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An environmentally minded nine-year-old scout in Melbourne’s inner north has secured a recycling bin at his local park after Merri-bek Council backflipped on its decision to knock back his handwritten petition.
Earlier this year, Jack Adams decided to launch a campaign in his Brunswick East neighbourhood lobbying the council for public recycling bins after watching the general waste bins at his beloved Methven Park overflow with bottles and cans on high-traffic days.
Jack Adams with his handwritten petition for recycling bins, which was initially knocked back by Merri-bek Council.Credit: Penny Stephens
“People were just dumping the trash or recyclable stuff on the [ground],” said Adams, who comes to the park daily. “I felt bad.”
A scout of three years with the 5th Brunswick Scouts, Adams was keen to earn a ‘make a better world’ badge. He wrote up dozens of copies of a petition and dropped them in letterboxes near the park, receiving 36 signatures in total.
His dad Mark helped him submit his petition online to Merri-bek Council, which responded by inviting the youngster to present his petition in person at a meeting in June. Video of the meeting shows Adams receiving a round of applause from councillors and staff.
But last week the Adams family received a letter from a council officer rejecting the idea, saying “the success of existing recycling bins in public spaces has been low” due to contamination with landfill waste, and the best option was to install signage asking people to take their recyclables home instead.
Adams said that response had made him feel “sad and mad”.
“I thought they were going to do it,” he said. “We need a recycling bin in the park. We can’t just put stuff in red [lidded] bins because that goes to landfill and then [could go] to the ocean and kill creatures in the ocean.”
The council has placed recycling bins in other parks around the municipality, including at Fleming Park, 400 metres from Methven Park.
But on Tuesday, after receiving questions from The Age, the council backtracked and announced it would install a recycling bin in Methven Park for a 12-month trial.
“We want to send a big thank you to Jack for showing such wonderful leadership when it comes to reducing landfill and encouraging our community to keep their local parks clean,” a statement attributed to Acting Mayor Helen Davidson said.
The cost of dealing with waste from private and public bins has skyrocketed for councils since the collapse of the recycling industry, resulting in waste charges for rate-payers in all councils, which became a controversial flashpoint in City of Yarra earlier this year.
Merri-bek and surrounding councils said compliance with rules dictating what can go in recycling bins was generally poorer in public areas.
“Over recent years, particularly during some of the lockdowns, we experienced many visitors to our parks incorrectly disposing of waste in the wrong bin, and consequently there were large amounts of contamination occurring in our public bins,” Davidson said.
Jack Adams has become somewhat of a guardian of Methven Park.Credit: Penny Stephens
“We know that the best way to improve recycling is to have park users take recyclables home, where they can be rinsed off and placed in the correct bin.”
A spokesperson for neighbouring Darebin council, which usually pairs public waste bins with recycling bins, said smaller parks in the area didn’t have recycling bins due to contamination.
“For example, in some locations a high proportion of waste is doggie doo, and therefore a standalone garbage bin is the best solution,” they said.
Whittlesea council, to the north of Merri-bek, recently started trialling recycling bins at five parks in the municipality, and already provides them alongside general waste bins on shopping strips.
Both City of Melbourne and Whittlesea councils said use of public recycling bins would be reviewed after the introduction of the state government’s new Container Deposit Scheme in November, in which Victorians will receive a 10-cent refund for every eligible can, carton and bottle they return to one of 600 drop-off points.
Adams said other kids who felt strongly about cleaning up parks in their area should advocate like he had, while his mum Annie-Marie said this was unlikely to be his last environmental crusade.
“He’s doing another one where we’re going to South Melbourne beach with a metal detector to pick up rubbish soon,” she said, chuckling. “He’s [already] told his teacher at school he’s going to lead the class on a recycling project.”
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