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31 MAR 2021

Winners of Keep Australia Beautiful Return and Earn Litter Prevention Awards

Danielle Smalley, CEO of Exchange for Change, has congratulated Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) on winning the overall Return and Earn Litter Prevention Award, part of the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW 2020 Sustainable Communities Tidy Towns Awards.  

The Keep Australia Beautiful NSW 2020 Sustainable Communities Tidy Towns Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the sustainability achievements of rural and regional communities across NSW and are organised by Keep Australia Beautiful NSW (KAB NSW). The Litter Prevention Award category is supported by the Return and Earn NSW container deposit scheme. 

The Wilcannia LALC won for its container recycling initiative that became part of an overarching project for the whole town, reducing litter by 60 per cent. The land council established an over-the-counter container collection centre in May 2019, collecting more than 175,000 containers in just the first 10 months.  

Exchange for Change CEO Danielle Smalley congratulated Wilcannia LALC on its win. “The Wilcannia project is a wonderful community-led initiative that has inspired this small and close-knit community and delivered real and visible change across the district,” Ms Smalley said. 

Beyond collecting containers, the centre delivers a range of activities to change waste behaviour across the town, including running regular re-use workshops at Wilcannia Central School and the Youth Drop-in Centre. So far, participants have made jewellery out of bike tubes, wallets out of milk cartons, and a dress out of water bladders.  

The centre has also established worm farms across town for food scraps, created a local litter collection team, designed and constructed backyard drink container collection cages, run professional development training for staff at Wilcannia Central School, and developed a waste action plan with the school. Two local Aboriginal men are also employed at the centre, giving work opportunities in a town where jobs are scarce 

NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Chair Rayne de Gruchy, who also attended the awards, congratulated all the award winners for their dedicated efforts to care for the environment. 

“All those who received the KAB NSW awards should be very proud of their hard work,” Ms de Gruchy said. 

 “The work acknowledged by the awards is driven by volunteers and the EPA proudly supports awards which promote local solutions which go to reducing waste and changing behaviours, for a more sustainable future.” 

The many innovative achievements by schools, community groups, not-for-profits and local government celebrated through these awards highlight how widespread the drive towards sustainability is in NSW. They also demonstrate the many ways Return and Earn has made recycling and litter prevention easier and created opportunities for meaningful fundraising. 

The Return and Earn Litter Prevention Award category winners were:  

Warilla Public School – Schools, Category E 

A student-led initiative to fundraise for solar panels using the Return and Earn container deposit scheme means the school is now entirely self-sufficient for power. Students in the school’s Student Representative Council decided to introduce the Return and Earn container deposit scheme because they wanted to reduce litter and landfill, and they also saw the potential to raise money for solar panels. 

Students set up recycling bins and established a volunteer ‘Sortin’ Squad’ to separate the containers. Students also took responsibility for making sure drink bottles and cans from the cafeteria – 8,000 per semester – were all collected. Students also partnered with local businesses to collect containers and encourage locals to direct their Return and Earn refunds to the school. 

Through the 10c refunds per container, the students raised $2,500 towards the initial 50 solar panels. These panels were installed at the beginning of 2019, and immediately halved the school’s power bills, saving tens of thousands of dollars annually. Fundraising continued, and the final 50 solar panels were installed last year. The savings on electricity go back into the school to support learning and development.  


Glendore Public School – Schools, Category C 

The Maryland school has returned an incredible 35,000 containers (and counting) for recycling to raise money for social support activities for students. 

In 2018 the primary school students themselves identified that they could reduce their impact on the environment by recycling containers through Return and Earn. Students then took the lead in educating others at the school and the wider community about container recycling, as well as taking responsibility for collecting, sorting and cleaning containers at the school, which are deposited at Return and Earn points by teachers.  

Container recycling has become part of the school curriculum, with environmental impacts of litter covered in science. Maths students have collected data on the number of containers saved from landfill, calculated the monies earned through the 10c refunds, and investigated what these funds can be used for. The fund has supported social initiatives at the school, including a breakfast club, an arts program for vulnerable or atrisk students, and cultural workshops for Indigenous girls. 


Young Hospital Auxiliary – Not For Profit, Category C

The auxiliary won for its hard work recycling containers to raise funds for much-needed equipment for the country hospital. For the past ten years, the auxiliary has raised an average of $30,000 annually for hospital equipment. This year, with COVID-19 restrictions, many of the usual fundraising activities such as stalls, high teas and other community events, were put on hold. The auxiliary recognised that Return and Earn was a way to continue fundraising through this time. It also meant that a broader section of the local community was able to contribute, as even one bottle would help.  

The auxiliary is largely made up of older members, with several in their 90s, though this year they were joined by four high school students. They are optimistic that engaging the community through container returns will lead to long-term interest from more younger members.  

By utilising Return and Earn, the auxiliary has been able to promote recycling throughout the small community and continue to raise vital funds for hospital equipment. This year, funds will go towards the purchase of a Sara Stedy, which helps staff safely move patients who have limited mobility.  


Braidwood Scout Group – Community Group Category B 

The scout group, including youth members, leaders, committee and parent helpers, developed a system for collecting empty cans and bottles to increase container recycling at local events. The containers are then deposited at Return and Earn return points for a 10c refund apiece. The group has also established a container collection point at the scout hall, and youth members have organised regular collections from elderly local residents and a retirement village.  

The project highlights the environmental ethos of the scouts and reduces waste in the community, as well as raises funds that go towards equipment and opportunities for scout members and donations to community causes. Funds were donated to the local Rural Fire Services, and supported a volunteer group called BlazeAid, who helped rebuild damaged fences. 


Narrandera Shire Council – Local Government Category B   

Narrandera Shire Council has promoted container recycling locally by funding the installation of a reverse vending machine (RVM).  

The council wanted to reduce litter by the roadside with litter thrown from vehicles a significant source of pollution. The council was also aware that many locals took their own empty drink containers to a neighbouring town with a Return and Earn return point, and then shopped and spent their refunds there rather than doing so locally.   

In recognition of both issues, the council decided that installing an RVM would give locals an incentive to collect the roadside litter, so they could claim the 10c refund per container, and would also encourage people who did return containers to do so locally and spend their money in their town 

Since the RVM was installed in 2019, Return and Earn vouchers to the value of many thousands of dollars have been spent at the local supermarket – keeping money and jobs in the community. Additionally, the council reports there has been a noticeable reduction in bottles and cans littered on the roadside. 


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