There are numerous benefits to recycling — reducing the use of natural resources, boosting the economy and saving energy, to name just a few — but sometimes it lacks an immediate personal benefit. If you want to profit from your good deed with more than just karma, check out these five ways to turn your trash into cash.

5 Ways to Make Money Recycling


Aluminum recycling is one of the most popular forms of recycling. That’s because aluminum is one of the easiest common materials to recycle, as well as one of the most valuable. The energy conserved by recycling one aluminum can is enough to power listening to a full album on an iPod. Americans receive $800 million a year from recycling aluminum. Amazingly, this only represents 67 percent of all aluminum cans — another $1 billion gets thrown out. If you’re not currently recycling all your aluminum, turning it all in is the easiest way to make money recycling.

The average national payout rate for aluminum is 70 to 80 cents a pound. But in some states such as California and Michigan, you can earn as much as 10 cents per can for recycling aluminum. If you collect a lot of aluminum and you live near a state with a higher recycling payout rate, it may be worth your while to make an extra trip periodically with the cans you’ve collected. (Just be sure to check the laws in your area, as returning cans to a different state than where you bought them is illegal in some places!)


Used cardboard can be another source of extra income. You probably use cardboard boxes every time you move or help someone else move, and those online order boxes can quickly pile up. About half of all recyclables collected in the U.S. are composed of paper products, including cardboard, amounting to 43 million tons a year. Eighty-nine percent of corrugated cardboard gets recycled. What you may not know is that there are places that will pay you for your used cardboard. For instance, BoxCycle lets you list your cardboard boxes online and will then locate buyers willing to drop by and pick up your cardboard and reimburse you, with money held by BoxCycle and then released to you through PayPal upon pickup.

When recycling cardboard, bear in mind that cardboard can only be recycled if it has not been stained by grease or food and if it’s not wet. Also, cardboard boxes must be broken down before recycling so that they can fit through recycling machines.

Junk Mail

Cardboard isn’t the only used paper product you can turn into money. Junk mail is another candidate for generating extra revenue. The average American gets 30 pounds of junk mail a year. But what’s junk to you may be gold to market researchers studying direct mail advertising. The Small Business Knowledge Center will pay you to forward them your junk mail and email offers for products and services such as credit cards, insurance, telecommunications and clothing. When you place qualified mail in provided postage-paid envelopes and forward your email, you earn points that can be redeemed for a Visa debit card. And if you’re self-employed or a business owner, you receive bonus points for participating.


Market researchers are also interested in receipts for items you buy at the store. For instance, some market research services are willing to reimburse you for grocery shopping receipts. The Snap by Groupon app lets you receive cash back when you shop for weekly offers. Snap a picture of the receipt for your purchase in order to qualify for cash. Once your account reaches $20, you can request a check in the mail. You can also earn money for referring friends who redeem offers. Other similar apps include Checkout 51, which also lets you redeem receipts from grocery shopping; Ibotta, which lets you earn money via PayPal from shopping at stores such as Walgreens; and Receipt Hog, where you can earn virtual coins that can be redeemed for PayPal cash or Amazon gift cards when you shop at grocery stores, superstores, club stores, convenience marts, dollar stores, drugstores, beauty suppliers or pet suppliers.


Electronics items are another way to make money recycling. For instance, just about everyone has a smartphone or cell phone. There are several ways you can earn money from used cell phones. One way is to sell your phone back to the manufacturer or a private party who’s willing to reuse it. A second way is to choose a cellular provider, such as T-Mobile, that will give you credit for your old phone or allow you to use it with a new SIM card. You can also sell smartphones and other electronics items such as laptops and tablets through sites such as Gazelle. Gazelle lets you send in listed electronics items in return for reimbursements made via check, PayPal or Amazon gift card.

Read More:
The Basics of Recycling Scrap Metal for Money
10 Steps to Save Money with an Energy-Efficient Home
Green Your Workplace: 10 Tips & Tricks to Save Money + Reduce Waste

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

By Earth911

We’re serious about helping our readers, consumers and businesses alike, reduce their waste footprint every day, providing quality information and discovering new ways of being even more sustainable.