16 May 2024

Kiama's recycling heroes lift the lid on plastic waste - one grandkid visit at a time

| Dione David
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Kiama resident Peter Maywald stands next to boxes of plastic lids bound for Lids4Kids depot in Canberra

Peter Maywald and his wife Boni have transported countless plastic lids to a depot in Canberra to be recycled into colourful park benches, toys and furniture. Photos: Peter and Boni Maywald.

Every month or so when Kiama residents Peter and Boni Maywald make the trip to Canberra to visit the grandkids, hitching a ride with them are about eight garbage bags and boxes full of colourful plastic bottle and drinkable yoghurt pouch lids bound for the nearest Lids4Kids depot in the industrial suburb of Fyshwick.

There, having escaped the fate of 2.1 million tonnes of plastic that end up in Australian landfill each year, they’re sorted by colour, shredded, melted down and repurposed into vibrant and useful items like public park benches, kindergarten furniture, outdoor tables and building blocks, which are sold to raise funds to keep the charity operation running.

Peter has never done the math on how many lids he must have taken to the Lids4Kids depot but has been hauling about eight bags monthly for a few years now.

The Kiama “operation” is the very definition of grassroots community work. People bring their lids to Kiama Community Garden and Kiama-Jamberoo Uniting Church, and they all end up under the carport at Peter and Boni’s retirement unit until their next trip to the nation’s capital.

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Lids4Kids Australia was founded in 2019 as a 100 per cent volunteer project by Canberra-based dad Tim Miller. When the ACT Government advised him that any piece of plastic smaller than a credit card couldn’t be recycled and had to go to landfill, he set out to find an alternative.

The organisation’s initial 250,000 lids collection target was achieved within weeks and after several months more than five million lids had been donated. Today, the organisation has collected about 100 million lids for recycling into plastic projects that benefit the communities in which they were collected.

Based on his small local sampling, these numbers don’t come as a big surprise to Peter.

“We haven’t actively campaigned because we simply don’t have the storage capacity, but even without any publicity, we get a large volume,” he says.

“Most people when they start collecting their lids are surprised how quickly they add up – all of a sudden you have a bag full. Then you have eight [bags].”

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There’s no shortage of lids, and Peter reckons there would be no bounds to what the operation could achieve in the Illawarra – but there are logistic constraints that have nothing to do with supply or the wider community’s commitment to reducing, reusing and recycling.

“We don’t have the capacity right now to collect more. We would need a lot more storage space for the lids and a more efficient means of getting them to a Lids4Kids depot,” he says.

“If we had a local depot, and started actually requesting lids, I think the volumes would be enormous … In the meantime, what we really need is a sponsor who can offer us storage space, and who perhaps makes regular trips to Canberra and can drop them off at the depot there.

“Then there’s no telling what we could achieve.”

If you or your business can help Lids4Kids in the Illawarra, message Lids4Kids Australia on Facebook.

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