Container Deposit Schemes an essential lifeline for homeless

For many people, living on the streets requires a source of income to cover basic living costs. The process of collecting and redeeming recyclables can be a go-to income. 52-year-old man, Johnson said ‘this is how I eat, it gets us lunch, cigarettes, coffee, cat food; the basic necessities. It's better than nothing' (1).


Johnson did not reveal how much he earns from recycling but did share his strategy. He targets big events with large recycling outputs as being critical to his success. He also ‘works at night primarily, I stick to what I know'. Collecting recycling in the evenings and early hours of the morning is fairly standard practice for the homeless community. Most tend to maintain work in one neighbourhood. 50-year-old Jackie stated that she ‘heads out on a Friday night around 11 pm and is back at home by about 7 am'. The homeless community who collect and redeem tend to scour the streets during the early hours of the night. Some sort through recycling bins that line the streets for upcoming recycling collection. Others collect from public bins and private dumpsters for recyclable containers.

In places where residents can return containers for a deposit, it is not uncommon to see collectors supplementing their income. This is not easy work, ‘bottle collectors generally push their increasingly heavy daily collections from place to place, spending their entire days on their feet' (2). Homeless and disadvantaged people often have to search for bottles through rubbish bins that can be filled with sharp glass and putrid rubbish. In Copenhagen, Denmark deposit shelves have been introduced. If residents do not want to return bottles themselves they can set them on a shelf so that those wanting to collect and return the bottles can do so more easily without going through often dangerous rubbish bins.

Container Deposit Schemes success beyond individuals

Returning containers for deposit can benefit many in society as a way to support an income. Container Deposit Schemes have been successful around Australia. In South Australia, the scheme was introduced in 1977 (3). The scheme has been successful in reducing litter, increasing resource recovery and reducing waste going to landfill. Refunds of containers have been shown to bring roughly 12 to 15% reduction in litter (4). In South Australia, there is a drink recovery rate of 80%. As well as vulnerable individuals benefitting from the return of containers Community Organisations have also used the method for fundraising. One example is Scouts which can earn roughly $9 million per year from operation of collections depots (4). Scouts is an organisation that assists young people to best they can be. They support developing a young person to improve all facets of their life so they can grow to become constructive citizens in their community. The organisation offers ‘fun, challenge, adventure and lifelong friendships' with a focus on ‘learning life skills, growing in self -confidence and gaining valuable leadership and team skills' (5). Recycling containers and receiving refunds contributes to Scouts being able to facilitate amazing programs for children and young people.

To ensure a bottle or container can be returned check the label on the container to see if a deposit and refund apply. Beverage containers in South Australia that may be eligible for deposit and refund include flavoured milk, fruit juice, water, carbonated soft drinks, non-carbonated drinks like ice tea, alcoholic cider, beer and flavoured alcoholic beverages with a wine or spirit base. There are beverages in South Australia that are exempt from deposit including plain milk containers of any size, glass wine and spirit bottles, fruit juice that is more than 1 litre and flavoured milk that is more than one litre (3). When recycling check the label to see if they are eligible for a refund. Alternatively, if you are placing your bottles in a council bin for weekly collection they will be assessed at container deposit location where technology can assist in identifying what can be recycled for refund. 

Recycling technology

Companies like Container Deposit Systems can implement improved practices in recycling facilities with the use of technology. Because Container Deposit Systems technology is designed and manufactured in Australia, the ability to maintain and service equipment is assured, minimising the risk of downtime for operators. Auto Redemption Technology (ART) is just one example of such technology. This machine allows for rapid throughput of containers whereby high levels of customer self-service is utilised. An ART based system can be fully self-contained or can be customised into a broad range of settings. One of the many positives of this system is that it can be scaled up to integrate sorting systems. Key features of the ART include vision-based technology able to recognise all deposit containers in any condition, self-service, scalable, in-time data capture, count and identification as well as 24-hour service support across Australia.

With the invention of Auto Redemption Technology in South Australia, the technology is being introduced in other states across Australia. independentlens/blog/how- homeless-recyclers-make- living-redeeming-recyclables/ solutions/2015/10/finding- money-copenhagens-trash-cans/ 412498/ energy-and-environment/ recycling-and-waste/container- deposit-scheme
https://www.parliament.vic. documents/council/SCEP/CDL/ Submissions/No_26_ FriendsOfEarth.pdf Aboutscouts