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Make Money Selling Recyclables

What if you could earn more than $25 per hour by simply gathering up empty soda cans and other recyclables?

“What’s that?” you say, “Tell me more!”

Well, the good news is that almost anyone can start to pay off or eliminate debts and begin banking serious cash by selling recyclables. Not everyone in every state can do it the simplest way – gathering empty and discarded soda cans to return for their deposits – but most can still get some tidy sums using this approach.

One writer has this to say about the earnings potential in aluminum cans alone, “Waste Management has estimated the current value of the aluminum recycling industry to be a staggering $1 billion a year.” And with more than ten thousand recycling facilities in the U.S., it is easier than ever to get money for the materials these centers need.

So, as the old saying goes, what are you waiting for!

Getting Started Earning Money from Recyclables

To begin making money selling recyclables, though, means knowing the opportunities in your specific area. To discover those, I suggest several reliable websites:

Both allow you to enter your zip code and discover what centers or opportunities are within your general area. Within their listings are far more than the nearest landfills or drop off points, though, and you can see the names of the big box stores that are ready to accept and purchase materials.

NOTE that some of the sites are purely for recycling, i.e. drop off points, and don’t offer cash for the materials, so you will always want to contact each site to find out if/what is purchased. However, both sites do make a point of itemizing just what you are most likely going to be able to bring to the different locations, including wholesale scrap materials and wholesale recycling of items like aluminum cans.

If you are eager to discover how much money you can get for aluminum cans with deposits placed upon them at the time of sale(rather than basic metals or even electronics), you can also visit the Bottle Bill Resource Guide that can help you discover where and how much you can make returning empty soda cans and bottles in your state. In fact, this is such an easy way to pick up a few bucks, that we are going to focus a bit on it here and then move on to the other ways to make money selling recyclables.

Cans With Deposits Equal Fast Funds

Buy a two-liter bottle of soda, and in some states the purchase price includes a “deposit” on the bottle. This is to help ensure that you recycle it, and yet most of us just don’t bother, and remember that if you limit yourself only to those you have purchased, you are just “breaking even”. To get actual income, you have to gather more than what you initially purchased.

“Oh,” you say, “It’s just a few cents per bottle and I don’t feel like hauling them to the machine or the redemption center.”

Yet, think about it for a moment…If you were to bring together just 20 cans, that’s a dollar, and that would take up just one standard shopping bag of space. When you see those savvy and frugal folks with shopping carts full of cans and bottles, you’re looking at considerable sums, and they probably transfer that many cans or bottles several times in a day!

So, how do you begin doing this beyond your household cans and bottles? Currently, it is only the following states that have deposit programs enabling you to make from five to ten cents per item:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Guam
  • Hawai’i
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont

Visiting the site lets you learn about the current status of the individual states and what you can earn by participating in their recycling programs. For the most part, you can use redemption centers or retail stores, but some systems skim a bit off the top when you return in bulk or using in-store machines, so be aware of the choices.

As an example, the State of Connecticut charges a five cent deposit on bottles and cans of certain beverages (they come in glass, plastic and metal). You can reclaim the deposits in redemption centers and retail stores. If the monies are not reclaimed by consumers, all funds go to the state.

That means that untold sums paid out by consumers buying beer, soft drinks, bottled water and some malt beverages are left unclaimed and sent into state coffers.

Can you really make a lot by gathering up the cans and returning them? If you limit yourself to your household alone, then, no, but remember a few key points about this issue:

  • All items put at the curb, whether in recycling containers or garbage bags and cans are considered to be in the public domain. This means you can travel through neighborhoods during garbage collection days and reclaim all of the cans and bottles sent out to be recycled. They still get recycled, but you can get money for each one you collect.

  • Cans and bottles suited to returning for refunds are not found only in curbside receptacles. Consider that the break rooms at your office or place of employment might yield a large number of cans suited to refunds. For instance, one penny pincher was able to earn from $7 to $13 each day at work by simply gathering empties left on break room tables, trash cans and recycle bins.

Where else can you look for empty cans in states with redemption programs? Head to outdoor venues such as parks, outdoor concerts, parking lots at events areas, festival locations (this can include entire cities with lucrative festivals that draw millions of people to park areas, events, and more), and asking friends and family members to contribute is a good idea, too. Set up a “route” that lets you visit family, friends, neighbors and co-workers once per week and you might find yourself earning a nice sum from this one trip.

Don’t forget the vending machine areas in local schools, stadiums and libraries, too as these are also common areas for empties to be tossed into standard trash cans.

