Darryl Farquharson runs a not-for-profit recycling enterprise and employs about 12 staff. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
It’s an unusual question: how do you stop people from stealing rubbish?
But it’s one that a Darwin social enterprise hopes to have answered so it can continue to employ people with a disability.
Down Syndrome Association NT’s Cash for Containers program has been collecting recyclables since 2012, shortly after the government established a 10-cent buyback scheme for used cans and bottles.
“We thought okay, that would be an idea to put our guys in employment and give them work and teach them new skills,” support worker Darryl Farquharson said.
Rebecca Hell busily sorts through hundreds of recyclable containers. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
The association established an environmentally friendly scheme that turned trash into employment for the intellectually disabled.
Households and businesses in Darwin, Palmerston and the surrounding rural areas opt in to the scheme.
Employees collect their recyclable containers, often put to the kerb in specially marked bins, and bring them back to a steamy sorting facility in Leanyer.
There, others meticulously sort them before they are returned for the cash that will wind up in their pockets.
Today, Mr Farquharson employs about a dozen staff who sort through waste for four or five hours several times a week.
In return they earn a living, but also benefit from the structure and social opportunities a working roster provides.
“The best part of working here is all my friends,” said Callum Batemen, one of several employees who has been able to find long-term work through the initiative.
“They have developed a lot, they get a bit of structure in their life, and they do like routine,” Mr Farquharson, who has worked with some employees since they were 15, said.
Hours cut because of theft
But the outfit has recently had to wind back some of its staffing hours, with Mr Farquharson fearing more cutbacks if people continue to steal containers from their bins.
The organisation relies on grants and occasional donations to recuperate some of the significant expenses of its rubbish collection operation.
But thousands upon thousands of containers are required to cover the shortfall from paying staff wages.
“So the whole business operates on the number of containers that we collect — as simple as that,” Mr Farquharson said.
Kyle Adams sorts crates of glass containers into skip bins according to their colour. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
He said the problem of people stealing containers from their bins, presumably to pocket the refund, had become worse in recent months.
Neighbours of people who put their containers out frequently contact the enterprise to report theft from the marked bins, occasionally even when they have been left inside the premises.
“These people that think we’re collecting or have collected, when in fact it’s just someone going in there and misidentifying themselves,” Mr Farquharson said.
“I’ve actually caught a few of them in the act, and they’re just blatant in the act. They don’t care. It’s very sad.”
Mr Farquharson said he believed the theft of rubbish was illegal because it wasn’t classified as public property, even if it had been placed on the kerb.
But even then, he acknowledged the charity’s options were few.
“Even catching people in the act, I haven’t got the power to arrest them and the police are busy. I don’t think it would go anywhere if it was reported.”
If it continues, it’s his staff who stand to lose out.
“Basically, we obviously have to cut hours, so that puts their life way out of whack,” Mr Farquharson said.
“They’re used to coming to work on Monday and Tuesday and starting and finishing at certain times.
“When we say OK, we don’t have enough containers for you to sort, don’t come tomorrow … they’re at a bit of a loss.”