Tom Pirie, who is perhaps better known by his moniker 10 Cent Tom, is a living legend in Queensland and beyond, and for good reason: he recycles. While you may not know his story, you’ve almost certainly seen one of his business’s container return bins, as there are quite a few across the Gold Coast.
Tom’s recycling journey started in 2018 when Queensland launched Containers For Change, a system offering consumers 10 cents for each eligible container that they returned for recycling. This is where Tom, a young teenager at the time, saw an opportunity and decided to launch his own recycling business. His business, 10-Cent Tom, has proliferated over the years. By 2021, 10-Cent Tom was recycling 6,000 containers a week. As of this year, the company collects up to 20,000 containers a week from their bins and the many people who message them through their Facebook page and website.
Despite having been born with an intellectual impairment and later being diagnosed with severe scoliosis, Tom has strived to reach his goals in life, which include saving up for a house, encouraging fellow Australians to take action when it comes to protecting our environment and employing other people with disabilities. Lofty goals, surely, but Tom is working hard to make all of this a reality and his story, if nothing else, should serve as inspiration for all of us.
“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
TOMRA, a Norwegian company that provides machinery for material recovery facilities and works with Containers for Change, operates a recycling centre in Varsity Lakes, Queensland where Tom has returned thousands of containers for recycling over the years. In 2020, TOMRA hired Tom as a Customer Experience Ambassador at their Varsity Lakes recycling centre, a job that entails providing customer service, greeting customers, assisting with machines, and answering questions. The company also awarded him with their first-ever “Ecopreneur Award” for his many accomplishments.
Earlier this year, Tom’s business purchased a new van, the second vehicle that his company has added to its fleet. With the additional vehicle, he’s now that much closer to his dream of opening his own depot where he can employ other people who are living with disabilities. Not only does Tom want to employ other people who are disabled, he also wants them to feel included, he told 7NEWS.
“(I want to) give them a job and make them feel included.”
— Tom Pirie, 10 Cent Tom
While Tom’s actions have certainly played their part in helping protect our environment, there remains much work to be done. In 2019, a study found that an estimated 12-20% of the e-waste in Australia was being recycled. E-waste includes televisions, laptops, printers and many other products that many of us use regularly. It also includes vapes, which are a relatively new form of e-waste that, like the other electronics mentioned, can be recycled despite the reality that they’re often discarded in rubbish bins. In Queensland, vapers can recycle their vaping devices and unused e-liquid at community pharmacies and public health units by dropping them in a Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) bin.
Instead of discarding recyclable waste in a rubbish bin for the garbo to collect and haul away to a dump where it will sit in a landfill, we should all strive to recycle as much of our waste as possible so that it can be repurposed, rather than allowing it to waste away or worse yet, pose a threat to our environment.
So while Tom is busy collecting and recycling cans, the rest of us can play our own part in keeping the Gold Coast’s future bright and clean by recycling our waste. Whether that means dropping off unused batteries at a B-Cycle drop-off point or merely dropping waste in the correct bin so that it can be sorted at a recycling centre, we should all be like Tom and make that extra effort to keep our future bright by safeguarding our environment. To help Tom and support his mission, you can donate to his registered charity, save your containers and drop them off for 10 Cent Tom to recycle, purchase merch like 10 Cent Tom t-shirts and bottle openers, and you can add a 10 Cent Tom recycling bin to your business, complex, or event.