Sorry…I Recycle For The Money

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Unlike most individuals, I don’t recycle for the greater good, sorry. For me, it’s not about the environment, saving resources, or minimizing pollution. It’s about cold, hard cash. Those other benefits are nice for others, but it’s not my driving force. I like money. I like saving it, and I like making it.

In the United States, and California specifically, most trash companies give you a blue bin to put your recyclables in. I NEVER use that thing. I might as well be throwing $1 bills in the bin and giving it to my trash company.

I always take my recyclables in to a third-party recycling company because it makes me money – but not really. When you buy most recyclables (glass, plastic, aluminum), you usually have to pay a deposit (In California its CRV – California Redemption Value, but it is called other things like ‘Deposit’ elsewhere). This is what you get back when you turn in your recyclables. You get your deposit back. When you put your recyclables in that blue bin for the trash company, you are essentially giving them your deposit, and not getting it back yourself.

So How Much Are We Talkin’ Here?

You may think that the amount you get back it not even worth your time. And that may be the case if you don’t use a lot of recyclable items. I’m sad to admit, but we drink lots of soda and bottled water, and so the deposit can add up. While it varies by state and location, in California you get about $0.05 per can and bottle. So, a 24-pack of water or beer pockets you $1.20 when you turn in your bottles or cans. If you go through a pack of water a week, this equates to over $60 a year in savings!


Where The Big Money Is At!

The big money in recycling doesn’t even come from bottles and cans. It comes from metals recycling. You may ask yourself, ‘Well, I don’t really have any metals to recycle, so that doesn’t really apply to me’. Don’t deceive yourself. There will come a time when you will have the opportunity to recycle metal. In fact, it happened to my wife and I last year. We were remodeling our bathroom, and we had a bunch of old copper pipe. We were going to toss it, but I thought, ‘Hey, people are stealing this stuff, it must be worth something!’ So, I took it down to my recycler, and my 10 lbs. of copper pipes got me $75! While not huge, I was happy as that would buy me lunch for 3 weeks!

I also had the opportunity to recycle even more metal a few weeks ago. I was helping my Dad clean out his garage, and he had several boxes that were filled with old rusty nails, screws, and other fasteners. He wanted to toss it, so I said I will take it off your hands and see what I can get for it. I took it down to my recycler, and I got another $20 for a bunch of rusty scrap metal that we would have otherwise tossed.


You are not going to get rich from recycling, but you can redeem a bunch of money that you already shelled out at the grocery store and maybe even get a little more by cleaning out your house.

Most of you already sort your recyclables out, so why not just drop them off at a recycler instead of giving your trash company a bonus? Have any of you had similar experiences recycling on your own?

This article was written by Robert at The College Investor. You can read more about his takes on personal finance and investing at The College Investor.

36 thoughts on “Sorry…I Recycle For The Money

  1. When I’ve lived in places that have deposits for recyclables I’ve seen people go around with stolen shopping carts, loading up on beer cans from others’ curbside recycling bins. I suppose you could make better than minimum wage that way though your upside would be limited.

  2. Nothing wrong with recycling for the money. I must confess that is a major consideration for me. In Indiana, there is no deposit on cans but I can still get quite a bit of cash at one time bringing the aluminum cans to the recycling center a couple times per year. Awesome score on that copper pipe.

    1. A lot of people where I live actually offer to pick up metal so they can recycle it. We never have quite enough to make the trip worth it. When we sold our last house we have a bunch of old metal scraps (bbqs and other waste) that I didn’t have time to deal with. I was happy to let it go to the entrepreneurs – no mess or work or time on my behalf.

  3. Alas, those of us who do not live in deposit jurisdictions can only get the going rate for the intrinsic value of the cans/bottles. I know it varies by day and locale, but I think that approximately 60 cents a pound is reasonable for cans. Anecdotal evidence says that there are about 36 cans in a pound. At less than 2 cents per can, it just is not enough for me to even bother with the gas to take them to the place, so I just toss them in the blue bin. That being said, unlike a deposit, I would be getting real money as opposed to getting back money I’d paid extra.

    I suppose I could save up cans for some time, but I do not use that many, so it would take years of clutter to be worth it.

    Long story short, it was a great way to get a little bit of pocket change as a kid, but now it is not worth my time. Let someone else sort it out. Hopefully they will make good of the additional money they get in aggregate.

