Recycling is good for the planet, but it can also be good for your wallet, too. In addition to reducing landfill usage and the consumption of new resources, you can also get some cash or help out worthy causes by recycling certain items. From drink containers and used electronics to scrap metal and car batteries, your trash may be more valuable than you think. Here’s how to make your recycling pay off!

Find a recycling center

Though recycling centers are not as prevalent as they once were, there may still be a place near you that recycles a number of items for cash. To find one, visit or to and enter your location and the items you want to recycle to find applicable centers nearby. You won’t get paid to recycle everything, but also it’s important to correctly dispose of potentially hazardous items, too.

Prepare your items for recycling

Check with your recycling center of choice to find out if you need to prepare your recyclables for the collection center in a certain way. You may be required to remove bottle caps, rinse contains, bag items in in certain quantities or sort and tie together cardboard. Learn the rules before you go to save time and frustration later.

Properly bag items that have the potential to make a mess. Beverage containers in particular have a habit of dripping any lingering contents in your vehicle or on you.

If you’re donating a cell phone or other electronic item, make sure your important data is backed up or transferred somewhere safe and then securely deleted from the device. Performing a factory reset on the device or manually deleting any sensitive information is the most basic deletion method. For the most security, however, encrypt the device (if possible) or look up ways to physically destroy the storage medium, such as drilling holes through computer hard drives.

What to recycle for cash

Depending on the options available near you, you can get paid to recycle a number of items. Here are some of the most common ones.

1. Bottles and cans

Bottles and cans are often the first item that comes to mind when one thinks of paid recycle. Some regions pay the market rate for these items, while others, such as certain states, may pay a higher value as an incentive to recycle.

California pays 5 cents for most plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans smaller than 24 ounces and with 10 cents for 24-ounce or larger containers. Michigan offers 10 cents per container. These incentives are typically funded via an added cost when purchasing these items, in state so bringing them in from out of state is often not allowed.

2. Scrap metal

Scrap metal can be one of the most profitable items to recycle. Because of this, scrap metal theft is not uncommon, with even mundane items such as manhole covers occasionally pilfered for their scrap value.

Ferrous metals such as steel or iron are typically worth less than non-ferrous metals such as copper, aluminum, brass, bronze or stainless steel. If a magnet sticks to your metal, it’s ferrous. If it doesn’t stick, it’s non-ferrous.

Perform an Internet search for your area and “scrap yard” to locate a scrap yard that may take your metals, inquire as to how much they may pay and learn their drop off procedures.

If you live in a large urban area, it’s possible that enterprising scrap collectors can be found roaming your neighborhood, often easily identifiable by their pickup truck beds full of scrap. If you flag one down (or call them if they advertise a phone number), you may be able to negotiate a price for your scrap on the spot without having to haul it yourself to a recycling center.

3. Car batteries

Some auto parts stores offer store gift cards for turning in used car batteries. Advance Auto Parts is one example, offering a $10 card for car and light duty truck batteries. Contact your local store to see if they offer any deals. Scrap yards may also pay for batteries.

4. Ink cartridges

Some office supply stores, such as Staples and Office Depot, have deals for turning in used in cartridges.

Staples offers $2 back per cartridge, with a maximum of 20 returns per month, though you must have spent $30 on ink with them during the previous 180 days.

Office Depot offers 200 points for up to 10 cartridges a month, however, you must also have made a $10 qualifying purchase during the same month. Points can be used toward a number of different perks and discounts.

5. Electronics

With their variety of uses, modular components and exotic metals, electronics are good to recycle both because of the potential profit and because of the harm they can cause if disposed of improperly.

Many companies offer cash for old cell phones and other electronics. One example in Eco-Cell, which buys working or broken phones, tablets, rechargeable batteries, circuit boards and a number of other electronics. While they don’t list their prices, you may be able to call in for a quote on your items.

Selling or trading in electronics through online services like craiglist, eBay, (through a Seller Account or Amazon Trade-In) and Swappa will often net you the best price but require the most work. You may need to create an account with the service of your choice, post a photo and description of your item, set a price, receive an electronic payment from your buyer, ship the product to the buyer and pay the service a fee. Be sure to check how much similar products are selling for before you list yours. Even correctly advertised broken items can find buyers, particularly on eBay and Swappa.

Several cell phone carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T, offer trade-in programs that provide a voucher, gift card or other incentive for handing in an old phone.

Numerous charities also accept donated cell phones, either to repurpose for their cause or to use recycling funds to benefit their mission. HopeLine and Cell Phones for Soldiers are two such charities.


Once you learn the value of your recyclables, you can be both eco-conscious and cost-conscious about how you recycle them. Getting kids involved is also a good way to teach them about environmentalism, thriftiness and even business. Best of luck in your recycling endeavors!