One week in, Victoria’s container deposit scheme has collected millions of cans, bottles and cartons, with hundreds of thousands of dollars already returned to the pockets of Victorians, including a range of community groups.

“It’s been amazing,” says Cain Slater, of the Kari Foundation, an Indigenous service provider, which is operating a collection site in Melton for TOMRA Cleanaway. “We targeted 150,000 containers returned in the first week, but that was achieved in more like two days.”

The Victorian Government’s container deposit scheme (CDS Vic) was launched on November 1, and aims to reduce litter in Victoria by up to half and increase recycling of drink containers, by offering 10-cent refunds for eligible drink containers.

CDS Vic has three zone operators – each is establishing a network of refund points in their allocated zone. TOMRA Cleanaway is the zone operator for the west of Melbourne and Victoria, covering 28 local government areas taking in around 2 million people, who use about 500 million drink containers a year. It has opened more than 140 collection points – meaning it already meets the target of one collection point for every 14,500 people – and expects to add a further 40-odd collection points by next August.

A joint partnership between TOMRA, a global leader in sorting technology and Cleanaway, Australia’s largest waste and resource recovery, TOMRA Cleanaway is leading the resource recovery revolution by making a sustainable future possible.

TOMRA Cleanaway has invested heavily in state-of-the-art infrastructure that provides a convenient and accessible network for local residents across the zone, with its machines quick, accurate and automated, making returning eligible containers and bottles as easy as doing your shopping.

“We are motivated to deploy refund points to generate container collection, and will do so where this is demand and need,” says TOMRA Cleanaway CEO James Dorney. Overall, TOMRA Cleanaway collected 700,000 containers on day one alone, hitting the 1-million mark by lunchtime on day two, and 3-million by day three, reflecting Victorians’ readiness to get behind the state’s recycling ambition.

There are three types of collection points – depots, which can sort commercial volumes of containers quickly thanks to “singulator” machines that sort glass, aluminium, steel, plastic and liquid cardboard; reverse vending machines, where you place the container in the machine and get paid in return; and over-the-counter refund points.

Refunds can be taken in cash, sent electronically to a bank account or via PayPal, or donated in part or whole to charities on the TOMRA Cleanaway CDS West app, available for iOS and Android phones. Machines at supermarkets also issue paper or electronic vouchers, redeemable for cash or in-store spend.

TOMRA Cleanaway expects to see millions of eligible containers returned every week that would have previously ended up in waterways, beaches, and parks.

One of the key benefits of running a Container Deposit Scheme is the circular economy and the impact on the environment, as well as providing opportunities to those who face employment barriers.

TOMRA Cleanaway has partnered with charities, not-for-profits and social enterprises such as Kari to collect containers, especially at the bulk container return depots.

“We have specifically created partnerships for our bulk refund points – our depots,” says Dorney.  “The opportunity that this provides to them is a brand new revenue stream. It will provide meaningful employment within the recycling industry for people who generally have barriers to employment.”

Kari, for example, will employ seven people, most of them from First Nations background.

“There’s McCallum in Ballarat, a disability provider,” adds Dorney. “Then there’s Fruit2Work, which has set up a new business called Recycle4Change, in Geelong. Other partners include, Are-Able in Warrnambool, Outlook, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Green Collect who have established refund points in the west zone. Additional partner sites will likely launch soon in December. These operations will make a huge difference to these organisations.”

Stuart Borg, from Recycle4Change, is upbeat about the difference that the scheme will make for the 15 people already employed at the group’s North Geelong Bell Park site. It employs women and youth getting out of jail.

The North Geelong Bell Park facility is a drive-in site which can process 100 containers a minute. “So it’s pretty fast,” Borg says. Pubs and clubs in the area have already agreed to drop off their containers.

“We expect that we will return $15 million to the community over the next five years,” Borg explains, “and a further $5 million to $7 million to charities, schools and sport clubs.”

Matt Vallance, from McCallum in Ballarat, which helps provide work, support and housing to people with disability, tells a similar story. McCallum, which employs 200 people with disability, has opened two depots, employing 20 people, one located in Canadian to the south and the other in Wendouree.

“The big thing for us is the opportunity for employment growth,” Vallance says. “There are so many benefits from this scheme and our partnership with TOMRA Cleanaway. It helps so many people. There’s the employment and social outcomes for the people employed, which is why we exist.

“There’s the environmental benefit from recycling. Then there’s the financial benefit – for the consumer getting their deposit, and for the person doing the work.”

CDS Vic will create around 600 jobs statewide, 200 of which will be in the CDS Vic West Zone delivered by TOMRA Cleanaway.

This article originally appeared in The Age.