Want to raise money for a community group, or even yourself? Want to help reduce plastic litter and improve recycling rates in Australia? Our roving reporter Nicole Lutze looks at the new Queensland Containers for Change refund scheme.

Recognising a growing national drink container waste problem, the group Boomerang Alliance formed in 2003 to begin a campaign for a national container deposit system across Australia. The alliance has worked hard with community groups and government to achieve positive environmental changes, and their Containers for Change scheme has now launched in Queensland.

For Brisbane, this will complement the city’s already-high kerbside recycling rate. All recycling waste in Council’s yellow bins is sent to a material recovery facility at Gibson Island where it is sorted and eventually fully recycled. Around 90,000 tonnes (180 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth) of material in 2017-18 was collected from Brisbane households for recycling, including glass.

What is Containers for Change? 

Older readers might remember collecting tin cans to return for cash when they were kids. Well, that’s the Containers for Change scheme, but now modernised.

Containers for Change accepts most cans, glass and plastic bottles between 150-ml and three-litres, and provides a ten-cent refund per item. The containers can be exchanged at a variety of physical and virtual collection points, including “reverse vending machines” in which you deposit your bottles.

Upon making the deposit, and depending on the sort of return point you visit,  you will then be given either cash, an EFT transfer, a voucher or the opportunity to donate them to a community group or charity.

Why is the return scheme important?

Returning eligible containers for refund provides incentive and in turn lowers litter rates, reduces contamination in recycling and ultimate ensures higher rates of recycling/

The other major beneficiary of the scheme is community groups. Kellie Lindsay, the Queensland campaigner for Boomerang Alliance, says not-for-profits and community groups were really considered in the design of the scheme.

Queenslanders consume approximately 3 billion drink bottles which are eligible for a refund. If only 10% of these containers are returned for a refund, that equates to a possible $30 million heading back into the community. And so far, the scheme has received a high uptake. According to a report in the Brisbane Times, on the very first weekend Queenslanders recycled 1.5 million containers, proving the community desire for this program.

Kellie says years before this program went live, Boomerang Alliance were meeting with not-for-profit networks such as Lions and Scouts and wrote a paper to the State Government detailing the benefits a refund scheme would provide these groups. This paper, and consistent communication with community groups facilitated by Boomerang Alliance, meant the scheme was designed so not-for-profits could have maximum benefit.

Touring around Queensland this year with COEX, the company now running the container exchange program, Kellie was delighted to meet with communities and explain how they would benefit. “We had a really good response from people. They could see it has been designed with community groups in mind, even in the most rural areas.”

How can community groups benefit?

Community groups can create a scheme number with Containers for Change and people across Queensland can use this account number when returning their containers. This allows for the refund money to be donated as a bank transfer to the applicable bank account and breaks down potential barriers such as distance.

Alternatively, community groups can become a physical container collection point, where locals can drop-off their containers, and the group then becomes responsible for their return. Or they can hire a community collection cage to use for special events. For more information on how community groups can become involved, click here.

Individuals and families can, of course, get involved too by creating an account at www.containersforchange.com.au.

What containers can be exchanged?

Most plastic and glass bottles, as well as cans between 150-ml and three litres, can be exchanged, excluding plain milk containers, glass bottles previously containing wine and spirits, cordial containers and a couple of other items.

Because the lids of bottles are usually made of a different type of plastic, it’s important to remove the lids to reduce plastic contamination and also assist the crushing process of containers at processing facilities. Do however leave the labels on to ensure they can be easily identified as eligible to the scheme.

Glass bottles need to be whole and intact. Can and plastic bottles can be crushed, providing they are still recognisable as eligible containers.

Where can you drop off your containers?

Eligible containers can be returned at refund points across the state. For a detailed map of the different types of collection points available in your area, visit the Containers for Change interactive map.

Final words

“I’d encourage everyone in Brisbane to get out there and participate,” says Kellie from Boomerang Alliance. “The system is really good. Schools and organisations should definitely get involved, so talk to community groups and encourage them to participate. Schools can raise thousands of dollars each year, just by collecting containers.

“It does take time to change habits, but by participating in this scheme you create opportunity for more positive changes in the future. This refund scheme is one more step in the journey.”