Garbage Day is… Payday? Why Your Trash is Worth More Than You Think

Image: Garbage day
epSos .de under Creative Commons

Do you know how much garbage you produce each week?

Better question: Are you prepared to see it firsthand, getting up close and personal by lying amid a week’s worth of your trash?

Amazingly, some people were, and photographer Gregg Segal captured the results in his startling series “7 Days of Garbage.” You can take a look at what a typical week of trash looks like for different households in this recent article on Slate.

We see two morals in this pungent story:

1. Americans produce a scary amount of trash.

2. Some of that trash could be put to better use making them cold, hard cash.

We took a closer look at these unpleasant but powerful photos to identify some ways these people could be turning their trash into cash — and you could be, too.


Item: Bottles and cans

Better use: Depending on your state’s return laws, you can save them up and return them to your local grocery store or recycling center for profit.

Item: Wine bottles and corks

Better use: They’re actually hot material for DIY projects, and arts and crafters will pay for them on eBay. Just wash them off, list them and profit!

Item: Metal bits and pieces

Better use: You don’t have to have a big item like a beat-up car to cash in on selling scrap metal. Everything from old door locks to copper wiring can fetch a decent price if you collect enough of it.

Item: All other miscellaneous recyclable material

Better use #1: Get paid for having your city haul it away! Recyclebank works with waste haulers in many communities to track how much recycling they collect from your curb. You earn points for each haul, which can be converted into rewards like magazine subscriptions and shopping discounts. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

Better use #2: If you prefer to give back, Terracycle will send you a prepaid box to mail your trash in to them. Every box you send in earns you points that can be redeemed for charitable gifts or donations to the nonprofit or school of your choice.


Item: Unused fruit

Better use Not sure you’ll be able to eat all that fruit before it goes bad? Make it into jam or preserves and sell them at your local farmers market.

Item: Soggy coffee grounds

Better use: Used coffee grounds actually make great compost, as two business students found out and leveraged into their Back to the Roots urban mushroom growing kits.

Item: Food scraps

Better use: Create a compost heap in your yard and use it to fertilize a kitchen garden to reduce your grocery bills.

Item: Random fabric scraps and other odds and ends that can’t be recycled

Better use: Get crafty! You can make everything from purses to picture frames with a little artistic creativity and sell them on sites like Etsy. This woman in Turkey built a whole business out of turning used packaging like candy wrappers and canned-food labels into clutches and handbags.


Item: Food packaging

Better use: Cut out those Boxtops for Education and sell them on eBay — you may not have any use for them, but other people will pay for them.

Item: Old baby toys/household items/etc.

Better use: Just because you’re no longer using something, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t be able to get many more years out of it. Rather than trashing your gently used items, consider selling them at a flea market, garage sale or on Craigslist to put some extra cash in your pocket (and keep one more item out of a landfill).

Item: Defunct phones

Better use: Upgraded to something cooler? Don’t junk your old device; you can sell it for profit.

Item: Used stuffed animals

Better use: Give them a clean-up and sell them on eBay. Collectors, gift-givers and people looking to recapture their childhood are all willing to pay to take them off your hands.

For Bonus Points

Once you’ve learned how to max out the profit with your own trash, why not take it up a notch and starting selling other people’s junk? Dumpster-diving and curbside-trolling aren’t just for recent grads hoping to score a futon; they can also become a nice side business if you’re willing to put in a little work. You can also snag free items on Craigslist and resell them for a profit.

Look at you, saving the planet and making money at the same time!

Your Turn: These are just a few ideas for making money from commonly thrown-away items. What other ways can you think of to turn your trash into cash?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.