We may be past the golden age of making a profit off recycling, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still make some cash on your garbage and unwanted junk. I’ve done the mental legwork for you, and put together four ideas for how you can monetize your discarded stuff. From earning gift cards to making actual cash, there’s something here to get you started.
1. Discover what recycling opportunities are near you.
The first step in making money off recycling is to determine what recycling opportunities are available to you. Start by looking up your nearest recycling centers: you can do this at sites like RecyclingCenters.org and Earth911. Recycling Centers will give you specific recycling center locations, while Earth911 adds listings for big stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, and so on. These sites include some information about what materials each location recycles, but it’s a good idea to give them a call to confirm what materials they accept, what condition those materials must be in, and what compensation you can expect for each item. (Please note that some of those recycling locations are just drop-offs and won’t pay for materials. That’s why it’s important to call and see if they pay first!)
Some of the most profitable items to recycle tend to be scrap metal and electronics; you can also still make some cash on bottles and aluminum cans if you live in the right state. (You can discover if your state has a bottle bill at the Bottle Bill Resource Guide.) Otherwise, collecting enough waste materials to turn a profit may require you to become a local recycling drop-off for your neighborhood. Put out recycling bins that anyone in your neighborhood can drop off recyclables at, and make sure they understand they’re donating. You could also offer collection at local offices.
Don’t forget to check your recycling options online too – there are specialty sites buying everything from your used smartphones (Gazelle) to used ink cartridges (TonerBuyer).
2. Start recycling in your own home with organization and creativity.
To keep yourself focused on maximizing your recycling profits, get started with organization in your own home. Come up with a system to regularly clean materials you can recycle – clean items like used aluminum cans or bottles daily. Make sure discarded food packaging is clean of any food matter. Designate a bin or a place in your house to store these items, where you can easily see how much you’ve collected and judge when to cash in.
An organized system of collecting, cleaning, and sorting can also help you brainstorm new ways to use these items. Upcycling is a popular habit these days, and you can find thousands of ideas online about how to upcycle or repurpose various items – seriously, you can find tutorials on everything from turning bike wheels into chandeliers to using bulldog clips for cable organization to transforming coffee cans into houseplant pots. The only limit in upcycling is your imagination and observing safety requirements. Of course, upcycling won’t put cash in your hand fast – but it could save you money in the long run by repurposing junk at home instead of buying new stuff.
Don’t forget the arts and crafts angle either! Tons of discarded materials can become your next art project – old keys can be turned into decorative key hooks, or discarded tin cans can be transformed into snazzy luminary holders. Old bottles become canvases for sand art, while bits of leftover yarn can become tiny crocheted animals. Art is worth so much more than the sum of its parts, and you can sell your creations on sites like Etsy.
3. Don’t throw anything away without checking to see if you can recycle it first!
You will be surprised to discover exactly what you can recycle by selling to someone for cash. A popular example: are you a wine drinker? It’s possible all your discarded wine corks could be making you some money! No joke – just do a search on Ebay, and discover the many, many cork listings. They’re a popular craft item! Natural cork is also a sought-after recyclable, and you can learn more about that at ReCORK. (It doesn’t look like ReCORK offers payment for corks at this time, though.)
Remember: each time you’re planning on trashing something, do a quick Internet search to see if it’s something you can make money off recycling instead. Try a variety of different searches, focused around selling or repurposing the item in addition to recycling. This should give you a quick idea of what your options are to transform your junk into cash. If you’re not interested in repurposing an item yourself, someone online might pay you for it. Try selling old colanders as DIY hanging planters, or wooden crates as material for potential shelving, planters, or storage ottomans. You can even find places to sell your used cooking oil!
Here’s another wild – but potentially profitable – recycling idea: have long, healthy hair that you want to cut short for the summer? Consider selling your hair! Healthy hair, depending on the length, can net anywhere from $100-$900 – or more! Check out BuyandSellHair.com to see what the market is like.
4. Take advantage of recycling credit or points programs.
While it’s not free and clear cash on the barrel, you can still make some money by taking advantage of recycling credit programs. In other words, you return your used ink cartridges to a place like Staples or take car (and light truck) batteries to Advance Auto Parts, and then they give you a gift card or credit good for use in their store. Last I checked, Advanced Auto Parts will give you a $10 gift card – not too shabby! Staples will give you $2 in credit per recycled ink cartridge (though you do have to purchase ink cartridges from them in the first place to do so).
You can also sign up for a site like Recyclebank – after you register on the site, you can take “green actions” toward living a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle. This includes recycling! As you complete these actions, you earn points and your points can later be exchanged for deals at local businesses or discounts on various goods.