  4. I don’t live in a state that offers a deposit so, like Brandon, we just put our cans and bottles in the city provided recycling bin. The nearest facility where we could get paid for our recyclables is over 30 miles away so 60 miles there and back is just not worth it.

  5. Hi there, I agree with you 100%. My son is age 10 and wants cash. Since he’s too young to get a part time job here, I suggested he recycle. We get a commuter ferry twice a day filled with tourists and recyclable bottles. It’s nicer for him to pick up bottles on the boat than go digging in the trash, and he makes around 10-20 a day depending on the boat traffic. After that he has to wash and drain the bottles and I take them to the store for cash back. Recycling rocks!

  6. In Los Angeles, we have separate trash cans for recycled trash. It is convenient so I do not go to a recycling place. I also do not have the space to save the paper, plastic and cans. I take the easy way out.

  7. You know, I see nothing wrong with your approach and find that I agree with your decision to get some cash for yourself rather than just give it away.

    I see your way as a win-win: you’re being environmentally friendly AND getting something monetary for your efforts. Why give away something for nothing, when you can instead get compensated by taking a different approach? If it’s worth your time, then why not?

  8. I recycle for the money. I pick up trash to help the environment. But I recycle for the money. Our third-party recycler also gets day-old bread from Trader Joe’s and Safeway, and sometimes produce as well- and I count on that weekly drop-in not only for some cash, but bread and produce, too.

    Now, for eco-environmentalism, when I’m out picking up cans & bottles on my walk, I take a second bag for trash- McDonald’s bags, etc. etc.- and pick that up as well. So it works out. I’m good, I’m noble, and I’m making back my deposit.

  9. I recycle for both reasons:). But either way, recycling is being accomplished!

    We use our curbside pickup because it’s super convenient, and also because we are apart of Recyclebank and earn reward points based on weight. I can get gift cards for those points (though I admit, the payout takes probably 1,000 pounds or more for a $10 gift card! That’s when my environmental side kicks in:))

      1. I’d be happy if it ended up in buffalo, NY. Come on, we have not even gotten them to be in every city in US and you think they are going international. :) You give them too much credit, I think.

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  11. I suppose you could make better than minimum wage that way though your upside would be limited.

  12. Since i cant gind a job for myself i would like to recycle for money. its very quick and easy. i would like to know which places to go near the town of Country Club Hills, Illinois(60478). Should I recycle everything recycable or just the things that give me the better profit.

  13. I used to haul and do my cans and bottle off to recycle center myself. Now I have older kids and they do it! Here is what we do with our money. We have a bank account we put it in to earn interest not much though. The money from this and yard sales is decided as a family what to do with it or how to spend it! We have spent the money for nice dinners, vacations, and many other things!

  14. Chiming in late here – I live in a major urban area of Northern California and I would save mine and turn them in for money, except for one thing: Around here, the places you to have to go to turn in your cans are VERY skeevy, dirty, disgusting and filled with crazies, dirty people & all sorts of other unsavory characters.

    I fear for myself just driving by those places.

    No thanks, not worth the risk; I’ll just toss ’em in the recycling bin & let some enterprising scavenger take them. They probably need them more than me, anyway.

  15. Don’t be sorry for recycling. You are doing a good service to our mother nature. Keep on doing it and better teach all around you to do the same.

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  17. The only recycling that even makes sense is that which is profitable. It’s kind of wasteful to have all those trucks driving around and employees sorting disposed tissues from recyclable stuff if the whole thing is a net loss.

    That is why there is usually a big push to recycle metals, cause this is where the biggest savings can be found.

    1. A net loss in profit but we here @ SPF strive to balance finance and sustainability. Sustainability doesn’t always win on the balance sheet but the long term benefit of recycling – in terms of the life of the planet means we feel we should recycle.

      On another note it is remarkable, especially since the economy tanked, how many ads you see on Craig’s List or Kijiji about people who pick up scrap metal for free to make money on it.

      I’m not sure if it was this article or another but a U.S. reader told us they get coupons for staples like milk if they put out their recycling!

  18. A few years ago I read about a homeless dude and his pregnant “wife”.
    Don’t remember his exact living conditions, but he was adamant about giving his child a better life than he was experiencing. Within a year he had collected and recycled $10,000 worth of bottles and cans and put the money into an education fund for his kid. Take what you will from this. :)

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