Recycling hero 10-cent Tom contributes to climate action by collecting beverage containers

Teenage entrepreneur, Tom Pirie, uses the Queensland deposit return scheme to build his own business, save up for a house and encourage his community to take part in climate action.

I love collecting all this. This is my pride and joy. And I like doing it because I'm helping save the planet.

Tom Pirie, 10-cent Tom

Tom Pirie, better known as 10-cent Tom, is an 18-year-old recycling entrepreneur from the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. He has an intellectual impairment and was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at the age of 15. 

10-cent Tom began his recycling journey back in 2018 when the state of Queensland kicked off its Containers For Change deposit return system. Here, consumers can claim 10 cents per eligible container returned for recycling. 10-cent Tom came up with a brilliant business model to help save the planet: he collects empty drink containers from his friends, family and neighbors in his community. When he has collected enough, he returns the containers to his local recycling center for payout of the recycling deposit refunds. 

A role model for active change 

“When I first started, I probably only had three or four crates. This has grown into my 10-cent Tom business,” he explains. Within a couple of months, 10-cent Tom had more than a dozen container return bins that can be seen all over the Gold Coast. His initial project has turned into a sustainable business that is supported by some local firms as well. Today, he has over 75 10-cent Tom branded wheelie bins across the Gold Coast for collecting containers. He collects up to 12,000 containers per week from the bins, and from people messaging him daily through his website and Facebook page.

10-cent Tom gets back the container refunds through TOMRA’s recycling center in Varsity Lakes, Queensland. As a result of 10-cent Tom’s hard work towards protecting the environment and engaging people with disabilities, TOMRA recognized his accomplishments and announced him the winner of TOMRA’s first ever “Ecopreneur Award” and provided him with decals to help brand his collection bins. Tom’s actions have inspired people with disabilities to participate in his sustainable activities that encourage them to take active change. The recycling hero collects on average 500 containers every weekend and it could accumulate to 6,000 containers a week from groups, neighbors and businesses in his community. Tom has appeared on local TV news for his recycling efforts.

In December 2020, Tom also joined the TOMRA team and is now employed as a Customer Experience Ambassador at their recycling center in Varsity Lakes. His new job entails greeting customers, helping with any questions, assisting with the machines and providing further customer service. Tom is working part-time and still running his 10-Cent Tom business.  

Tom explains that his goals for the future are to have his own 10-cent Tom depot, where he can employ people with disabilities and continue to grow his business. He has so far collected more than 300,000 containers, receiving over AU$30,000 in recycling refunds. “I love collecting all this. This is my pride and joy and I like doing it because I’m helping save the planet,” says 10-cent Tom. 

Video credit: Containers For Change deposit return scheme in Queensland, Australia.