How to Make Money Recycling Cans (Great for Kids and Teens!)

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how to make money recycling cans

Collect all the cans!

Did you know that your recyclables can make you money? By scrapping aluminum cans at recycling centers, you can actually turn a small profit! While you won’t become wealthy from collecting cans, we’re here to show you how to earn some extra money by recycling those cans (it’s a great option for kids and teens, too, like this 7-year-old with his own recycling business)!

What is aluminum recycling redemption?

how to make money recycling cans — pieces of scrap metal

Have you ever heard of metal scrappers or watched people pick up what looks like junk metal to sell to scrap yards? Well, you can do that, too, and with a simple household product — aluminum cans! While it works on a much smaller scale, aluminum recycling lets you sell your scrap aluminum based on two methods, depending on where you live: deposit refunds or its current value.

What is a deposit refund?

Certain states have bottle bills, also known as container deposit laws, which put a set minimum amount owed on every returned can. When a customer buys certain packaged beverages, they pay a deposit on each container up front (between $0.05 to $0.10 per piece depending on the container and state). Why is this policy put in place? The goal is to reduce litter, ease burden on solid waste facilities, and encourage recycling activity.

Bottles will have the refund information printed on the label though most cans do not. When purchasing eligible containers, it will show up on your receipt as a separate item letting you know you were charged a deposit, therefore allowing you to return those cans to get the deposit back. And just a heads up — it is illegal to purchase containers in one state and attempt to return to receive a refund in another (we’re looking at you Kramer and Newman).

make money recycling — deposit receipt

The states that have bottle bills are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. The details of the program vary from state to state whether it’s the type of beverage accepted or the amount of the deposit. For example, I live in New York where the eligible cans or bottles must have contained carbonated soft drinks, soda water, beer and other malt beverages, wine products, or water which does not contain sugar (including flavored or nutritionally enhanced water) all for $0.05 a piece.

So, technically you’re not making any money when you return the cans you already paid a deposit on, but by not returning the cans, you’re leaving money on the table! AND if you can find empty cans from other sources, it’s a money-making bonus!

The return process is easy. Either search for recycling redemption centers near you or check if your local grocery store has automated recycling machines on site (lots do!).

make money recycling — recycling machine

But I don’t live in one of those states…

No worries! You can still return your cans to aluminum recycling centers in your area to receive a payout based on the current price of aluminum. Do a search in your local Yellow Pages, Google, or websites like Be sure to check reviews as well since recycling centers may pay out different prices for your cans.

How much can I make recycling cans?

how to make money recycling cans —  bag of crushed cans

According to Scrap Sales USA, expect to earn around $0.36 a pound in non-bottle bill states (loosely based on the current value of aluminum cans which fluctuates frequently).  That average comes from how most recycling centers determine their price, which is 50% of the current scrap aluminum rate (currently $0.65-$0.85). The other 50% is their cut for their efforts and for the recycling process.

The good news is the payout is negotiable so you have a little say in what you’ll make!

AND if you redeem in a state with a bottle bill, a 30-gallon trash bag filled with NON-CRUSHED* cans will yield between $6 – 12. Not bad!

Hip Tip: If you aren’t getting paid out on the date you turn in cans, get your set per pound price in writing, just in case the price of aluminum changes later.

What kind of cans are eligible for recycling?

how to make money recycling cans — crushed cans

In addition to the obvious beverage cans, you can also redeem other common aluminum packages:

  • Aluminum bottles: These may also contain beverages or food products. Though shaped like a glass bottle, they must be metal.
  • Aluminum food containers: Canned meat products with peel-back lids tend to be the primary source of aluminum cans (Spam, Vienna sausages, and canned pet food).
  • Aluminum aerosol cans: These may hold paint, varnish, or other liquids that are sprayed out of a nozzle. You’ll need to remove the nozzle before sending the can to the scrap yard.

It’s important to note that cans should be rinsed and free of any food particles, with the exception of aerosol cans (which should have their contents entirely emptied before scrapping).

Other tips:

In non-bottle bill states, you may crush the cans for convenience and easier returns.

In bottle bill states, only aluminum bottles and cans with printed redemption pricing may be redeemed at automated or manual redemption centers. Also, do not crush the cans. In bottle bill states, the barcode needs to scan if you process through an automated machine.

Where am I going to get all these cans?

how to make money recycling cans —  trash bags of cans

This is where you can be a little creative, and maybe even a little forward.

