May 18, 2008
The drive to recycle bottles
By Neil Wiseman
THOSE thrifty people who believed that "if you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves" took their empty soft-drink glass bottles back to the shop and claimed the refund of their penny or tuppence (two pennies) deposit.
Those who didn't, and left the bottles lying around, provided a pocket-money supplement for any kid who found one, a source of income for enterprising down-and-outs, and rich pickings for schools, charities, community organisations and other fund-raisers. It solved a few litter problems, too.
The young bottle-o's (right) are at East Brisbane State School in 1951, when they were trying to raise money towards a school tennis court. Their target was 30,000 bottles which would have meant a cash injection of about £150, just under $5000 at today's values.
A small bottle might be re-used up to 40 times (Australian Grocer, 1956) so in pre-plastic days it was in the interest of breweries and lolly-water manufacturers to retrieve as many as they could, and some commercial operations did nothing else. The picture (below) is of the Queensland Bottling Company in 1950 in Bowen Bridge Rd, where Horace St now leads to the Inner City Bypass and tunnel entrance. The blokes are working flat-strap, cleaning and sorting dead marines from all over the state "in an effort to overcome the country's bottle shortage" (The Courier-Mail).
"Thousands of bottles are carted into city bottle yards every day . . . before being redistributed. Queensland needs more than a million bottles a year. Even so, large quantities are sent to other states."
The bottle drive was as essential a fund-raiser as that chocolate drive for your children's kindergarten is today. "Sale of empty bottles has yielded £860 for Southport Olympic Pool Committee funds" (1955). "Thirty members of a youth club collected 4000 empty bottles in a bottle drive at Inala yesterday" (1957).
There was also money back on turpentine and methylated spirits bottles.
Paper was a charity collectable, too. Forty years ago, some schools, State High among them, collected newspapers to send to Papua New Guinea so people there could have something into which to roll tobacco for cigarettes. This contribution to pulmonary and cardio-vascular problems in the Third World was regarded as a good deed.Depositing empties
THE size of the deposit on soft-drink bottles was determined by the manufacturer. In 1964, for example, it was a third of the purchase price of a "family size" Coca-Cola, for which you paid one shilling and six pence, of which six pence was refundable. But Helidon soft drinks and Tristrams had only a three pence deposit on a similar-sized bottle for one shilling and five pence.
Returning the bottles could be fraught. Some small shopkeepers would pay a refund on only those bottles which they could be persuaded were bought at that shop. And in Rockhampton, the Housewives Association bristled in 1964 because some shops and cinemas gave refunds only in the form of lollies. Others paid the refund only if the customer bought another soft drink.
Money-back-on-the-bottle petered out in the 1980s in Australia, with the switch largely to plastic as a beverage container. The exception is South Australia, which maintains a refundable deposit on containers. It maintains the tradition of kids collecting them for a good cause, too. The Miltaburra Area School at Streaky Bay has just reported: "$1000 raised through can and bottle drive by Year 6-10 students, for camp."