Return and Earn recycling scheme gets tested at Moruya

Bodalla freelance journalist Jo Rugg reports on her experience using the new Return and Earn reverse vending machine at Moruya Woolworths:

TAKING care of our own waste is the key to newly rolled out Earn and Return scheme for drinking containers across NSW this month.

And while the scheme was not without minor hiccups, the humps and bumps as it swung into operation are relatively minor when compared to the benefits.

The responsibility for returning containers is placed directly on the consumer who is already being hit in the hip pocket for the change to our recycling options.

From November 1 this year drink prices rose significantly across the board - in preparation for the rollout - most noticeably on cartons of beer (about $3 extra) and soft drinks (about $2 extra). Prices of individual drinks also rose by 10 to 20 cents and in some cases 30 cents.

So far there is no clear indication as to who imposed the price hike or where that extra money goes; to the retailer, manufacturer or the State Government. NSW EPA have taken that question on board and will respond with an answer as soon as possible but were unable to reply in time for this publication.

With only 270 collection points throughout the State, Moruya and Bermagui residents are the lucky ones who have collection points in their towns.

There is still no indication as to whether there will be a Return and Earn reverse vending machine placed at the Narooma Woolworths anytime soon.

Other reverse vending machines can be found at Bega, Ulladulla, Cooma and Queanbeyan with Woolworths supermarkets and St Vincent de Paul hosting the machines (a map can be seen at www.returnandearn.org.au).

Many who want to participate in the scheme have to travel to deposit their containers but with more than 76 per cent of NSW residents voicing their support for Return and Earn consumers are prepared to make it work.

And that was the positive response encountered when using the reverse vending machine (RVM) at Moruya Woolworths this week.

I arrived with 12 cartons of empty beer bottles to return and after depositing 8 bottles the RVM was full and needed to be cleared out. Collecting my 80 cent voucher (which Woolworths redeem for cash) the consumer hotline was called.

A helpful response from phone operators resulted in Cleanaway being contacted, a work order filed and in just under one hour a truck arrived and the driver quickly emptied the machine and the RVM was back in operation. A relatively quick and efficient result considering that the scheme had only been under way for four days.

During the wait lots of very interested people came and checked out the machine and were interested and positive about the process involved.

Robert Pike, of Moruya, arrived with a large bag of cans to recycle and negotiated the return process with no problems and was delighted with his cash return.

A teenage boy returned one container and didn’t want his voucher, “I just want to get rid of my drink container,” he said. So we pressed the “donate to charity” button and sent that 10 cents to one of the available charities.

Consumers can donate their refund to a charity, link their return to a PayPal account or redeem their voucher for cash.

Young locals Shayla and Shonqay Potts arrived with their mum Denine Brierley to return a handful of drink containers and were happy to wait and chat about the scheme until the RVM was back in operation. They were also happy about getting a cash return for their efforts.

While there are no bulk return depots close to the Eurobodalla Shire there may well be in the future. An Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) spokesperson said that automated depots are best suited for bulk returns (of 500 containers or more).

“Collection points are still rolling out across the state so if there isn’t an automated depot near you, you can use a reverse vending machine or over-the-counter collection point,” the spokesperson said.

The EPA spokesperson said that the NSW Government looked at container deposit schemes both domestically (in South Australia and the Northern Territory) and internationally to help inform the design of Return and Earn.

The scheme has been well received since it began operation on December 1 with more than 500,000 beverage containers returned to RVMs by lunch time on Sunday, December 3.

Recycling facts

  • More than 160 million drink containers end up as litter.
  • 2015 Clean Up Australia data showed that of the 6351 tonnes of rubbish volunteers collected, drink containers accounted for 36 per cent of that.
  • 65 per cent of NSW consumers drink an average of 5.4 drinks outside the home. Of those, 70 per cent of the containers are not recycled.