Queanbeyan Return and Earn machine causes community frustration

People line up to use the Return and Earn reverse vending machine in Queanbeyan. Photo: Elliot Williams
People line up to use the Return and Earn reverse vending machine in Queanbeyan. Photo: Elliot Williams

The Return and Earn reverse vending machine in the Queanbeyan Woolworths carpark is causing community resentment with complaints it is too slow and regularly breaks down.

Return and Earn is a NSW government initiative aimed at reducing the number of drink containers littering the natural environment and is administered by the Environment Protection Authority.

Across the state there are a variety of collection points both staffed and automated. Queanbeyan has a return vending machine that can accept up to 500 containers per transaction and provides a refund either through a voucher, PayPal payment or charitable donation.

However consumer advocate Ben Gershon said issues with the system, particularly frequent jams and speed of operation, are leaving people dissatisfied.

“If anything would make you discouraged to recycle, that system does,” Mr Gershon said.

He said on the multiple occasions he has witnessed the system in operation there were up to seven people lined up waiting to use the machine and at least that many walked away in frustration.

There are issues with the machines not recognising barcodes even on accepted containers and some community members have suggested the machines should accept a broader range of containers.

The Return and Earn website says most containers between 150 mililitres and three litres are eligible but require the original label still attached.

A spokesman from the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council confirmed the council received regular complaints about the system however the facility is not the responsibility of the council.

Social media posts indicate people are also frustrated by rubbish that is dumped at the site.

Mr Gershon suggested a better system would be to have someone employed to accept the containers and this could be done in conjunction with supermarkets.

“If the supermarkets are going to sell these containers they should be prepared to take them back,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the NSW EPA would not confirm whether the agency was considering any alternative forms of collection for Queanbeyan.

However she did say the Queanbeyan reverse vending machine was one of the most popular in regional NSW with more than 1.6 million containers returned at the site.

She said the network operator, TOMRA Cleanaway, receives an electronic notification as machines near capacity.

“They are emptied on a regular basis, and as demand requires,” she said.

“Maintenance is carried out regularly as needed on the Queanbeyan reverse vending machine and it is cleaned four times a day.”

Members of the community are encouraged to report any complaints regarding the machines to TOMRA Cleanaway on 1800 290 691.