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Person stands in their kitchen holding two different empty plastic bottles, a labelled recycling bin is beside them.
Photograph: SHVETS/Pexels

Did you know your recyclables can earn you cold hard cash?

Return and Earn points across Greater Sydney are reopening in stages

Olivia Gee
Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Olivia Gee
Alannah Le Cross

Have you ever reached the end of recycling week and had to do the awkward night-time run where you ashamedly slip your extra beer bottles into your neighbour’s yellow bin? Well, those days may be over, because the City of Sydney has rolled out a scheme to encourage Sydneysiders to donate their excess drink containers in return for a small profit.

The Return and Earn system offers recyclers a ten-cent refund for every bottle you bring to deposit locations around the city. You get the choice to redeem your earnings in the form of a shopping voucher at participating stores like Woolworths, as a cash or electronic transfer, or to donate the money to charities such as Oz Harvest and the McGrath Foundation.

As of September 15, 2021, Return and Earn points across Greater Sydney are reopening in stages, in line with the public health orders. You can check the status of your nearest return point online via the myTOMRA app here.

Your questions about Return and Earn, answered

Where can you take your bottles?

There’s four types of return points. You can take smaller quantities to over-the-counter deposits at participating news agencies or corner shops, and bring larger bundles to dedicated collection depots, where you’ll receive cash and sometimes electronic transfers.

Then there are the donation stations where you do a DIY deposit and pass on all your earnings to charity. But the most versatile option is the reverse vending machines (RVM), where you can choose from donating your earnings, receiving the dollar amount or getting a shopping voucher.

When Time Out visited a donation station, we learned it’s a simple process, but not all types of deposit facilities accept every kind of eligible material – we had to take our glass bottle home from the Central Station donation machine. So it’s worth checking the rules before you rock up with a wheelbarrow of bottles. It’s also pretty hard to find the more versatile RVMs in a CBD location, so you’ll want to head to the ’burbs if you’re looking to make a buck.

What can you deposit?

Any recyclable bottle between 150mL and 3L that is made of glass, aluminium, steel, liquid paperboard, and PET or HDPE plastics. So that’s your beer bottles, cans, juice cartons and water bottles. You can search the container database if you're not sure.

What’s off-limits?

Steer clear of things from large bottles that you’re likely to drink at home, as these can still find a happy resting place in your yellow bin. Think milk bottles, juice and cordial containers over 1L, wine or spirit bottles, anything that has contained liquid medicine, or the plastic bladders from cask wine or drinking water.

While the dollar payoff is a sweet bonus, this is all in an effort to clean up the city. Return and Earn was introduced in December 2017 as part of the NSW Government’s commitment to reducing litter by 40 per cent by 2020. Since then, the scheme has collected over 4 billion containers through its 600+ return points and has helped reduce the volume of eligible drink container litter across the state. Over the course of 20 years, they’re expecting to see 11 billion fewer drink containers in landfill.

Looking for fun? Here are the best things to do in Sydney this week.

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