How to Make Money Recycling Cans (Great for Kids and Teens!)
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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?
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).
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!).
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 recyclingcenters.org. 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?
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?
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).
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?
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?
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!
Up Next: Clever ways to up-cycle your trash
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.