You Can Make Money Recycling Just About Anything. Here's How.

Written by

Emily Helwig
You Can Make Money Recycling Just About Anything. Here's How.

Things on planet Earth are heating up. Our love for disposable items and our carelessness when it comes to recycling are taking their toll on the planet. There’s currently a giant patch of garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean, while Americans are throwing away over 258 million tons of trash each and every year.

And, all of that waste is also wasting our money, too. Estimates show that for every $10 we spend in the US, $1 is spent on disposable packaging that gets thrown away immediately, accounting for 65% of our household trash.

Fortunately, there are things that we can do to mitigate our impact and recycling is a great place to start. Plus, it can even help you earn extra cash! Sound good? Then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve compiled this guide with tons of ways for you to make money from recycling used goods. Here’s what you’ll get in this guide:

  • Tips for recycling

  • 65+ ideas for recycling and how you can get money from them

Tips for recycling

  • While what we’ve listed here are opportunities to get cash in hand for recycled items, you can also consider donating items you might recycle to charities such as Goodwill. When you make donations to qualified non-profits you can get a tax deduction which is sort of like getting paid for your donation!

  • Make a side hustle or a fundraiser out of it. Let’s face it: a lot of us are lazy when it comes to recycling. Offer to take care of other people’s recycling for them or, if you’re part of a school or organization, set up a fundraiser where you have people bring in their old electronics, ink cartridges, or other recyclable items. You keep the money you earn!

  • Switch to reusable items as another way to save. Some stores will offer you a discount if you bring your own bags, jars, or cups. Plus, you’ll be helping the environment at the same time!

  • Join Recycle Bank. Recycle Bank is a rewards program where you earn points for pledging to do things like turning off your lights and reading articles on how to recycle. You can exchange those points for rewards like magazine subscriptions and restaurant deals.

Recycling bottles and cans

Most states have laws in place that encourage you to recycle by having you pay a deposit of five to ten cents on plastic bottles and cans that you get back when you recycle those items.

Americans throw away a shocking 35 million plastic bottles each year which presents a danger to marine wildlife and contributes to the overfilling of our landfills. Plus, you're throwing away the 5-10 cents you paid for the containers. Use these websites to find a recycling facility near you:

  • Recycle Finder. A site with a recycling facility locator.

  • Earth 911. Also has this excellent guide on best practices for recycling your bottles and cans.

  • Recycle Now. A site with a recycling facility locator.

  • Recycle Nation. An app that helps you find your nearest recycling facility.

How to get paid to recycle electronics

With electronics companies constantly inventing newer, better, faster models (or at least telling us that they’re newer, better, and faster) of their products each year, we humans are generating a lot of electronic waste (e-waste).

E-waste accounts for 70 percent of all toxic waste globally, yet we only approximately 12.5 percent of our devices. The rest go to landfills and are often incinerated, sending harmful toxins into the air we breathe.

These companies and programs are combatting the devastating effects of e-waste by offering trade-in, recycling, and buy back programs:

  • Apple. Recycle your old Apple products online or bring them to an Apple store and you’ll get a gift card or store credit for certain qualifying devices.

  • Amazon Trade-In. Amazon takes electronics including phones, video games, Kindles, and tablets for recycling and offers gift cards in exchange. Shipping is free.

  • Best Buy. Accepts a range of electronics for trade-in. Find your nearest Best Buy or mail your items in to get a Best Buy gift card or store credit.

  • Target. Takes a number of different electronics. Use their online appraisal tool, mail the device in for free, and get a Target gift card.

  • Walmart. Takes phones, MP3 players, tablets, and video game equipment. Get an appraisal online, ship for free through FedEx Ground, and earn a Walmart gift card.

  • GameStop. Bring your gaming equipment, games, and other electronics to your local GameStop and get store credit.

  • Staples. Accepts gently used smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Bring it to a Staples store or get it appraised online, ship it in for free, and get a Staples gift card.

  • Recycling Advantage. Accepts a number of different electronics. Free shipping through UPS is available if you send 20 or more items or if your order is over 20 pounds. You can expect payment within about 30 days.

  • Gazelle. Purchases old phones, tablets, and computers in varying conditions. You can get $5 extra on your first sale, a $10 gift when you refer a friend, and 3% extra cash back if you take your payment as an Amazon gift card. Get an offer online and they’ll ship items worth more than $1 for free or you can drop your items off at one of their ecoATM locations to get instant cash.

  • uSell. Accepts phones, tablets, MP3 players, game consoles, and other devices. Get a free quote online, they’ll cover your shipping costs, and you’ll get paid once your device is approved.

Where to make money recycling appliances

Appliances are also a major source of waste and some, including freezers, refrigerators, and air conditioners, contain hazardous materials that can present environmental concerns.

