How our small decisions have big impacts

Recycler Keith Lockwood.
Recycler Keith Lockwood.

The machine in the Woolworths car park is a bit of economic engineering. It’s designed to make us change our habits by altering the costs and benefits of doing something.

If you were about to throw a can out of the car window, you might hesitate with the thought of 10 cents in your mind.

Or if you were about to put the bottle in the yellow-lid bin at the back of the house, you might think: “Maybe not – I’ll go to Woolworths instead”.

And if you were going to Coles but had bottles, you might divert to Woolworths (which does not pay or get paid for allowing the facility on its property). 

So there are a whole heap of economic calculations with consequences.

For example, Glen Industries currently sorts the recycled material in Glen Innes. It is collected by a contractor for the council and delivered to their depot. They then sell the sorted material.

If the reverse vending machine diverts bottles from Glen Industries, then Glen Industries’ income might be hit. If, on the other hand, it merely means more bottles and cans are recycled, then it’s a gain for everyone.

In the past, Glen Industries’ manager, Kylie Hawkins, has voiced unhappiness about the way some people and businesses discard all kinds of useless waste in recycling bins.

She was not available for comment on the impact of the new scheme at the time of writing.

At Woolworths, one recycler had driven his truck from Emmaville packed with hundreds of cans and bottles. He clearly got more money back than the cost of the petrol.

But driving only, say, a kilometer with a few cans wouldn’t cover the petrol – and it would burn more CO2 than gets saved in the recycling.

Drink container litter makes up 44 per cent of the volume of all litter in the state and costs more than $162 million to manage. Return and Earn will be the largest litter-reduction scheme introduced in NSW.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority