Why toss things in the trash when you can recycle them — and make a little money in return?
By diverting certain items from the waste stream and keeping them out of landfills, you can also make extra money or help out worthy causes. From scrap metal to ink cartridges, bottle caps to construction materials, you can recycle a huge variety of items in exchange for cash. We’ve also included information on how to recycle items for the sake of good will.
Businesses should also look at the recycling market for some extra cash. Restaurants can sell used or rancid cooking oil. Old cars and vans can be scrapped for money, as well as large appliances
Ready to see all the different things you can recycle for money?
How to Recycle Household Items for Cash
First, you’ll need to find a recycling center or collection point that is looking for what you want to get rid of. While the goal is to make money, you might settle for a donation — which could be tax deductible — if it means clearing out the garage. The collection center will also let you know how to prepare items to their specifications.
Find a Collection Point
To find a recycling center near you, head to Earth911.com and plug in the item you’re looking to recycle along with your location. The site lists collection locations for materials as diverse as antifreeze and ammunition, computers and clothes.
Prepare Items for Recycling
Of course, not everything pays, and it’s important to prepare recyclables according to the organization’s specifications. This is especially important if you are recycling hazardous materials. Metal scrappers pay more for clean metal, sometimes almost twice as much.
Recycling centers may require you to remove bottle caps, rinse and bag bottles in certain increments, or sort and tie together cardboard. Checking the rules before you go will save you time later.
Be sure to properly bag items that may make a bit of a mess. Even if you thoroughly rinse all your bottles and cans, there might be water and other residue on them, so be sure to transport them in bins or bags to protect the interior of your car.
If you’re donating a cell phone or other electronic item, be sure to clear your personal information from it, including contact lists, voice mails, text messages, photos, passwords, downloads and anything else that you wouldn’t want random strangers to access. Backup your information on your new phone, your computer or a cloud-based service, then restore your old phone to factory settings before recycling it.
Items You Can Recycle for Money
There are a lot of recyclable items around the house (maybe in the garage) that can bring in some money. Depending on where you live, you can get paid to recycle:
- Scrap metal
- Bottles and cans
- Car batteries
- Ink cartridges
- Cell phones and other electronics
- Junk cars
- Wine corks
- Cardboard boxes
- Cooking Oil
1. Scrap Metal
Scrap metal is one of the more profitable materials to recycle.
Copper, steel and aluminum are just a few of the scrap metals that you can recycle for money. Google your local area and “scrap yard” to find a facility that takes whatever metals you have and learn their procedures for drop off.
Scrap metal prices were rising because of the pandemic caused shipping woes. Some forecasters think prices will start to sink later this year. Now is a good time to get rid of that junk metal.
Once you have rounded up your metal, find out if it is ferrous or non-ferrous by seeing if a magnet sticks to it. If it does, the metal is ferrous and likely a common metal like steel or iron. These items typically aren’t worth much, but it’s still worthwhile to recycle them. If the magnet does not stick, you likely have copper, aluminum, brass, bronze or stainless steel on your hands. These metals are more valuable.
Copper is one of the more profitable metals: Copper wire and tubing yields between $2 and $3.40 per pound, depending on the quality and thickness of the wire. Aluminum typically earns between 40 and 70 cents a pound, yellow brass can yield about $1.65 per pound.
Die-cast metal, which is usually made from zinc, aluminum, and other non-ferrous metals, goes in the 20-to-30-cents-a-pound range, though local prices vary. Zinc is worth more than aluminum.
2. Bottles and Cans
One Penny Hoarder writer made $1,500 cashing in soda cans he collected at work. You, too, can make money by rounding up bottles and cans, whether from work, friends and family, at events, or just the recyclables you use at home.
The World Economic Forum estimates that even though most aluminum is recycled, there’s still seven million tons not recycled every year. That’s a lot of money left on the table.
California offers 5 cents for most plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans smaller than 24 ounces, and 10 cents for 24-ounce or larger containers. It’s technically a bottle deposit, but many people don’t bother to collect their refunds, so it’s easy money for bottle and can collectors.
Michigan has a 10-cents per bottle recycling rate, which has prompted people to illegally smuggle in empty bottles purchased out of state to cash in. (This was even the plot of one Seinfeld episode!) Many states have similar deposit programs, so check what’s available where you live.
3. Car Batteries
Advance Auto Parts offers a $10 store gift card to customers who bring in their used car batteries (light-duty truck batteries are also accepted). If the company doesn’t have an outlet near you, call your local auto parts stores to see whether they offer similar deals.
4. Ink Cartridges
A number of office supply stores, including Staples and Office Depot accept used ink cartridges for recycling. Staples offers $2 back per cartridge, with a maximum of 20 returns per month, and you have to spend at least $50 on ink or toner within 180 days of recycling.
