Wallet Hacks

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:

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.

Companies like Smart Fuel America 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.

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 $20 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.