Our Say | When winning the popularity contest is bad news

IT’S hard to know what to make of the NSW Government’s Return and Earn container deposit scheme.

When a new government scheme is introduced to a storm of criticism, it’s usually because it’s seen as unpopular, unlikely to ever gain widespread acceptance and unable to show any tangible benefits.

Return and Earn – the recycling arrangement in which you receive a 10 cent refund by taking eligible containers to reverse vending machines – bucks that trend.

In Return and Earn, the NSW Government has a scheme that is wildly popular, incredibly well-accepted and showing very obvious benefits: at least some of those plastic water bottles and glass beer bottles being fed into the machine near you would have only recently been lying around on the grass somewhere.

It could, in fact, be the first NSW Government scheme in history that is being roundly criticised because people like it too much.

People liked it so much that they wondered why their town or city didn’t have a reverse vending machine available on the day the scheme kicked off.

When they got that vending machine – and some places have still yet to become part of that select company – they liked the scheme so much that they were unhappy about having to queue at that single reverse vending machine while others did their depositing.

In Bathurst, people like the scheme so much that they are causing noise and traffic concerns for those who live in the vicinity of the machine in South Bathurst.

They like the scheme so much that the machine, some say, should really be in an industrial and not a residential area.

In Young, meanwhile, they like Return and Earn so much that there have been reports of people being spotted at night taking bottles and cans from other people’s council recycling bins.

It’s a curious situation. Who knew so many people were waiting to do something more productive with all that discarded aluminium and glass?

If you’d offered the NSW Government the choice a year ago of Return and Earn being widely ignored or wildly popular, it’s safe to say it would have chosen the popular option.

But popularity brings its own pressures. There might be some people in Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton’s office who are thinking wistfully of the days when the best a new government scheme could hope for was hostility and indifference.