When the laundry in Bourke became a deposit point for Return and Earn, they didn’t anticipate what a difference it would make to the locals – or how many containers would be recycled through the scheme.

Bourke Laundry manager Judi Lucas said the town fully embraced the scheme and now they are collecting 20 thousand containers a week.

The Return and Earn program enables people in NSW to take eligible beverage containers to return points and receive a 10-cent refund for each container. You can choose to keep your refund or donate it to charity.

“A lot of the money goes to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The RFDS relies on donations, and it’s an important service for people out here, as well as for travellers,” Ms Lucas said.

“Other people put it into their kids’ or grandkids’ bank accounts.”

The local high school has been active in container returns too.

“They have a group of students with special needs who started collecting containers and saving the refunds to buy a barbecue as a reward for what they were doing,” Ms Lucas said.

“Now, every couple of weeks they have a barbecue lunch.”

Mr Lucas said other people she knew put their container refunds towards holidays, used them to pay for their children’s school excursions, or to help support their children’s studies in different ways.

Since the return point opened soon after the scheme launched in December 2017, the amount of litter in town dropped.

“There are a couple of old fellas who walk around and pick up containers. It gets them out for their daily walk,” Ms Lucas said.

“One chap, a pensioner, collects the containers from the local pubs too, which keeps him active and subsidises his pension.”

It’s not just the residents who are pleased with the scheme.

“The local council loves it because we’re reducing landfill,” Ms Lucas said.

“The guys at the tip think it’s great – they dig a hole, and it takes longer to fill now. It’s great that we don’t have all the rubbish leaking into the ground, trying to break down for 500 years.”

At Bourke High School, students in Support Class 2 are working to make their school more sustainable, with a bit of help from teacher Haylee-Jane Smith.

To begin with, the students assisted the school’s administration staff by recycling unwanted documents and providing shredded paper to the school farm. The enthusiastic class quickly offered more ideas, and one student suggested container recycling with Return and Earn.

“We realised the 10 cent container refunds meant we would be able to fundraise for the school’s Special Education Unit at the same time,” Ms Smith said.

It was the first container collection program to be implemented at the school, and the students were eager to make it a success.

“They thoroughly enjoyed constructing their first recycling bin, even designing their own logo and attaching photos of all the different types of bottles available at the school canteen that can be recycled,” Ms Smith said.

“All students and staff responded so positively that we created additional recycling bins and now have four in operation.”

Once a week, students sort and count the cans and bottles and Ms Smith takes the collected items to deposit at Bourke Laundry Services.

She has also incorporated learning about sustainability into lessons.

“They will also gain an understanding of how they can reduce their impact on the environment through recycling.

“They have become strong advocates for sustainability and lead by example in the school community.”

This article and featured image originally appeared in The Daily Liberal