What Is Return and Earn Recycling?

September 23, 2021

Does being paid to recycle rubbish sound too good to be true? The NSW government has developed a return and earn recycling initiative that rewards individuals for responsibly disposing of certain recyclable materials. 

Believe it or not, engaging in the program is much easier to do than you think. With a bit of research and motivation, you could be receiving compensation for positive recycling habits and contributing to the conservation of resources.

What Is the Return and Earn Recycling Program?

Frankly, looking at the Australian and global recycling statistics of previous years can be discouraging. As a society, we generate a substantial amount of waste and use up a lot of resources. Not only does much of our waste end up in landfills and have harmful outcomes for the environment, but it also costs a lot of money to manage and keep our communities clean.

However, we are getting better at recycling and becoming more conscious when it comes to using natural resources. In 2017, the NSW state government established a return and earn recycling scheme encouraging individuals and organisations to take responsibility for their waste management. Since its inception, nearly 6 billion (yes, billion!) drink containers have been returned through the schemes’ collection centres.

While 6 billion may seem like a huge number, it is more realistic when you consider that 160 million bottles and cans are littered in NSW every year.

With 627 locations across the state, the recycling program is widely accessible and only growing. These collection points can collect and store products of various material types before they are collected for processing.  

The materials of recyclable products for the program include: 

  • Aluminium, 
  • Cask (Cardboard, foil, and plastic)
  • Glass
  • HDPE
  • LDPE
  • LBP (e.g. UHT Milk) 
  • LPB Gable Top
  • PET
  • PVC
  • Steel cans

What Containers Can You Return and Earn?

So, what containers can you return and earn, with the NSW program? Well, the scheme focuses on reducing litter and collecting recyclable containers that are typically consumed on the go. 

The containers that are eligible for return and earn include:

The eligible containers are typically between 150 millilitres and 3 litres and will have a 10c label on them to verify their eligibility. If you are unsure about the eligibility of your container, you can also search it in the Return and Earn Database.

It is essential to carefully select which containers you take to the collection point as not all bottles are suitable for recycling and refund. Items that are not refundable include

  • Milk containers
  • Glass wine bottles
  • Glass spirit bottles
  • Juice bottles of more than 1 litre
  • Cordial bottles

While these items may not be eligible for return and earn recycling, it is still vital to responsibly dispose of them. They can be placed in your household recycling bin and are not considered rubbish.  

What Happens to Return and Earn Bottles?

The return and earn collection points store the recyclable material, which is then collected on a routine basis. Let’s take a closer look at how bottle recycling return and earn works.

Glass Bottles

Once your glass bottle has been returned and you have earned your reward, it is collected and transported to a glass processing facility. When the glass bottles reach the processing facility, they are crushed into small pieces known as cullet. The crushed glass is then processed and transported to a recycling plant, where it will be remade into something new. This process occurs across many domestic facilities throughout Australia, forming a growing recycling industry. 

Contaminated material, including lids and labels, is removed at the recycling plant, and the glass is sorted by colour. The crushed glass is then mixed in with raw materials like sand and melted down. At a specific temperature, the glass mixture turns into a hot liquid which can then be moulded or blown into a new shape, such as a bottle. Newly formed glass bottles are then distributed to beverage companies who fill them with their product, label them, and distribute them to shops and consumers as brand-new products. This process can be very efficient; the bottle you just returned could be sitting back in a supermarket in as little as one to two months!

These facilities and processes can repeatedly recycle glass bottles in an environmentally friendly and sustainable method. The return and earn recycling process is a closed-looped system, as the products do not enter a landfill. 

Plastic Bottles

Plastic waste is a real issue. Plastic bottles are made on an enormous scale, and if not recycled correctly, an energy and resource-intensive process is required to produce new ones. Making plastic bottles from raw materials also uses petroleum, a resource everyone is trying to use less of worldwide. Although the little plastic bottle you put into a reverse vending machine may seem insignificant, it goes on quite the journey to be recycled.

The plastic materials are collected in a regular cycle, just like the glass bottles. They are then taken to facilities purpose-built for the return and earn scheme. These facilities process millions of containers a day. They begin by sorting and baling the plastic bottles. From there, the bales are taken to a recycling facility and shredded into small plastic pellets. These pellets are then easily formed and shaped into small preform bottles. Preformed bottles then get blown up into the desired shape and shipped off to beverage companies. This process saves an extraordinary amount of plastic waste from harming our land and oceans. 

So, what happens to return and earn bottles? They are recycled in a closed-loop system which saves an enormous amount of energy and resources. In a short space of time, they are taken from waste material and converted back into usable products for consumers. 

How To Return and Earn         

We have gone through the ins and outs of the materials and their recycling journey, but the question of “how to return and earn?” remains. Well, the process is simple and only involves a few steps.

Step 1. Sort Your Containers

To save time when you arrive at the collection point, separate glass containers from plastic and cans. There is also no need to remove bottle tops and lids if you use an express bulk depot.

Now that your materials are separated, ensure they are in a suitable condition for recycling. If they are damaged, crushed or have remaining liquid, the collection point will not accept them for recycling.

Step 2. Find Your Return and Earn Recycling Depot

With everything ready to go, all you need to do is return and earn! If you already know where your closest collection point is, great, head on down. Once you arrive, follow the onscreen prompts and get recycling! If you are unsure where your closed collection point is, you can use this Return Point Finder.

There are four types of return points, these are:

1. Reverse Vending Machine

A reverse vending machine is exactly what it sounds like, you insert your recyclable items, and it provides you with a refund. These self-service machines are found in many locations across the state and are suitable for up to 500 containers loads. All you need to do is place your glass containers in one shoot and the plastic and cans in the other. These are usually open seven days a week with extended hours. They accept three refund types: PayPal refunds via the MyTomra App, retail vouchers at participating retailers, and donations.

2. Automated Depots

Automated depots are specialist staffed centres where you can dispose of any number of containers for automatic counting. After completing the process, the assistant will issue you a refund. Just be sure to check the opening hours before you go. At these locations, you can receive electronic and cash payments or donate your refund to a charity.

3. Over The Counter

You can also return and earn at participating local businesses. They will receive your containers and issue you with a cash or electronic refund.

What containers can you return and earn at over-the-counter sites? It is the same as any other site; however, they usually accept no more than 100 bottles at a time.

4. Donation Stations

These collection points will not supply you with a cash refund; instead, they will donate your refund to charity. These are typically located in high traffic areas such as the CBD, Service NSW offices and places like Taronga zoo. They are great for reducing your footprint on the fly.

What Happens to Return and Earn Bottles That Aren’t Accepted?

Unsure what containers are eligible for return and earn or what to do with the containers not accepted by the collection points? Professional rubbish removal services such as Ridly Rubbish Recycling are here to help when needed. We know that households, businesses, and industrial locations have much more than a few bottles to recycle or dispose of. While return and earn recycling is excellent, there is a long way to go to improving our recycling systems.

With Ridly Rubbish Removal, you can be confident that we will recycle the most material possible and responsibly dispose of the rest. We offer same-day rubbish removal services across Sydney, including Commercial Rubbish Removal, Household Rubbish Removal and Electronic Waste Removal. Call our friendly team today for a free quote and more information about our services. 

Ready to be rid of it? Grab a quick quote from our team.

Call us on 0488 846 336.

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