Most old appliances are made of metals that can be easily recycled and the dangerous chemicals can be neutralized when handled professionally. Check out these programs that offer you cash for your used appliances:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Partners of the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program will recycle your old appliances including refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers, and sometimes offer a rebate which you may or may not need to purchase a new Energy Star efficient appliance to get. Click here to search for partners near you.

  • Lowe’s. As part of the RAD program, trade in your old air conditioners, refrigerators, laundry machines, dishwashers, freezers, and water heaters and buy a new Energy Star product to get a rebate of $50-200.

  • Consumer’s Energy. Accepts refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers in good, working condition. They’ll come pick it up for free and give you a $50 rebate for refrigerators and freezers or a $15 rebate for air conditioners and dehumidifiers. Limited to two large units and four small units per calendar year.

  • Get Cash 4 Appliances. This is a referral site that can connect you with your local appliance recycling company. Cash back rates vary depending on the prices set by your local recycling company.

  • Got Scrap. If you can bring your steel, appliances, cars, copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, and aluminum cans to one of their recycling facilities throughout the South, they’ll offer you a cash rebate. Find their locations here.

  • SA Recycling. Offers a cash rebate for the scrap metal from your appliances including refrigerators, stoves, freezers, washers, dryers, water heaters, small electrical appliances, air conditioners, dishwashers, and microwaves. Find their locations here.

  • Sims Metal Management. Has 200 locations across the globe. They pay for a number of different appliances including refrigerators, washers, dryers, freezers, and heating and cooling appliances. Find locations here.

Utilities Companies

Some electricity providers have recycling programs for their customers that offer you cash when they come pick up your used appliances. Check with your utilities company for offers like these:

Where to recycle ink cartridges for cash

Home and office printers have revolutionized the way that we’re able to share information with one another. However, they’ve also become a problematic source of waste, with over 375 million printer cartridges being thrown in the trash in the US each year.

Fortunately, you can reduce your impact by purchasing reusable ink cartridges or by recycling your used cartridges for cash with these folks:

  • Toner Buyer. Accepts new and used printer cartridges. Call their toll-free number and earn up to $22 for each empty ink cartridge you send in with free shipping.

  • Toner Connect. Buys new and unused ink cartridges. Fill out the forms, send in photos of the cartridges, and get a quote in two hours or less. Shipping is free and you can earn up to $300 per toner.

  • Staples. Spend $30 on ink or toner, send your used cartridges in online or in store, and earn $2 per cartridge on up to 20 cartridges per month. Offer is only available for Base Rewards members.

  • Office Depot. Recycle your ink or cartridges in store and get $2 in rewards per cartridge when you make a $10 purchase during the same month. Rewards are paid out online quarterly. Offer is only available for their free OfficeMax Rewards members.

  • Takes HP, Lexmark, Xerox & Canon inkjet cartridges if they include a print head in their construction. Mail them in to the address listed on their website with your information included to get paid.

  • Quill. Accepts empty cartridges within six months of purchasing from Quill. Get $2 for every toner and $1 for every ink cartridge. Shipping is free.

  • Dazz Cycle. Accepts empty ink cartridges. Mail them in to the address listed on the website with an inventory form and receive a check within two weeks.

  • Recycling Advantage. Also accepts printer cartridges.  Free shipping through UPS is available if you send 20 or more items or if your order is over 20 pounds. You can expect payment within about 30 days.

How to make money recycling automobiles

There are a number of companies across the country that will pay you cash for your junk vehicle whether or no it’s in working condition.

They take the parts that can still be used, collect the scrap metal, and then responsibly recycle the rest of the vehicle in accordance with legislative requirements. Do a search in your area to find a local automobile recycler or check these nationwide recyclers out:

  • Junk My Car. Use their online appraisal tool to get a quote on your old vehicle in any condition. They’ll come pick the car up for free and give you your payment on the spot after a brief inspection.

  • Junk Car Medics. Use their online appraisal tool or call their toll-free number to get a free instant offer for your junk vehicle. They’ll tow the car for your for free and hand your the money on the spot.

  • SA Recycling. Get an instant cash offer with their online appraisal tool. They can arrange to have your car towed typically within 24 hours and will give you cash on the spot.

  • Junk Car Cash. Get an appraisal online or by calling their toll-free number. They offer free towing and will pay you when they pick up the car.

  • Green Vehicle Disposal. A nationwide network of green auto recyclers. Get a free quote online, and they’ll come pick up your car and pay you cash on the spot.

  • Cash for Cars Today. Another nationwide junk car recycling service. Call their toll-free number to get your offer and they’ll come get the car and give you your payment within 24 hours.

  • Fast Cash for Junk Cars. Services offered in all 50 states. Call their toll-free number or fill out an online form to receive an email offer. They’ll get the car free of charge and pay you cash on the spot.

