Why toss things in the trash when you could repurpose or recycle them?
In addition to diverting items out of the waste stream and keeping them out of landfills, you could also make extra money or help out worthy causes.
From scrap metal to ink cartridges, bullets to construction materials, you can recycle a huge variety of items in exchange for cash or goodwill.
Ready to see how recycling can pay off for you?
Find a Collection Point
Though some recycling centers are closing, you can still find places to recycle a wide variety of items for cash.
To find a recycling center near you, head over to Earth911.com and plug in the item you’re looking to recycle as well as your location. The site lists collection locations for everything from antifreeze to ammunition.
Of course, you won’t get paid to recycle everything, but it’s important to properly dispose of potentially hazardous items.
Prepare Items for Recycling
Check with your local collection point to see whether you have to prepare your recyclables for the collection center in any specific way.
Some centers require you to remove bottle caps, rinse and bag bottles in certain increments, or sort and tie together cardboard. Check the rules before you go to save time later on.
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 a bit of water and other residue on them; 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 you wouldn’t want random strangers to access.
Back up your information on your new phone, your computer or a cloud-based service, then restore your phone to factory settings before recycling it.
What to Recycle for Cash
Depending where you live, you can get paid to recycle certain items.
Here are some common options and how to recycle them.
1. Scrap Metal
Scrap metal is one of the more profitable materials to recycle. For this reason, scrap metal theft is not uncommon and even community recycling dumpsters have been raided in search of the metal.
Many local recycling programs fund their programs through scrap metal collection, so be sure to check your local rules or laws about collection.
Copper, steel and aluminum are just a few of the scrap metals you can recycle for money. Google your local area and “scrap yard” to find a local scrap yard that may take whatever metals you have.
Once you’ve rounded up your metal, find out if it’s 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 that much, but it’s still important 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.
You can make money recycling a variety of these metals. Be sure to contact your local scrap yard to see what it accepts and learn its procedures for drop off.
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 your own home.
California offers 5 cents for most plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans smaller than 24 ounces, with 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 a deposit or pay for recycling cans and bottles, so be sure to check your local area for rates.
3. Car Batteries
Advance Auto Parts offers a $10 store gift card to customers who bring in their unwanted 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 it offers a similar deal.
Some scrap metal yards test and sell used batteries they collect, though this price can vary widely.
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, though you do have to spend $30 on ink there over the previous 180 days.
Office Depot offers 200 points for up to 10 cartridges a month, but you must also make a $10 qualifying purchase during that month. Most in-store and online purchases count, but certain exclusions (such as gift cards and postage) apply.
There is no limit on the number of cartridges you 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.
Eco-Cell is one of many companies offering 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 now unusable, Eco-Cell will accept it. The company wants to divert these electronics from landfills and properly dispose of the toxic components and metals in each item.
While it doesn’t list its prices, Eco-Cell does offer a revenue share on the items, and its FAQ recommends calling in for a quote.
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 could also help you earn gift cards.
A number of charities also accept cell phones, whether to re-purpose the phones or use the funds from their recycling to benefit others. HopeLine has donated 180,000 phones to domestic violence victims and survivors. Cell Phones for Soldiers will refurbish and sell 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.”
And of course, you could always sell your old phone yourself.
6. Quirky Recyclables
Look around and see what you may be able to cash in on!
Your Turn: Do you recycle items in exchange for cash or other benefits?
Disclosure: You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked!
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.