9 Surprising Ways to Make Money Recycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle… get paid?


We recycle a lot in our home. We recycle because it’s a good thing to do but it also reduces the number of trash bags. Trash smells so the fewer the better!

But did you know the stuff you’re leaving in your blue bin could be worth cash?

(we don’t count states where you have to pay a deposit on bottles and cans, this isn’t a post about how to collect bottles and cans!)

Here are 9 surprising ways to make money from your recycling:

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Used Cardboard Boxes
  2. 2. Sell Your Used Cooking Oil
  3. 3. Join RecycleBank
  4. 4. Ink Cartridges
  5. 5. Automobile Batteries
  6. 6. Sell Scrap Metal
  7. 7. TerraCycle Programs
  8. 8. Check Your Utility for Disposing Working Fridges, A/Cs
  9. 9. Sell Wine Corks, Toilet Paper Rolls on eBay

1. Used Cardboard Boxes

We get packages all the time from Amazon (thank Amazon Prime!) and that means a ton of cardboard boxes.

Most of the time, we give it to our kids to build on their “box town.” When they start falling apart, we send them to recycling.

If you have a lot of cardboard boxes, you can list them on BoxCycle and sell them to people who live near you. People are always moving and need moving boxes and BoxCycle makes it easy to sell your boxes as long as they’re in good condition. Reusing (by re-selling) trumps recycling!

2. Sell Your Used Cooking Oil

This one is a little (a lot?) messier but biodiesel is a huge industry and they need used cooking oil. Whether it’s individuals buying off Craigslist or biodiesel firms leaving you a big can, you can get up to 75 cents a gallon when a barrel of oil is $100 when done so in massive quantities.

There are companies that buy from restaurants and the food services industry, but you could presumably save up a bunch of yellow grease and sell it the same way on a on-off basis. Find a local buyer and negotiate directly with them.

3. Join RecycleBank

RecycleBank is a program that’ll give you points for making (and keeping) different pledges like join a community garden. You earn points for all of these activities and those can be redeemed for local deals. For example, you can turn 50 points into a $1 off $5 coupon at Rita’s Ices.

4. Ink Cartridges

There are a lot of companies that buy spent ink cartridges. They refill and resell them. Hit up Google and you’ll be surprised how many there are.

You can always get $2 for each in credit from Staples, up to 20 a month, as long as you spend $30 spend on ink or toner over the previous 180 days.

Office Depot and Office Max offer a similar program where you get $2 per cartridge in rewards. They have a 10 limit and require you to spend $10 in that month – but it doesn’t have to be on ink or toner.

5. Automobile Batteries

In most states, you pay a deposit (often called a battery core fee or core charge) of ~$10 (the amount varies by state). Advance Auto Parts will give you a $10 gift card for an automobile or light truck battery at any one of their locations.

Details about their program and how to find a location.

6. Sell Scrap Metal

All metal has value. But scrap yards won’t buy the less valuable metals.

In general, ferrous metals are less valuable than non-ferrous metals. A ferrous metal contains iron, so magnets will stick to it and that’s an easy way to tell.

Of the non-ferrous metals, copper and brass are the two most valuable scrap metals. Here’s a sample pricing list of what one scrap metal recycler will pay for metal. As you can see, copper is the most valuable.

Find a scrap metal yard near you, find out how much they’ll pay for scrap metal, and bring your stuff over.

7. TerraCycle Programs

TerraCycle is an organization that works with companies and other benefactors to create recycling programs for hard to recycle items. These are things your local recycling plant isn’t equipped to handle, like single-serve baby food pouches, potato chip bags, and plastic toothpaste tubes.

What’s great about this program is that you can recycle hard to recycle items and you can earn points for a non-profit or school. The points system awards you 2 points for shipments over 7 pounds (the weight increased from 5 lb. to 7lb. starting in 2017). Each 1,000 points can be redeemed for $10.

The main motivation is recycling, since the points system is so low, but the rewards can be nice icing on the cake.

Learn more about TerraCycle

8. Check Your Utility for Disposing Working Fridges, A/Cs

When we moved into our home, the previous owner left a working refrigerator in the garage. We were tempted to keep it until we realized it was made around 20 years ago and incredibly inefficient.

Rather than pay someone to haul it away, I discovered our local utility would pay us to take it! As part of their recycling program, they gave us a $50 gift card for every working full-size refrigerator they took and recycled. $50 to haul away a device I was going to have to pay someone to take – sign me up!

They also take working air conditioners, when you are recycling a fridge, and pay $25 for those. Not all utilities offer this so check with yours first.

9. Sell Wine Corks, Toilet Paper Rolls on eBay

There are a ton of folks who buy craft materials on eBay and wine corks make great craft supplies!

That and toilet paper rolls.

It’s just two of the weird things you can sell on eBay.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  1. Alexis says

    Boxcycle is awesome! Uhaul even has a resource for people who are no longer in need for their moving boxes and are willing to give them up for free.

    • Jim Wang says

      Oh that’s good to know – we always gave them away on Craigslist or a local Facebook group – but dropping them off (rather than posting and then waiting for a response) is easier.

  2. Birdie Holt says

    Is it really true that toilet paper rolls are sellable? I mean I have a lot and it’s the thick strong kind too. It’s NOT FLIMBSY OR EASILY BREAKABLE. I’ve used them before for crafts but I have way too much for my own good, I guess. Lol!! But if this is true… I would love to learn how. Thanks for the tips!!

  3. Ashley Maxwell says

    I never realized that you could actually recycle cardboard. Thanks for mentioning how you should recycle them so that other people can use them for their move. My husband and I are considering recycling a lot of cardboard boxes that we gave in good conditions.

  4. Jarrad Taylor says

    Hey mate I’m a thirty sonething yr old male we hope has a idea it’s starting a not for profit organization to collect trasgmh of the side of the street n then donate to anther company I start up good idea or wat mate?

  5. Wallet Squirrel says

    Wait, I want to learn more about selling wine corks! I may have a few, lol.

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