Office Depot also gives you $2 back in program rewards for each ink or toner cartridge you recycle, up to 10 cartridges per month. But you must also purchase ink from them the same month. There is no limit on the number of cartridges you can recycle, but you will only receive points on the first 10 per month. You can use your points toward a number of different perks and discounts.
5. Cell Phones
Eco-Cell is one of many companies that offers cash for old cell phones and other electronics. The company accepts working or broken phones, tablets, rechargeable batteries, circuit boards and a variety of other electronics. Even if an item is broken or was submerged in water and is unusable, Eco-Cell will accept it in order to divert electronics from landfills and properly dispose of their toxic components and metals.
Many cell phone providers, including Verizon and AT&T, have trade-in programs where you can receive a voucher, gift card or other reward for turning in your old phone. Amazon Trade-in is another way to earn gift cards.
A number of charities also accept cell phones, whether to re-purpose or sell and use the funds for a charitable purpose. Cell Phones for Soldiers refurbishes and sells your old phone to active-duty military members and veterans. If a phone is too old or broken, Cell Phones for Soldiers sells it to recyclers who strip it for parts and dispose of its metals responsibly. The proceeds from the sales go to purchase international calling cards for troops and provide emergency financial assistance to veterans.
Organizations that work with domestic abuse victims also accept used cell phones for their clients for emergency 911 calls.
And of course, you can always sell your old phone yourself.
6. Junk Cars
Your rusted old jalopy? You can recycle it for money. There are companies that pay cash for broken down cars. U-Pull-It has a helpful guide on the best way to scrap your car.
Junk Car Medics is another company that will buy your vehicle. You can sell your car to them online or over the phone. You enter details about your vehicle, such as condition and mileage, and quickly get an offer. If you accept it, you’ll have to provide proof of ownership and a few other details before you get paid. The company says most transactions are same-day, and they take the car away for you.
7. Wine Corks
You can let your wine pay a little bit for itself. Sites like Etsy and Ebay and others show listings for used wine corks. Selling on these sites isn’t difficult. When setting prices, keep in mind that the sites charge small fees for both listing and selling items.
You also want to make sure you know how much it will cost to mail an item so there are no unpleasant surprises during the transaction.
8. Used Boxes
Just moved and have a bunch of boxes? Or do you have a slight online shopping addiction and have piles of boxes in the garage? You can resell your boxes through Boxcycle and other similar sites. They take pretty much everything as long as they are still in decent shape and don’t smell.
Old laptops, monitors, tablets, and other electronics can be sold through sites like Decluttr. But wait, there’s more! They also take dvds, cds, books, games, and cell phones. Decluttr has an app you can download to make selling easier.
A similar site is IWM, which stands for It’s Worth More. It covers similar electronics but also includes camera sales.
10. Cooking Oil
Used (or spoiled) cooking oil is used in biofuels, which is a growing market. While an individual household may not use a lot of oil, many restaurants do. Lots of companies will offer to give you containers and pick up your oil. Only a handful promise to pay. GF Commodities services most of the continental US and will pay for oil.
11. The Rest of Your Unwanted Stuff
You can “recycle” belongings you no longer want on a variety of apps and platforms and get a little something back for them. ThredUp, Swap, and Poshmark are popular apps where you can sell clothes online.
ThredUp will send you a free shipping label and apply credits for anything that sells to your own account, but it’s often not a lot of money. Poshmark offers bigger potential payouts, but you have to put in more work to make your items move.
OfferUp is a second-hand site where you can buy or sell just about anything you no longer use.
Ziffit is another site for selling CDs, dvds, books, and games.
Someone has to provide all of those tennis balls to the pups. There are several sites accepting used balls, including Rebouncing and Tennis Ball Recycling.
If you have a bunch of gift cards that you haven’t (and probably won’t) used, you can sell them online for cash. It won’t be for the full amount of the card, but better than them just sitting in the junk drawer. Cardcash lets you post your card and sell it directly. On the other hand, you post what you have on Clipkard and the site directly makes you an offer.
Cash is nice, but sometimes trading is better. There are bartering sites for almost anything. Trade for houses, books, clothing and more. Some sites charge a fee for participating or individual transactions.
Some of the general purpose sites are Swap Thing and Barter Only.
You might hear public radio stations asking you to donate your old vehicles for a tax donation. If you don’t mind doing little detail in your tax return, you can get significant deductions by donating larger, unwanted items.
Many nonprofits work with companies collecting and selling cars, boats, motorcycles, golf carts, and other vehicles. The vehicle gets picked up and is sold at auction. Once it is sold, you get a notice of the amount sold for your taxes. While it isn’t direct cash, if you need a big deduction one year, this could help.
Contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on money-saving strategies and lifestyle topics and Kristen Pope is a former Penny Hoarder contributor.