Looking for some spare change? With the many companies cropping up that offer cash or services in exchange for your used goods, it’s time to start thinking of recycling as the new couch cushions.

With a little effort, everything from books to cookie wrappers can be traded in for cash, in-store rewards, or a good cause.

Here are several ideas to help you responsibly recycle and make a little money at the same time.

Glass Bottles and Aluminum Cans

In states with bottle bills, you can redeem many of the cans and bottles you buy for cash, usually 5 to 10 cents a bottle. You pay the deposit when you buy the product, so redeeming these empties is a great way to recycle, while putting a little change back in your pocket.

If you don’t have a container deposit law in your state, check out the Container Recycling Institute’s Bottle Bill Toolkit for tips on lobbying for one.


Because of the materials used to make electronics such as lead, mercury, and brominated flame retardants, it is important to keep as much of the estimated 2.5 million-plus tons of e-waste out of the waste stream.

What’s more, many of the materials necessary in cell phone production, such as coltan, are rare and the need for them is the cause for conflict in countries where they are mined. Whether the materials used to make electronics are abundant or not, it is more efficient to reuse these resources than to mine, process, and ship new ones.

exploded phone
The internet makes it easy to find people looking for something you don’t want anymore, and several businesses and nonprofits base their entire model on the fact that there is still plenty of life left in that cell phone or computer. Photo:Flickr/Morton Lin

Fortunately, there are easy ways to be sure your e-waste is recycled properly, and some companies will even pay for your e-waste.

MailInMobile and USell will do just what their names imply. Companies like GreenBuyback, Gazelle, and YouRenew buy everything from cell phones to laptops. What’s more, most of these types of companies offer the option to put your recycled electronic bucks towards the charity of your choice.

Office supply stores like Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot give you $2 in-store credit for each printer or toner cartridge returned for recycling. These cartridges can be refilled and reused, so most manufacturers are eager to have them returned.

While some companies won’t give you money for your e-waste, several will pick it up for a nominal fee. In New York City, 4th Bin will collect everything from computers to cell phones. Also, the company only works with ISO 14001 certified partners to make sure all e-waste is recycled responsibly. Greendisk is a similar mail-in service that accepts e-waste for recycling.

No matter where you recycle your e-waste, keep in mind that the recyclers are following the standards laid out by the e-Stewards Initiative.

Stacks of Books
Got a pile of books that’s just collecting dust on the shelves? Turn that stack into cash by using a swap service. Photo: Flickr/Andrei.D40

Books, CDs and DVDs

While you can always resell your used books or CDs on the web or at your local used book or CD store, another great way to get exactly the book or CD you want is by using a swapping service such as PaperBackSwap or BookMooch. For each book you mail out at your expense, you get a credit that you can use to order one of the thousands of books listed on the services’ sites.

Services like Decluttr make it easy to sell your CDs, DVDs, books, and games online — all you need is the item’s barcode.


A variety of convenient online outlets make it easy to resell your gently-worn clothing. Many secondhand or consignment shops will buy used clothing and furniture. Stores like Buffalo Exchange, which has locations across the country, will give you cash or store credit to use toward the latest new-to-you outfit. 

Trash to Cash

Thanks to innovative entrepreneurs who are working to find new ways to make products out of wrappers formerly known as waste, there are more and more opportunities to both reduce your personal garbage output and make a little extra cash.

Terracycle has set up brigades all over the country that allow groups and nonprofits to collect everything from energy bar wrappers to empty scotch tape rolls and turn them in for cash. Terracycle takes this “trash” and uses it to produce a varied line of new products, which includes everything from toys to trash cans.

Also, Recyclebank partners with cities and towns to measure and reward residents for recycling. Residents receive credits toward partner businesses based on the amount they recycle.

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 5, 2012, this story was updated in July 2018.

By Libuse Binder

Read more from Libuse Binder at Weekly Way.