Time to Skip the Recycle Bin? 3 Ways to Make Money Recycling in Singapore

recycling in singapore

Recycling in Singapore is gaining popularity, but it’s still pretty much a thankless task. You have sort and wash our your food cans, drink bottles and aluminium cans, and then lug it all to the recycle bin at your own cost, which can really dampen one’s enthusiasm for the cause.

But that’s all set to change, because it’s getting increasingly mainstream to get paid for your recycling. Now that there’s a monetary incentive attached to it, the laborious work of cleaning and separating your empties feels less pointless.

Plus, you now have an easy incentive to get your non-recycling spouse/friends/parents to start the recycling habit too. Not everyone loves the earth — but we are united by our love of free money.


How much money can you get by recycling in Singapore?

Here are some common recyclable materials that can be exchanged for cash under 3 recycling programmes in Singapore:

Recyclable item Reverse Vending Machine Sembcorp Ezi app Cash for Trash
Plastic bottles 4 pcs → $0.20
​Aluminium drink cans 4 pcs → $0.20 $0.50/kg $0.50/kg
Metal tins $0.10/kg $0.10/kg
Paper $0.10/kg $0.10/kg
Cardboard $0.10/kg $0.05/kg
Clothes / fabrics $0.20/kg $0.20/kg

Ready to turn your trash into cash? Read on for more details on the 3 recycling initiatives.


Reverse Vending Machine (aluminium & plastic recycling)

Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with plastic bottles. We know it’s bad for the earth and all, but… what are we supposed to quench our thirst with, if not a bottle of Coke or 100 Plus!?

Now you can alleviate your guilt slightly by saving those empties and depositing them into Recycle N Save’s new “reverse vending machines”, or RVM.

For every 4 plastic drink bottles or aluminium drink cans that you put in the RVM, you get a $0.20 NTUC FairPrice discount coupon. Considering you can buy all kinds of necessities at FairPrice, I’d say that’s almost as good as cash.

Here are the locations of the 10 reverse vending machines in Singapore right now:

Location NTUC FairPrice with RVM
East Paya Lebar Quarter, Our Tampines Hub, Changi City Point
Northeast NEX, Waterway Point
North Ang Mo Kio Hub, Northpoint City
West JEM, Jurong Point, Yew Tee Point

Recycle N Save will be rolling out more machines islandwide (50 in total) by March 2020, so recycling plastic bottles and drink cans will only get more convenient.

Note that the bottles/cans you deposit have to be clean and empty (obviously), and they have to have a label with a barcode each. The machine accepts common supermarket-bought drinks like Coke and Pepsi and Pokka Green Tea, but it can’t recycle the generic bottles used for herbal tea or bottles with the label torn off.

Just as a thought experiment, imagine you saved the empty bottles or cans from your spouse’s soft drink/beer drinking habit, and accumulated 24 empties in a month. That’s $1.20 in NTUC coupons. Not bad!


Ezi recycling app by SembCorp (clothing, metal & paper recycling)

Another new recycling initiative we’re excited about is the EZI recycling app by Sembcorp, which summons a doorstep recycling service. 

That’s right: They’ll send someone to your home to collect your trash, and give you money for it. How crazy is that?

Here’s how much you can get for your recyclables.

Recyclable item Sembcorp Ezi app
​Aluminium drink cans $0.50/kg
Metal (e.g. food cans) $0.10/kg
Paper (e.g. newspaper) $0.10/kg
Cardboard carton $0.10/kg
Clothing $0.20/kg

Ezi also accepts plastic bottles (including large ones like detergent bottles which are not accepted by the reverse vending machine), but you don’t get any money for it.

Personally, I don’t mind bringing light items like drink cans and plastic bottles to the RVM to swap them for NTUC FairPrice coupons, but I can see Ezi being extremely useful for clearing all the bulky recyclables: Empty soup cans, cardboard boxes from ordering stuff online, stacks of newspaper.

To lower the cost of logistics and carbon emissions for each collection, you’re encouraged to accumulate at least 5kg of recyclables before arranging a collection.

The rates for recycling with Ezi are not as attractive as that of the RVM, to be sure. For example, a 10kg pile of newspaper and flattened cardboard boxes will fetch you “only” $1. But considering you don’t have to do any heavy lifting at all, it’s like getting paid for doing absolutely nothing.


Cash for Trash (clothing, e-waste, metal, paper recycling)

Cash for Trash isn’t new, but it’s a surprisingly little-known initiative considering the lengths cheapskate Singaporeans are willing to go to save/earn a buck. It’s basically a neighbourhood recycling event where you bring and deposit your recyclables in return for money. 

There are TONS of Cash for Trash collection points in estates all over Singapore, it’s just that the frequency of the event is not standardised. At some places it happens every week, but at others it’s only once a quarter. So you need to know when your nearest Cash for Trash is happening and make it a point to work around that.

Here’s what you can recycle at Cash for Trash, and how much cash you can get:

Recyclable item Cash for Trash
​Aluminium drink cans $0.50/kg
Metal (e.g. food cans) $0.10/kg
Paper (e.g. newspaper) $0.10/kg
Corrugated cardboard $0.05/kg
Clothing / bedsheets (in good condition) $0.20/kg
Small electrical appliances On the spot valuation

The recycling rates are the same as that of Ezi, except for cardboard (Ezi gives $0.10/kg while Cash for Trash is only $0.05/kg).

As long as the Cash for Trash collection location and timeslots work for you, it’s a really good alternative to Ezi — in fact, almost as convenient. And since many households recycle in one shot, it’s more carbon efficient too.

One more thing I like about Cash for Trash is that you can recycle some of your e-waste there. Small electrical appliances like broken kettles etc. can be given an on the spot valuation.


But what about the big blue recycle bins?

If you’re interested in recycling, then surely you must know about those big blue recycle bins at neighbourhood carparks. You might even have been dropping off your meticulously saved and cleaned bottles and boxes here.

These blue recycle bins are the most visible public collection points under Singapore’s National Recycling Programme, but they are woefully misunderstood and misused.

Just walk past any one and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see all kinds of clearly non-recyclable things in there: Pillows, garden clippings, bubble tea cups with leftover pearls and ice…

For every well-intentioned Singaporean dutifully rinsing and sorting their recyclables to put in the blue bin, there’s probably one person who unthinkingly throws their leftover cai png in the “big rubbish bin”.

This may result in even less recyclable waste than before, as previously-clean plastic bottles and papers may now be contaminated.

Now that Singaporeans have at least 3 good recycling options that actually incentivise your recycling habits, we no longer have to use the blue recycle bins. 


Before you recycle those old clothes or appliances…

Some of these recycling apps do accept these household items (that are not packaging waste). But it’s definitely worth checking if they can be fixed, repurposed or given away to someone else who would use them.

Old clothes: If your clothes are still in wearable condition, try posting them on Carousell at a small token sum or bringing the lot to Refash. As a bonus, you should be able to get back more than the recycling rate of $0.20/kg! Alternatively, donate them to selected charities or give them away on Freecycle groups in Singapore.

E-waste: If the item is in working condition and just need to find a good home, donating it or giving it away may be the way to go. You may also try Karang Guni, which is an on-demand karang guni service that buys old electronics and appliances. For totally spoilt items, you may dispose of your e-waste at one of the many e-waste recycling bins in Singapore.

Everything else: Before you bin anything at all, it’s worth checking this list of waste collectors and traders to see if anyone might be interested. The usual suspects are the scrap metal and timber trading companies, but there’s a market for pretty much every kind of waste, even stuff like food waste and styrofoam.

Do you recycle? Share some recycling tips with us.