Common recycling choice costing NSW homes over $100 a year

While more than $900 million has been sent back to the community through the Return and Earn scheme, others prefer kerbside recycling.

In less than five years $900 million has been paid to people recycling containers through the NSW Return and Earn scheme. An impressive nine billion bottles and cans have been processed through the program, with each item deposited earning recyclers 10 cents a pop.

Despite its popularity, figures indicate 2.73 billion containers have been thrown into recycling bins since 2017. While that's still great for the environment, it does mean some residents are forgoing their 10-cent deposit.

For those households using just 20 containers a week, not using the scheme is costing them just over $100 a year. Every empty slab of beer not sent to Return and Earn is a loss of $2.40, and every six-pack is 60 cents.

Pictured is a wad of cash and some recycling bins on a Sydney street. Source: AAP/Getty
More than nine billion containers have been recycled through Return and Earn. Source: AAP/Getty

Despite some households not wishing to participate, NSW government figures indicate 82 per cent of residents have taken part in the scheme and 89 per cent now support it.

Return and Earn has even proved so popular that some container collectors have angered neighbours by rummaging through their bins for discarded cans and bottles.

Why some NSW residents aren't using Return and Earn

Speaking to staff members around the Yahoo office who recycle but don't use Return and Earn, the major reason behind that decision appeared to be issues of convenience and more importantly a lack of financial incentives.

Andrew from the sports team said his household of three uses between 20 and 30 containers a week, meaning they're missing out on between $104 to $156 a year. "I'm a creature of convenience," he said. "It's not a big saving, but if I was saving thousands maybe I'd do it."

Andrew, Caitie and Garry sitting at their desks inside the Yahoo office.
Andrew, Caitie and Garry are three members of Yahoo staff who don't use Earn and Rewards. Source: Yahoo

Social Video Producer Caitie said her household only uses around five containers a week, meaning annual earnings would only be $26 if she participated in the scheme.

Yahoo's Head of Video, Garry, said while his wife loves the scheme, he's not convinced. Because his family only uses 15 cans and bottles a week, they only return them to outlets every few months. "It just means you've got a bag filled with stuff lying around," Garry said.

Containers that can't be taken to Return and Earn

  • Milk containers

  • Juice bottles 1 litre and over

  • Cordial containers

  • Wine and spirit bottles

$42 million raised for charity through container scheme

Redirecting earnings to charity rather than pocketing them is an option offered as part of the scheme, and more than $42 million has gone to charity since 2017.

Australia has had a patchy history of recycling, with the country's resource recovery rate standing at just 63 per cent. In November, the country's soft plastic recycling scheme collapsed, with a staged reintroduction not expected to begin until the end of 2023.

Despite these problems, container deposit schemes have been successful, with South Australia introducing one in 1977.

Victoria and Tasmania have promised to begin refund schemes in 2023. Western Australia began its in 2020, Northern Territory in 2011, and Queensland in 2018.

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