Melanie Garrick and Loretta Florance
29th Oct 2016
Next year, New South Wales will introduce a cash for containers scheme, as South Australia celebrates 40 years of a similar program. Story Hunters‘ Melanie Garrick spent a day in Adelaide meeting the humans of can and bottle recycling.
Joan, $50 a week: ‘So much waste’
Joan has been collecting for more than 20 years.
“It’s healthy because you’re walking or riding a bike, it brings in a bit of extra money, being on a pension, that’s always handy, it makes a difference between scraping through,” she says.
Joan says she drops in on 15 companies and 15 local homes to collect their bottles and cans every week.
“Every week I go out and do what I call my rounds, I do a small walk around the block to residents and then I do the strip along the main road of businesses, who keep them aside for me,” she says.
“I would average at least $50 a week, in the summer it’s more lucrative.
“Over the years it’s helped me out tremendously in all manner of ways — I’ve always usually got a few dollars to spare if a charity came, or I get called out by friends for coffee, or I’m tight on a bill, or want a packet of smokes.”
For Joan, can and bottle collecting has actually extended to other household items.
“What I pull out of bins and people have thrown out is shameful really, no-one bothers with worrying about perfectly good items,” she says.
“In recycle bins you can find almost anything, over the years I’ve donated to several different charities and put a lot of money into their coffers, just over pulling out things and recycling as well.”
Joe, ‘can specialist’ of seven years
Joe, 21, works as a yard hand at Thornton’s recycling depot in Thebarton.
“I’m a can specialist, that’s what my little brother calls me, who’s nine years old,” he says.
In his seven years working at the depot, Joe has gotten to know the 10 to 15 regulars who collect cans as a means of employment.
“The people who we get here are a bit rough around the edges … but once you actually spend a bit of time with them and get to know them they’re lovely people,” he says.
“I might go to town on a Friday night, go to a few bars, probably stumble home at 3:00am or what not, and I’ll see Gary collecting bottles and cans and he’ll give me a big hug.
“All my friends are sort of like, ‘what are you doing with that person’ and I’m like ‘that person is amazing if you just get to know him’.”
“Then you’ve got people who do it just in their own time, plod along, they’ll walk their dog, they’ll [pick up cans] just as they’re walking their dog.
“They’ll come in once a month with 50 bucks’ worth, and that pays your phone bill.”
He says he once had a person suggest that can collecting should be taxed, but he thought the suggestion was a bit rough.
“Yeah, they get their money tax-free, but when you think about it, they’re working 12-hour days to get maybe $80 at the end of night, you work that out, they’re getting [less than] $10 an hour.”
Kevin, $700 a week: ‘It’s like raining cans’
Kevin goes out at midnight every night and collects cans from midnight until 8:00am when the depot opens, making between $70 and $90 a night, “more than enough to live off”.
“You learn how to pick the areas and you learn where the most people are, and as soon as that place shuts, they’re just everywhere on the ground, it’s like raining cans,” he says.
“I’m paying my rent from picking up bottles … you learn to leave the big bottles, and you just go for the smaller, lighter items, otherwise you’re just struggling for not much money.
“It’s great, you’re by yourself, you’ve got no boss, you meet lots of interesting people, it’s just a great time to be out there making money.”
He believes other states are “crazy” to not have a scheme like South Australia’s.
“Adelaide looks so nice, we haven’t got a lot of rubbish laying around … I’m a Queensland boy and driving down here from New South Wales and that, you see it everywhere on the roads, it just looks so unsightly,” he says.
“Everyone’s out there … all sorts pensioners — young people, charities, schools — making money from keeping our beautiful state clean.”
Diane, $200 every two months
Diane looks after 30 people at a supportive care facility and uses the cash she gets for cans and bottles to shout them pizzas.
“About every two months I bring in a boot-load of cans and bottles and we squash the cans down to make sure we can fit more in the bags,” she says.
“So I bring about ten bags and it’s always over $200 … and then we buy drinks and pizzas and stuff and they’re all quite happy that we don’t throw that much money away.
“If you don’t recycle, you’re throwing money away.”