"Bottles for the bush" appeal aids rural communities during Australia’s devastating bushfires and drought

In late 2019, record-breaking temperatures and months of drought fueled a series of massive bushfires across Australia. 99% of New South Wales and 66% of Queensland were officially in drought, and the drought was entering its third year with no sign of letting up. 53% of New South Wales and 87% of Queensland were already in a state of “high fire danger”, and with the onset of summer, the situation was only going to get worse. “This drought, the worst in about 160 years, is really starting to grind people down,” shared Charles Alder, Rural Aid Founder.

One of Australia’s largest rural charities

Rural Aid was founded in 2015 and is one of Australia’s largest rural charities. They provide financial assistance, water and counselling to farmers in times of drought, flood or fire. Their programs are designed with “rebuilding and repairing in mind” seeking to deliver relief, companionship, a helping hand, a caring ear, and a hope for the future.

The real challenge at the time was just being able to sustain the farmers on the land, to keep them farming. There were three key things farmers were looking for in the drought. Firstly, to be able to buy feed for their animals. Here Rural Aid provided diesel to both farmers and trucking companies to be able to transport hay. A second need was drinking water, mostly to just do the basic things, like brushing their teeth, having a wash and doing laundry. Rural Aid was therefore doing a lot of water deliveries to communities in need. Thirdly, just putting the basics on the table. Rural Aid funded some of these families so they could buy groceries and pay for the essential services their families needed.

Engaging the recyling community

TOMRA created the recycling appeal Bottles For The Bush in partnership with Rural Aid. Recyclers could donate their drink containers to Bottles For The Bush directly from the screen of every TOMRA reverse vending machine across New South Wales, Queensland and NT. Every eligible bottle and can recycled and donated would raise 10 cents for Rural Aid. The campaign ran for 16 weeks in total, from November 4, 2019 to February 23, 2020. All funds raised would go directly to Rural Aid to help provide the support required for rural communities. The goal was to raise AU$250 000 for people affected by drought and bushfires.

TOMRA reverse vending machines feature a powerful donation feature, managed through the TOMRA Connect portfolio of digital products. The feature is typically used in Australia to offer recyclers a choice of four donation options with a mix of national and local charities, which are changed out quarterly for greater involvement, visibility and fundraising opportunities for these organizations. With a severe and urgent cause like the drought and bushfires in Australia, TOMRA was able to use its Internet of Things platform to centrally launch a nation-wide campaign toward one specific donation partner.

By engaging with the community for the Bottles For The Bush campaign, it was possible for everyone to do a double good deed and support those who experienced the devastating consequences of these fires. Craig Marsh, Business Development Manager at Rural Aid, says that the people out there who have made donations with their bottles have provided farmers with drinking water so they can actually survive.

“We love living out here, but the reason we’re able to live out here is because the people in the city buy our produce, so at times like this to have their awareness of our situation and to have assistance come forward from people who we’ve never met before, it’s huge. It can’t be overstated, the importance of an organization like Rural Aid in terms of mental health and survival,” Rob Lennon, a Dunedoo farmer, shared. “Without Rural Aid, I don’t think I would be still on the land,” said Jason Abbott, a farmer from Leadville.

Reaching the goal and taking it one step further

The initial target of raising AU$250 000 for Rural Aid was reached within nine weeks; by February 1 it was up to AU$440 000. A new target was set for AU$500 000. Finally, after 16 weeks, the fundraising appeal reached a tremendous AU$512 258, more than double the original target. By late December 2019, overall New South Wales consumer participation in the container deposit scheme had risen to 60% (from 54% in June) and a campaign reach of over 100 million views. There was a 500% increase in the number of containers recyclers were choosing to donate, rather than pocketing the refund themselves.

What does AU$512 258 mean for these communities and farmers? These donations could be translated into 10 245 meals, 25 612 hay bales or 256 129 liters of water. The Bottles For The Bush campaign has made a huge impact on the struggling rural communities and farmers in Australia.