First, check your home. Do you go through any aluminum cans in your household? Are you planning on hosting an event where you might be going through quite a bit of canned beverages? Get some bins lined with trash bags and start collecting those cans!

Next, call up some schools, churches, or community centers and ask what they do with their recycled cans and aluminum products. You could potentially arrange pickups to collect the scrap aluminum and redeem for cash!

Lastly, reach out to banquet halls, wedding venues, or any other place you can think of that go through a significant amount of aluminum cans or bottles. You never know, there could be an aluminum jackpot out there just waiting for you! They’ll feel good about not throwing them away and may be happy to have someone handle that process for them!

What’s in it for me?

how to make money recycling cans — money in wallet

First of all, it’s free money. While it takes a little bit of work, it’s pretty simple and can be incorporated into your errands pretty seamlessly so long as a recycling center is nearby. Also, the startup costs are very minimal — literally just a trash bag, some used cans, and a means of transportation!

Secondly, but probably even more important, it only takes 5% of the energy to produce new aluminum cans from old ones (compared to making them from scratch). You’ll be doing the planet a huge service by reducing waste and to keep this green earth, well, green!

You’re not going to make loads of money from casually recycling cans, but you’ll get some extra cash for little everyday splurges here and there. That said, if done frequently and consistently, you could wind up with a nice chunk of change!

Written by Emily for Hip2Save. Emily lives in Buffalo, NY where she spends her time drinking lots of coffee, scouring the internet for deals, and tackling DIY projects. She’s a big believer in self-care and living the fullest life possible, all while saving money of course.

Join The Discussion

Comments 25

  1. Angie B

    I love this post! I wish they would do something for plastic to give people an incentive to recycle plastic too

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Hi Angie! Glad you enjoyed it! I know in states with bottle bills, plastic and glass bottles work pretty much the same as recycling aluminum with the refundable deposits! You can check out what types of containers are accepted on the bottle bill website!

    • Tara

      Angie- our bottle deposit laws cover plastic bottles as well that contain any carbonated beverages. Where I live we grow up learning about recycling in elementary school and have recycle and trash bins in our schools. We also have curb side pickup for recycling (paper, plastic, cardboard, tin, glass, compostables) that is quite simple (and open recycle centers you can visit 24/7- with some locations even having free mulch and compost available)- in fact it is also illegal now to throw away cardboard in my metro area. Also at a few local grocers as well as target and Walmart, we can recycle plastics, plastic bags, cardboard, tin, glass, etc. The reason the industry focuses more on aluminum vs plastic is bc recycled aluminum saves them a lot of time and money whereas plastic is about even; even though it would be great for the environment to have plastic recycling- even greater would be to attempt to eliminate plastics as much as possible (eg having the edible sturdy cups and banning plastic single use cups- of course you don’t have to eat the cup, but if it gets tossed, it can be composted)… Even worse is styrofoam- I can’t believe this is still around- it is so bad for the environment and can’t be recycled or biodegraded. I honestly have been flabbergasted that the rest of the cities in the USA don’t have similar recycle programs as in my community or recycle education like we have (incorporated into science classes)- especially California which claims to be so green (but isn’t)- so deceptive (and with their population and proximity to the ocean, they should be more green than my little middle of America state)… And not to put the nail in the coffin, but we also have mayor clean up days twice a year where larger items can be put out on the curb for city pick up- but most of those items (aside from what’s actual trash- like broken furniture that can’t be repaired or repurposed) are picked up by people and reused- which is amazing. A neighboring city also does a citywide rummage sale right before uni classes start and people are able to offload household items they no longer need to people, including students, at a good price. And the. Of course we also have habitat which will pick up gently used furniture. #novel lol

  2. Laura

    Thank you!! I found out there’s a recycling place that I can see from my house (and I live in the country so that’s surprising!!)!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      That’s great, Laura! You’ll be pulling in cash from cans in no time 😁!

    • Holly (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yay! Glad you found one nearby!

  3. kharrington

    Also, I live in VT (I used to live in NY) where several places will give you more than the standard .05 return. There are also some days where you can get an additional couple of cents per can. One tip is always count your bottles ahead of time sometimes they count so fast they miss a few. Also, several states sell water and sodas that have a return for NY. Keep those and when you are in NY, return them. NY is one of the few states where water bottles have a deposit and most people don’t realize that. So scoop those up!

