Can I recycle my way into extra cash? How to take advantage of trade-ins

recycling bin full of money and gold showing you can trade in for cash

Getting ready for your annual spring clean? It turns out you can cash-in on your clearout. We’ve rounded up some clever tips and tricks to get a bit of a bonus while you refresh your space.

Not only is recycling gathering steam with its money-saving potential, but it’s also the way forward. With Aussies generating 74 million tonnes of waste every year (and only recycling around 60% of it!), the improper disposal of rubbish is a major contributor to pollution, landfill crowding, and the production of new energy-intensive materials.

To make recycling work for your wallet, here are some ways you can earn a little extra while being environmentally friendly:

recycle printed t-shirt hanging on line as a reminder to recycle or donate clothing

Used clothes, shoes and textiles

The fast fashion industry is notorious for creating a product cycle so fast that waste is generated at an exponential speed. On average, every Australian sends 23kg of clothes to landfill each year. 

While the best ways to reduce your contribution to this major polluting industry (responsible for roughly 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions) involve slowing down the rate of your clothing purchases and re-examining your relationship with fashion, sometimes your closet truly does need a deep clean. Let’s face it: those old concert t-shirts are more hole than t-shirt at this point.

Upparel is a great resource for clothing recycling that nets you a reward. While only 15% of clothes donated to charity are sold in Australia, textiles and shoes sent to Upparel are sorted into ones for reuse and ones for repurposing. Clothing for reuse is passed on to charitable partners, while the rest is broken down and repurposed into insulation and filling for pillows and the like.

Upparel is partnered with several brands, where a $25 single box collection (up to 10kg) of clothing, textiles and shoes from any brand nets you a reward (T&Cs apply):

  • Target - Send a box for $20, receive a $20 voucher
  • Sük Workwear - Send a box for $25, receive a $25 voucher
  • Lee Jeans - Send a box for $25, receive a $25 voucher
  • The Oodie - Send a box for $25, receive a $30 voucher 
  • ArteSands - Send a box for $25, receive a $35 voucher

If your clothes, shoes or accessories are still in decent condition, you might also want to consider the thriving resale markets of Depop and Facebook Marketplace. While it can be difficult to find an audience, a bit of research could help some beloved items find a whole new life - while you get a little spending money on the side.

empty beauty product containers ready for recycling

Empty beauty and skincare products

Collecting empty beauty, skincare and haircare products used to be a whole genre of Youtube videos, but now it feels kind of gross. 

The thing is, a lot of containers and packaging for the bits and bobs in your bathroom aren’t as easy to recycle as they might seem. Things like compacts, pumps, spray nozzles, and droppers are classed as “hard to recycle” - they don’t go in your kerbside recycling bin, but are components that can be recycled.

Brands like Mac and Lush have their own schemes. Return six empty products to Mac to receive a free lipstick (T&Cs apply), or five eligible empty black pots to Lush for a free Fresh Face Mask. Lush have also recently changed this scheme to allow an alternative option, where you can receive $1 off your purchase per empty piece of eligible packaging you return.

Terracycle has made recycling these hard-to-dispose-of products much easier for the masses, partnering with several companies to incentivize recycling. Empty packaging is sorted and repurposed into playground surface covers, bottles, watering cans, shipping materials, and more. Many of their partners will dispose of your goods for free (select Priceline, David Jones and Mecca locations) but others do offer you an incentive:

  • Sephora - Trade in any brand of beauty and skincare empties in store for points, valid on Sephora’s Beauty Pass system. 1-5 empty products score you 50 points, 5-10 products earn 100 points, 10+ products earn you 150 points - redeem points for product rewards, discounts and more.
  • Kiehl’s - Take your empty Kiehl’s products in store and earn 20 loyalty points for every empty product returned. Redeem points for vouchers. Only valid for products recycled in Kiehl’s stores.
  • Edible Beauty - Download a free label and send a box of empty Edible Beauty products. Receive $30 off your next order for signing up to the program, and get a 10% off voucher when you send back your first shipment.
  • Sukin - Download a free label and send off a box of empty Sukin products. For every box sent, receive a 25% off voucher for the Sukin online store and 100 loyalty points, redeemable on vouchers.
  • Jurlique - Bring empty Jurlique products into store and earn a 10% off voucher for one new product per item returned. Only valid for products recycled in Jurlique stores.