  • It is entirely legal for you to approach businesses and offer to serve as a recycling drop off or formal recycler for their space, and this could include everything from cans and bottles to empty toner cartridges and certain electronics. Just be clear that you are in fact recycling and that everything handed to you is a donation, not a way for those supplying goods to get a financial return.

I suggest that, if you are serious about earning money selling recyclables or returning cans and bottles in states with redemption programs, that you obtain permission from property owners to actually place a bin in each of your main areas, and mark it “cans and bottles”. This streamlines your efforts and ensures you get the most out of your time. Be sure you put bins in the most obvious and heavily trafficked spots, mark them clearly and empty them often.

  • If you live adjacent to and a short drive from states with redemption programs, you might also make money bringing them to areas where redemption centers let you process empties for cash. As an example, someone in the State of Rhode Island might be able to redeem cans and bottles in Massachusetts or Connecticut.

And what if the state in which you live has no programs for refunding for cans and bottles? That is not the end of it, you can actually still get funds for metals, but it now because a “by the pound” sort of endeavor.

Selling Recyclables by the Pound

In an article written by a dedicated can and bottle recycler, the author describes someone who is so adept at selling recyclables that he “paid his entire rent from the empties he collected”, but did so in a state without a deposit program.

How is it done? There are a few things to consider. The first is that modern aluminum can manufacturing processes have made it nearly impossible to easily earn from the metal content in the cans. They use very little aluminum, and this means that trying to sell them by the pound may not be all that lucrative.

As one expert has said, “Aluminum can prices at scrapyards [sic] and recycling centers around the country vary, but not much… paying 45 cents per pound for anything 50 pounds and over…”

This may leave you wondering about the number of aluminum cans per pound, and that is currently around 32 cans (leaving each one at roughly 1.7 cents per can if processed as scrap).

Now, this is an entirely different issue when compared to states with recycling programs in place. Think about it – 1000 cans at .05 to .10 each is a nice amount of money for a few trips on garbage day. For instance, you can spend two hours and make something like $25 to $50 doing it. However, pull together 1000 cans at 1.7 cents each and it is not really worth the time, energy and “ick” factor it can involve.

Still, if you are looking for a good way to help your children start to earn money, collecting cans in states with deposit programs is a great idea.

So, what can you do to earn money selling recyclables if collecting cans is not enough on its own? Again, it starts with local research. Where are your local recycling centers? What do they accept? For the most part, almost everywhere in the country you can find scrap metal recycling.

As one expert explains, “Scrap metal is one of the more profitable materials to recycle. For this reason, scrap metal theft is not uncommon and even community recycling dumpsters have been raided in search of the metal.”

In addition to empty cans made of aluminum, you will find that these centers are also interested in paying you for:

  • Steel
  • Wrought Iron
  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Mixed metals
  • Wire

To get started, you need to know whether or not you have a ferrous metal. You can determine this by using a basic magnet. If it sticks to the metal, it is ferrous. If not, you have a non-ferrous type. The ferrous metals are not worth as much as the non-ferrous, so if you want the most financial returns from your efforts, try to work exclusively with the non-ferrous types that include stainless steel, bronze, aluminum, copper and brass.

It’s up to you to separate everything you are going to bring, and some scrap yards and recyclers have specific rules they need you to follow before you can bring materials to their facility. Try to separate according to these rules and remember that you are going to have to bring them to a yard to be weighed, so a truck or small trailer is very helpful.

How much can you make from selling recyclables such as scrap metal? This depends on the metal, but for the most part, copper is the most valuable while brass is another of the higher payout materials, steel and aluminum are the least valuable.

Again, just use search engines like the Earth911 site to find the recycling facilities in your area that accept scrap metals. Many of these sites will also buy your used batteries, so be sure to ask about this when you contact them.

Other Routes to Cash

A good rule of thumb to making money selling recyclables is to use the “Wait…does it recycle?” rule at the trash can. Study after study has shown that Americans are so used to tossing out goods that they are throwing away a lot of potential money. As one expert said, “You will be surprised to discover exactly what you can recycle by selling to someone for cash.” They went on to site wine corks that can be sold to ReCork.

Keep in mind that used cardboard is another good source for income and sites like Boxcycle allow you to sell your used boxes easily. You can also sell junk mail to the Small Business Knowledge Center, and there are other sites like Terracycle that pay your favorite charities for specific kinds of recyclables, and never forget the number of firms buying printer and toner cartridges and all kinds of electronics.

The good news is that there are many ways to make money selling recyclables or returning cans in deposit programs. Each takes some organization, research and effort, but each, quite literally, pays off.