  4. Nrivera

    My sons collect cans and other items all the time. They have been doing this for years. It’s not much money, but it will get them a treat and a little to put in their piggy banks every couple of month

  5. Mommyharl

    We had our kids save cans a few summers ago (they asked neighbors and family as well as picked them up in parks) and then we turned them in after we had a few bags full and that was their summer money to use for vacation souviners, ice cream truck and ball bark consessions, ect. We haven’t been collecting this past year and they already miss ‘their’ money

  6. HBee

    Hi There! We have been crushing and saving our cans for a while now and waiting for the price to go up on aluminum . Usually you can get a better price around Earth Day in April. Some areas around me had coupons that you can get more per pound around this holiday.

  7. megan

    We do this with our kids! It might not seem like much, but to a 4 and 7 year old, that’s a lot of money! We don’t even live in a state with a return program. My husband brings them home from work from his co workers and our family and friends save them too. Who can tell an adorable 4 year old no when he asks you to save your popcans for him? So cute!

  8. Lisa

    The way gas prices are it would probably cost us money to do this. It’s a great thing to do if your close by tho.

  9. ashley

    I live in a state without the deposit. I saved my cans for 2 years, had about 4 garbage bags full of crushed cans. It was 20 pounds. They paid me $8.
    With how much floor space it took in my garage it almost wasn’t worth it.
    I’m not going to go out of my way to collect cans (you would be making just pennies/hour) but I will save my own cans since I’m already drinking it.

    • *Angela-Miles*

      Same as you, no deposit in my state and I don’t go out of my way to get cans. Just save the ones from me that I’ve used and all the rest from my family that save them. Then donate to the shelter

  10. Sarah

    We actually went and took off the cans this evening because the price went up to .60 per pound. Hasn’t been that high in awhile. We pocketed $19.80. Not much but it’s better than throwing the cans in the trash and paying to throw them away.

  11. Susan Crawford

    My husband and I usually take our cans in twice a year and we average about 100 pounds when we take them in. We usually make $40.00. It’s easy money.

  12. Michelle F.

    Thanks for the informative post! I have always been big on recycling, ever since I was a kid!I live in a rural nowhere area with little to no recycling options. But, you can bet that I do save up and take them to an area where I can. We only have paper and aluminum here. But I repurpose the glass jars that I can and save the rest to take out of town.Same for plastics.

  13. e

    We moved to a no deposit state and I love it. Just throw it in the recycling bin. No special trip, no extra space, no paying for the bottle in the first place.

  14. *Angela-Miles*

    I’ve been recycling cans for almost 12 years. Dont get any of the money from them, as we donate them to the animal shelter. They have huge bins at the shelter that they use to collect them and then after they get so many, staff take them to cash in. All the money is used for surgeries and emergency situations. Yes it’s not much but every little bit counts. And we are Huge animal lovers!! I started recycling when entering high school, began with my parents and now do it at my house. I already have recycle bins for plastic and paper/cardboard….so the cans were no biggie to add to my stash. Win win for me because I feel like I’m helping the animals!! 🙂 🙂

  15. Kruiz528

    My little 6 year old is looking for a way to earn some money on her own. This would be great. Thanks for the post

    • Holly (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Great idea! You’re welcome!

  16. Mom Of 3 In Beaverton, OR

    I live in Oregon. We recycle our cans and bottles. We drink a lot of kombucha and coffee in glass jars that we are charged a deposit on but can not redeem at the recycling center. Anyone else have this problem? Stores no longer so recycling now so there is no one to manually redeem those cans and bottles. Anyone else have this problem?

  17. Michelle

    I’ve also found that if you go to a Planet Recycle (or others I’m sure) you get more if you manually feed them in the machine versus having the them weigh the bunch at once. Here in California is 0.05 per can and small water bottles and .10 per bigger item like a liter of bottle or a bigger Gatorade bottle…If you feed them into the machine anyway. They can’t be crushed up obviously. I usually go to the grocery store parking lot recycle places and then you just take it in and cash out there. It’s usually less crowded. When I get about 4 bags or so I put them in the back of my car so I have them and can stop if I have time while I’m out.

  18. jen

    If you live in Southern California, there’s a program where they come pick up your recyclables and take a nominal fee:

  19. Chris

    My daughter started collecting cans, then asked family members to do the same. When we visit she takes the cans home to a recycling place nearby. She’s 12 now but has been doing for quite a few years. I tell her any of the recycling money she puts in the bank I will match.. she always has put it all in the bank to earn interest. It’s not much 30-40 bucks a year.. but that gets doubled. It teaches her saving and helping the environment – which are both good lessons 🙂

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