Those likely aren’t the only bottles you have hanging around, though!

empty plastic bottles and containers in recycling bin for cash trade in

Empty bottles and containers

When it comes to your standard beverages, it’s pretty easy to pop most of them in the recycling bin and feel like you’re doing your job. 

Sometimes the ease of a nearby bin makes trashing those bottles all too tempting, but the long-term success of the container return scheme in South Australia shows us that when people are incentivised to recycle, it can be an overwhelming success. In SA, where a bottle collection program has been up and running since 1977, there’s an 80% return rate.

While 10c may not seem like much, there are some occasions where this can seriously pay off. After your next party, try to take all those empty beer bottles down to the bottle collection - even if it’s not worth it to you, the accompanying charity donation is sure to make you feel good.

These vary state by state:

  • NSW: Return and Earn - roughly 618 collection points
  • ACT: Container Deposit Scheme - 19 collection points 
  • QLD: Containers for Change - roughly 230 collection points
  • WA: Containers for Change - roughly 223 collection points
  • SA: Container Deposit Scheme - longest running scheme, collection points unknown
  • Vic: Container Deposit Scheme - being set up as of 2022
  • Tas: Recycle Rewards - being set up, planned for 2023
crumpled sheets for recycling and repurpose

Old linens and towels

If you’ve been cleaning out your linen closet, it might be time to get rid of some of those ratty old sheets and bleach-stained towels. 

Many of these will be eligible for donation - especially for places like animal shelters, which don’t need them to be in top notch condition - but if you’re looking for little lifestyle hacks, here’s one:

Tackling two birds with one stone is Sheridan, which aims to divert these materials from landfill and repurpose them into yarn that is then reused in future goods. When you donate your (washed) quilt covers, sheets and towels into the store, you’ll receive 5% off your next purchase. If you need to make a replacement, this could add that little bit of extra love to doing something good for the environment.

lots of old mobile phones piled for recycling and trade in for cash

Old technology, devices and appliances

New tech moves faster than you can possibly keep up with nowadays. Good luck staying up-to-date with the newest mobile phone when a new one is always just on the horizon!

Meanwhile, technological waste is a major environmental concern, with e-waste having a devastating impact on global health.

Thankfully, the phone refurbishment and second-hand industry is heating up. Other than buying second hand and keeping costs down, you can also score some sweet deals by trading in your tech. We aren’t just talking phones, either - from fridges to video games, trading is a great way to score yourself some savings.

  • Apple: Trade in your old Apple devices for credit towards your next Apple purchase. You could get up to $310 for that iPad you’ve been meaning to cut loose!
  • Phones: Get some money off a new phone and make sure the old one is recycled correctly! All of the major providers - Telstra, Optus and Vodafone - offer phone trade-in schemes, where they will value your phone or device and apply the appropriate credit to your bill or next phone purchase.
  • Electronics: Kogan and JB Hi-fi both offer store credit for electronics, from game consoles to computers and televisions. If these are working, selling them second-hand is usually an easy option.
  • Video Games: If you’re a big gamer, you’ll have been doing business with EB Games since childhood. Make the most of their trade-in system to save yourself when it comes to those new games you just have to have - why not swap out a few games you’ve played plenty?
  • Whitegoods: Large appliances (fridges, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, etc) are always in need, but difficult to transport - though you’ll have no problem finding a taker if you offer them up for free! In South Australia, you can get your fridge picked up and recycled, receiving up to $150 per fridge for up to 3 fridges.

A clean space can help you better understand what you actually need, and what you already have (but that you might have forgotten about). 

Hopefully the promise of a little bit of extra change has put you in the right frame of mind to get cleaning!

Want to bring that green streak to your finances? Check out our guide to some of Australia’s ethical banking options. Find out more tips and tricks for everyday finance at our Family Finances hub.