James Jayatilaka has recently been named Young Canberra Citizen of the Year 2019 in the environment and sustainability section for his innovative contribution to recycling – but as it’s now National Recycling Week, he’s not slowing down to celebrate.
Thirteen-year-old James is explaining how he developed the enterprise that won him the award and helped make him an ambassador for the Container Deposit Scheme (CDS).
“Knocking on the door and asking them to help you is probably the best way,” he says. “Don’t just drop a flier in the letterbox.”
It all started with a simple goal.
“I wanted to buy a saxophone. Mum said, ‘Why don’t you collect the 10-cent containers to save up?’”
James embraced the idea and went all in. His sister Rachael helped him come up with the name for his fledgling container collection business: Cans in Crates. She also designed a logo and a flier.
The CDS provided James with fliers showing which cans and bottles can be deposited.
He bought stacks of milk crates from The Green Shed to collect containers.
Then it was time to drum up some customers.
James grew his business organically, knocking on doors in his area and talking to neighbours face to face.
“I started in our street and then expanded. I would just say, ‘Hi, I wondered if you could help me by collecting your 10-cent containers for me. I will pick them up each Saturday.’”
On that first Saturday, he rode around collecting the bottles. It took him ages and when he came home, he still needed to sort them.
The effort and time that went into sorting the brown glass from the green glass, and then unscrewing all the lids, discouraged James greatly. It was unsustainable long term; he needed to streamline.
James modified his trailer to carry four separate containers that he could use to sort bottles and cans quickly on the go. Later, he added a yoghurt container to pop the bottle lids into as he went.
“The lids go to Lids 4 Kids, where they get converted into artificial limbs for kids,” he explains.
The public response took James by surprise. Canberra locals were excited to see a young person so focused on working towards a goal.
Calvary Haydon Retirement Community was particularly supportive. James met with the village president and was able to leave several crates at the village that fill up regularly.
Cans and Crates was booming.
In fact, James found that collecting cans was becoming an ordeal that consumed his weekend. “Plus I had to do chores when I got home! Sometimes when I got home, we had to go straight to the depot,” he said.
Younger brothers Toby and Josh wanted a piece of the action, so James had them take over some of his streets. He continued to streamline his method, bringing the business back under control.
Starting Cans in Crates has been transformational for James.
His mum, Jodie, says, “I have seen a change in him, a confidence. He is developing his own identity and making his own way – as a kid entrepreneur.”
James is an ambassador for the CDS. He often advises locals on what they can and cannot deposit, and explains and promotes cleaner recycling.
He says the scheme teaches kids of all ages to be environmentally aware and is a safe way for them to earn money.
He and his mum want to pay it forward and inspire other young Canberrans to get out there and be their own boss.
To this end, they have set up a website, Canberra Kids Collecting.
The easy-to-read site informs budding young entrepreneurs on topics such as how to start their own business, how to make a flier and what to put on it.
It is full of suggestions, information, support – a place where young people can inspire one another.
James freely shares his experience and all the efficiency tweaks and tricks he has learned along the way.
And did he ever get the saxophone? James grins and shakes his head, no.
Someone on his container run kindly loaned him a saxophone but he discovered that playing it ruined his mouth position for the trombone he was already playing. So, he opted to upgrade his trombone instead.
“In six months, I had $1500 and bought a bass trigger trombone,” James recalled. “I sent all my customers a photo [of the trombone] and a gift bag.”
Check out the website: Canberra Kids Collecting or follow it on Instagram. Canberra Kids Collecting uses the hashtag #beyourownboss. Maybe this will spark the imagination of a young person in your life.