saved up enough money to buy a brand-new motocross bike.

“In doing so he’s learnt about recycling, the importance of commitment, having a target and the value of 10 cents and turning that into a dollar,” Noye says.

“An 11-year-old, Flynn Emerson, has been collecting containers in the town of Gympie and donating the refunds to support children in palliative care.

“These are just some of the many examples of Containers for Change’s positive social impact.”

Auswaste’s Ken and Steffi Reid, pictured with students from Western Cape College, operate two return depots in Far North Queensland.

Opportunities for individuals, communities and social enterprises to benefit from the scheme is built into its design, Noye says.

He adds that since Containers for Change began, 700 new jobs have been created across the state, many in rural and regional economies.

Furthermore, as of July 31 this year, more than $204 million has gone back into the pockets of Queensland customers, community groups and charities.

In Northern Queensland’s Ayr, a small town of less than 8000 people, NQ Green Solutions has created eight full time jobs through the scheme.

Importantly, Noye explains that 70 per cent of NQ Green Solutions’ work force is comprised of people living with disability or health conditions.

“In a small town like that, the impact it has had on the community is quite powerful,” Noye says.

“Last year we opened a depot in Weipa, Cape York, and it’s quite amazing because when I went up to visit last year, I drove around, and it was spotless – there was no litter.

“That COEX can create jobs, reduce litter and give purpose back to some of these communities is very satisfying.”

As a not-for-profit organisation, COEX operate via the product responsibility and stewardship model.

Routed in extended producer responsibility, the model places recycling accountability on the producers of products. As such, Noye explains that COEX can focus on maximising participation and growing a circular economy.

“Our objective is to keep the cost of the scheme as low as possible, because while it’s the beverage companies that fund COEX, it’s the consumer who ultimately pays. And we are committed to ensuring that cost is low,” he says.

While COEX is not-for-profit, Containers for Change has over 80 separate contractors that deliver collection, handling and processing services for-profit.

These are primarily family businesses, Noye says. He adds that because COEX is not competing with its contractors, those businesses receive all handling, logistics and processing fees.

“Maximising the return for those businesses ensures the scheme is truly sustainable,” Noye says.

“While environmental sustainability is key, you can’t have a sustainable CRS without operational sustainability.

“When our operators and consumers are happy, that makes the scheme politically sustainable as well, which is critically important.”

Looking forward, Noye says COEX is determined to continue building on its success. In late July, for example, Containers for Change launched the Wave of Change program.

Run in partnership with Plastic Oceans Australasia, the program will provide 50 schools across the state with free access to circular economy educational resources. Schools that register also sign up to increase their recycling and fundraising efforts through Containers for Change.

“We’ve also launched a partnership with the Queensland Rugby League to offer support to more than 400 community clubs to fundraise through the scheme. We’re very excited about that and are hoping to engage with the AFL and Football Australia as well.”

COEX is also working with remote island communities and Indigenous Shire Councils to develop bespoke solutions to suit their communities and share the benefits of the scheme.

“We are working with the Queensland Government to establish refund points in all of those areas, and have recently opened an Indigenous council-run site in Wujal Wujal,” Noye says.

“COEX will continue to expand our network to provide as many Queenslanders as possible with access to get a refund and the ability to make change.

“We’re also committed to exploring opportunities in the circular economy to use the material collected through our scheme in industries such as manufacturing, construction and road infrastructure.”

Noye adds that Containers for Change is on track to meet COEX’s strategic target of 85 per cent of containers sold into Queensland being recycled by 2022.

“After a short decrease in volumes when the COVID- 19 pandemic hit, our collections have bounced back strongly,” he says.

“In January we peaked at a 78-82 per cent rate of sold containers recycled, and while reaching the 85 per cent target will be a challenge, we are determined to hit it.

“When we do, we will be one of the first schemes in the world to achieve such a high recycling rate in such a short space of time.”

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