As most people living in NSW are aware, the return and earn scheme is a litter reduction scheme introduced to the state in December 2017. Bottles, cans and cartons make up a large proportion of the litter on NSW streets, beaches and green spaces. Tackling the problem costs NSW millions of dollars every year. Return and Earn is a way for the people to help solve the litter problem and be rewarded for our efforts.

The scheme’s goal is to reduce litter in the state by 40%.

How the return and earn scheme works:

  1. Collect eligible cans and bottles
  2. Take the containers to a return point
  3. Earn a refund or make a donation
Return and earn

Eligible containers for return and earn: 

eligible containers

Containers not eligible for a refund

non eligible containers for return and earn

That’s it. It’s very simple and has proven to be quite effective over the last few years. Return points are common in the cities south west with one in most larger suburbs. But that’s not what I want to break down. This article is here to break down using the scheme as a side hustle. Is it worth it? How much can you stand to earn?

How much can you earn?

Each eligible container can earn a 10 cent refund. The more containers you have, the more money/refund you will recieve. 

Although, earnings should be calculated as profits-expenses.

When calculating how much 1000 bottles will pay out. Take into account a few things first:

  • Transport costs- the cost associated with transporting the containers to a return point
  • Storage- the cost of storing the containers. Don’t forget that bottles take up a lot of space. Especially enough to make up a decent size refund.
  • Time- the cost of time is most important. How much do you value an hour of your own work. Work out how much time it will take you from collection to refund. If you can’t manage your time efficiently then this will end up not being worth it financially. If you value your time at $30 per hour for example. And it will take you 3 hours total from collection to refund. That means you need $90 to pay yourself (or 900 containers)
how much can you earn

Is return and earn worth it as a side hustle?

Yes, No and sort of in my opinion.

Yes because it does benefit the states economy and environment as a whole. Reducing the amount of recyclable litter that ends up in landfill is a major benefit of the scheme.

No because the amount of effort required to make a small amount is actually really hard. There is a lot of work involved in collecting to make a decent side hustle out of it. However, if you are resourceful enough there are ways to minimise your running costs (below).

Sort of. If you have a bit of space in the backyard shed or under the house somewhere out of site then it’s not going to bother you piling up containers there. Leaving the containers to build up over a few months would be the most profitable way to earn. Making only one trip to a return point every quarter. Minimising the expense and work of returning containers.

is it worth it as a side hustle

Minimise expenses

  1. Minimise the amount of trips you make to a return point
  2. Store in a section of your house out of site that will not bother you when it is piling up
  3. When returning a bulk lot visit a bulk return point. Bulk return points can take large amounts at one time saving you much more valuable time.
  4. Ask family and friends to hold containers for you as well. A lot of people are still not bothered to partake in the return and earn. A lot of families do the collecting as a group. Saving you from needing to store more. Also will help your collection grow faster. 
minimise expenses, balance work


Overall the return and earn scheme is doing wonders for the environment. Return and Earn is the largest litter reduction scheme introduced in NSW. This article is written from the viewpoint of using the scheme as a side hustle only. We are not trying to discredit the scheme in any way, only trying to help people better understand the associated costs of a side hustle.  

Return and Earn - Home | Facebook

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the return and earn scheme, comment below or send us a msg!