A famous episode of the TV show Seinfeld saw characters Kramer and Newman trying to make big dollars by transporting truckloads of empty containers to another town to cash them in for recycling refunds.
While the sitcom duo failed, the 15 members of Jerilderie’s Men’s Shed have had dramatic success – making tens of thousands of dollars over the past five years, which they’ve poured back into their community.
Their efforts were officially recognised with the men receiving a highly commended prize from the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW (KAB NSW) Sustainable Communities Tidy Towns Awards, a statewide initiative by a not-for-profit group that recognises outstanding environmental achievements.
Men’s Shed president Billy Ferris, 79, had the idea of making money for his town soon after the NSW Government introduced its Return and Earn scheme in 2017, whereby empty bottles and cans could be handed in to fixed deposit locations for a 10-cent refund.
“I have some mates around town we put these 44-gallon drums,” he said. “People can put their cans, bottles and stubbies in them and we collect them every month. Last year we collected over 100,000 containers, so made about $10,000.”
At first, Mr Ferris and his crew tried transporting the containers to Deniliquin, an hour away, to deposit them in the town’s Return and Earn machine. But much like Kramer and Newman, they quickly discovered the margins don’t work, given the cost of petrol.
But the Men’s Shed soon learned that collaboration could overcome obstacles.
“We collect them, then take them to Finley’s Men’s Shed, who organise for Cleanway [waste management company] to transport them to Sydney. We need two blokes to take the ute out and get the containers, and four blokes sorting them out – separating the cans and bottles, then pack and tie them.”
The money they earn goes to sustaining the Men’s Shed and is also donated to local charities.
“We bought a ute for $4000 and a trailer for $1000. We have also given money for drought and flood relief through the CWA [Country Women’s Association] and for the annual appeal for the Royal Children’s Hospital,” Mr Ferris said.
KAB NSW program and partnerships manager Elliot Stephens visited Jerilderie in April to present the award.
“What I find unique about this project is that the Men’s Shed have contributed the money they’ve raised back into the community … not to mention the sheer amount of bottles and cans they were able to collect. It’s the only award we gave to this region. The judges were impressed with the collaboration and the innovation,” he said.
“Our long-term employees were really happy that Jerilderie was able to get the recognition they deserved. They take the time and limited resources and do what they can to help others; it is something you don’t see in the city as much.”
Mr Ferris, who had a long career with Jerilderie Shire Council and the NSW Fire Brigade, thanked all the team at the Men’s Shed, the community who have supported the project and also Keep Australia Beautiful for the award.
“Tidy Towns put us up for the award and that’s how we got it. I didn’t even know we’d been nominated until they rang me up and told me I’d won,” he said.