Human 'Bin Chickens' Making Big Bucks With Your Rubbish

More than 1.3 billion containers have been collected and $130 million dollars made in the past 15 months since a container refund program was introduced.

The days of milk bottle recycling are making a comeback, with human “bin chickens” across NSW scourging city streets for recyclable containers to make some extra cash.

According to the NSW EPA, 5.8 million containers are collected every day via Return and Earn, with the total containers collected so far enough to stretch halfway to the moon.

The cash incentive for collecting containers has recently been introduced in Queensland,  and it has run in NSW since December 2017.

Christopher Cunneen may only be 11 years old but he has made $1,000 from collecting bottles since the scheme was introduced.

Christopher with his earnings.

He received 10c each for every recyclable container him and his mum collected.

His mother Karen McDowall said through the Return and Earn program Christopher had become environmentally conscious while also saving a large stash of pocket money.

“If we’re out and about and we see discarded bottles, we’ll collect them. I don’t think people realise that if you stick with it, it starts to add up to quite a lot of money,” she says.

For Mackay residents, Kirsty and Callum Kunze-Perry, returning recyclable containers has become a family affair.

The couple have put all their earnings towards their kids, splitting the spoils between the children’s bank accounts.

With their two-year-old Jack and newborn Layla, the family drive around the neighbourhood hunting for bottles to collect. They said it’s all about investing in their children’s financial future, as well as teaching them about recycling.

“We get our two-year-old helping out by putting the bottles into the tub, helping him get into the habit of recycling too. He loves putting money into his piggy bank, so sometimes we give him some coins instead of transferring so he can see his hard work has paid off,” Kirsty says.

Kirsty and Callum Kunze-Perry

While there are 230 container refund points across Queensland, NSW’s program is the most developed with 650 bins.

The growing uptake of container collections in Queensland has residents in Sarina and Mackay asking for more collection points, with bins often packed to the brim with containers and bottles spilling out onto the ground.

“We drive to the next town to take our bottles in as the bin down here is always full. There’s only one bin in Sarina. And while I love that we can take our bottles back, it’s a pain that all the bottles that can be returned have gone up in price,” Kirsty said.

While the NSW Environment Protection Agency claimed there’s been a massive 44 percent reduction in refundable containers found in NSW litter since the scheme began, others in the waste sector are questioning its validity.

Tony Khoury is the Executive Director of Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW. He is calling for the environmental impact of the scheme to be independently verified.

"There is absolutely no doubt that the bulk of the containers that are going into the container deposit scheme are containers that would have ordinarily been recycled anyway," Mr Khoury told ABC News.

There are also serious health and safety concerns, with human 'bin chickens' spotted rummaging through residential bins without gloves.

“We have observed under-privileged people trying to blow air into dirty, crushed plastic containers. Have they had their tetanus shots? Have they had their Hepatitis injections? Do they use safety gloves and other items of personal protective equipment? These are serious health and hygiene concerns,” Mr Khoury says.

The NSW EPA said it does not condone people going through other people’s bins and is working with local councils to discourage bin searching.

“Return and Earn has been a terrific success and has been embraced by the community. We know that many more containers are being collected by Return and Earn than were being captured in the kerbside system during the same period before Return and Earn, “ a NSW EPA spokesperson told 10 daily.