Where to recycle car batteries for cash

Car batteries contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals that can put you and the environment in danger. These spots will recycle your old car batteries and give you money in exchange:

Where to make money recycling books

There’s no need to throw away books when you’re done with them or no longer have space for them, especially since there’s probably someone else out there who’d like to read them. You can always sell your old books on Amazon or Ebay.

But, if you’re looking for something a little easier, check in with your favorite local bookstore to see if they have a used book buying program or use these sites to sell them online:

  • Cash 4 Books. Plug in the ISBN on your book and some information about the condition it’s in to get a free quote online. They offer free shipping for your items and pay via check or PayPal when your items are received.

  • Sell Back Your Books. Get a free quote online. They provide you with a shipping label and you’ll receive your payment within three days of them receiving your books.

  • Valore Books. Fill out some information about your books and get a quote instantly. Shipping is free and you’ll receive payment via check or PayPal once they’re received.

  • BookScouter. Compares prices from 35 different buyback vendors to get you the best price on your books. Use their search tool to get started.

  • Get a free quote online and they’ll give you a dual FedEx/UPS shipping label for your books. They offer payment in cash or store credit.

  • eCampus. Accepts used textbooks. Get a quote online, ship your books for free, and get your payment by check, direct deposit, or in-store credit. You’ll get a bonus if you choose in-store credit.

  • Textbook Rush. Sell your used textbooks. Search for your book, get a quote, and ship them for free. Payments are available in cash, via PayPal, or in in-store credit.

Where to recycle clothing for cash

You’re probably familiar with organizations that take clothing donations like Goodwill and Salvation Army. If your clothes are still in decent shape and on-trend, however, you can earn money or store credit from these shops when you give them your unwanted duds:

  • Material World. Offers cash for your designer clothing items (check here for the list of brands they accept). They send you a free shipping kit and offer payment either via PayPal or in store credit. The store credit option will get you 10% off your next purchase.

  • ThredUP. Request a Clean Out Bag and ship your defect-free, on-trend, top brand clothes into them for free (check here to see the 35,000 brands they accept). Once they process your bags they’ll make an offer. You can use the credit on their store only for the first 14 days, but can cash out or get the money via PayPal after that. Certain luxe brands earn 10% more, and you can receive up to 90% of the retail price for these items.

  • Consignment stores. Consignment stores will pay a small rate for your used clothes or give you store credit depending on whether they think your items will sell. There are a few national consignment chains with stores throughout the country including Clothes Mentor, Uptown Cheapskate, Buffalo Exchange, and Plato’s Closet. Otherwise, just search for local consignment stores in your area.

Large Scale Recycling for Cash

Some everyday items can be recycled for cash, but only in large quantities. These ideas require a bit of effort, so they’d likely be best for someone looking to do this as a small business or side hustle:

Newspaper and other paper goods

You can earn money for recycling paper at your local facility. A ton (yes, a literal ton) of paper will earn you between $50 and $75.

Cooking oil

Biodiesel companies like this used cooking oil buyer in California will pay you cash for your used cooking oil. They won’t purchase small quantities from households, but if you have a restaurant or you want to collect used oil from restaurants, you can make as much as $0.75 per gallon.

Scrap metal

Again, you’ll need to accumulate a lot of scrap metal to make it worthwhile, with a ton of metal running at about $100 depending on the type of metal. Most of that comes from household appliances, cars, and other goods, so check those categories out above if you’re interested in recycling those items.

Wood Pallets

Many grocery stores, factories, warehouses, and other big businesses receive shipments on wood pallets that can be recycled for anywhere from $0.50 to $4 a piece depending on condition.

Miscellaneous recycling for cash

Here’s a few other random recycling ideas that can earn you cash:

  • ReCork. ReCork allows you to recycle corks that they then use to make other products. Sign up for their mailing list and get a $10 voucher. You can also sell used wine corks to crafters on eBay for as much as $20 for 200 corks.

  • Decluttr. A website and app that helps you sell your unwanted items including CDs, DVDs, and electronics.

  • TerraCycle. Okay, this one won’t earn you cash, but sign up for their free recycling program and you can earn points that are redeemable as cash gifts to your favorite charity or non-profit.

  • Small Business Knowledge Center. Become a Consumer Panelist and you can earn points for forwarding them your junk mail. Points can be redeemed as a Visa gift card.

  • BoxCycle. Sell your used cardboard goods and moving boxes on this site.

  • Recycler’s World. An online forum where you can sell just about any kind of recyclable item.

  • Hair Sellon. A site where you can sell your hair.

  • Toilet paper rolls. Crafters on eBay and Etsy will pay as much as $20 for 50 toilet paper rolls.

We hope these ideas have inspired you to find ways to help protect the environment and make cash while doing it! And, of course, even if you can’t make money off of all of your recycling endeavors, it’s important to recycle anyway. We all have a part to play in preserving the environment and keeping our landfills as empty as possible.

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This guide was published on March 28, 2018, and last modified on March 28, 2018.

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