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9 JUN 2021

A nod to the small gestures that inspire whole communities

Each week students in Coonabarabran High School’s D7 support unit class – who have disabilities and require different learning environments – manage the school’s recycling program, entering classrooms and offices to collect recycling boxes, empty them into wheelie bins and transfer them to the collection centre.

In recognition of their efforts, the class has been nominated for the NSW Young Environmental Citizen of the Year award, a new award recognising young people for their efforts to contribute to a sustainable future, and/or demonstrating innovative ways to support the environment.

The award joins the NSW Environmental Citizen of the Year award, as part of the NSW Australia Day Council’s annual NSW Local Citizen of the Year award program.

“You can feel really overwhelmed by some of the environmental issues we’re experiencing and not know where to start,” says Danielle Smalley, CEO of Exchange for Change, scheme co-ordinator of the Return and Earn NSW Container Deposit Scheme, which sponsors the awards.

“But it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; as these awards show, it can be small things that collectively have a real impact and inspire others.”

The year two students at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School scored a nomination for maintaining the school’s ‘Yerrusha’ garden. Students source seedlings from local businesses, recently installed two water bottle refill stations and plan to expand the gardens by installing a watering system and greenhouse.

The students from Oberon Public School were also nominated for their work developing a community garden, which includes two chickens incubated, hatched and cared for as part of a classroom project.

In the Riverina town of Balranald, eight-year-old Zaidyn Mcalister noticed his grandfather struggling to maintain the cemetery. After deciding to help clean and maintain the cemetery, and inspiring others around town to contribute too, he also scored a nomination.

Across both the young and open categories, the diverse group of nominees are united in proactively creating solutions for environmental problems, says Andrew Parker, chair of the Australia Day Council of NSW. “While many regions across the state have experienced hardships over the past year due to the pandemic and natural disasters, there are countless inspiring community members making a positive impact in their local regions – from recycling and regeneration to protecting our flora, fauna and oceans.″⁣

Like the younger nominees, Griffith’s Hampers of Hope organisation is also committed to helping others and the environment, rescuing from local supermarkets, farmers and businesses food that would otherwise end up in landfill. Volunteers collect more than 400 kilograms of food each day, creating more than 130 hampers each week for local families in crisis.

The Hurstville Community Garden Association is taking an inclusive approach thanks to Sofia Carvajal’s leadership, catering for the area’s diverse communities with a bilingual online presence, the help of interpreters and dedicated space for growing culturally appropriate foods. Meanwhile, Lia and Ryan Pereira have been nominated for their work co-founding Sea Shelter, a not-for-profit marine conservation organisation that researches and rehabilitates local marine life around Port Stephens

Lia and Ryan also recently founded the Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters organisation, an interactive aquarium that supports Sea Shelter. Now in their third year, the awards are sponsored by the Return and Earn NSW Container Deposit Scheme to recognise and celebrate individuals and organisations who share the scheme’s vision for a more sustainable future.

Return and Earn enables people to return eligible bottles and cans to a dedicated return point for recycling and get 10 cents for every container they return. In the three years it has been running, the NSW government initiative has seen widespread success with more than 5.6 billion containers returned for recycling through its network of more than 620 return points across NSW, reducing container litter across the state by 43 per cent since inception.

According to the latest consumer research, three in four adults in NSW have participated in the scheme, whether by taking their containers directly to return points or donating them to family members, charities or community groups.

“It’s about people as individuals saying ‘well, let’s take action’,” says Smalley, “and collectively that’s [amounted to] five billion containers over three years. Like our Environmental Citizen award nominees and every individual or group participating in Return and Earn, all these individual actions have a huge collective outcome.”