21 Items That You Can Recycle for Money

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · January 24, 2023 · 9 minute read

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21 Items That You Can Recycle for Money

Most of us are aware that diverting waste from landfills can be a go-green practice that’s good for the planet. But did you know that recycling everyday items — from metal cans to cooking oil — can also put some green in your wallet?

With a little time, effort, and know-how, you can recycle the following 21 items to generate some additional bucks. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Read on to learn more.

Is Recycling Financially Worth It?

The practice of waste diversion can help households and businesses save money while helping to protect the planet. It can also be a satisfying way to make money from home (or mostly from home).

However, you may need to do the following:

•   Seek out a recycling center or collection point.

•   Prepare the items for recycling (washing, sorting) according to the center’s specifications.

•   Make a tax-deductible donation vs. receiving a cash payment.

Recycling can be a positive way to earn a bit of extra money during your off-hours from your full-time job. If you are a freelancer, you’ll need to determine whether the time spent is worth it, as it might take away from higher-paying hourly work.

Recommended: 39 Passive Income Ideas to Build Wealth

How Much Do You Get Per Item You Recycle?

Recycling can become a green way to earn money, but it can be a challenge to estimate how much you’ll make.

Redemption centers for clothes, glass bottles, or scrap metal pay varying amounts from state to state. For example, in New York State, you can get 5 cents for every returned aluminum can, while Michigan offers 10 cents per can.

You can do a little research to determine where you’ll get the most cash for what’s otherwise considered trash and which items yield the most money back.

Quick Money Tip:Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts will pay you a bit and help your money grow. An online bank account is more likely than brick-and-mortar to offer you the best rates.

21 Everyday Items That You Can Recycle for Money

Whether your goal is downsizing your life and decluttering, making additional dollars, or both, purging your household of unused items can lead to a cleaner environment and fuller piggy bank.

Wondering what you can recycle for money? Here are 21 ideas:

1. Cans

On the list of what to recycle for money, aluminum beverage cans are quite popular. They are light and easily compacted and can often be redeemed at your local supermarket for five or 10 cents a piece.

Beyond bagging up the recyclable cans in your home, you can collect them from your workplace, friends, and family members. Or you might find many after an event, such as a block party or community concert.

2. Glass Bottles

As with cans, you can collect around five to 10 cents for each glass bottle. Some recycling centers may require you to empty and rinse them before returning.

3. Plastic Bottles

Another item to recycle for money: plastic bottles, which are everywhere. Did you know that an estimated 2.5 million of them are being thrown away every hour in the United States? You can earn around five to 10 cents for every plastic bottle recycled, depending on its size.

4. Scrap Metal

Another item that can be recycled for money is scrap metal. It’s one of the more lucrative items to sell. At some scrap yards, you can get over $2 per pound for copper and 40 to 70 cents per pound for aluminum. To find it, look for local construction sites where workers might appreciate your hauling it away, and also check local community boards, Freecycle, Craigslist, and the like.

5. Cardboard

Most of us get a lot of home deliveries these days, resulting in numerous boxes waiting to be recycled. You can get cash for your cardboard, around $45 a ton.

A literal ton of boxes is, of course, a lot, and more than will fit in your garage. But you can research local places that take considerably less. There are websites, like BoxCycle, that will buy your cardboard and reuse it.

If you reach out to friends, family, offices, and restaurants, you can accumulate a big bundle to tie up and sell. You might also check any local college campuses after move-in day.

6. Junk Cars

If you want to cash in on your rusty pickup truck, scrap yards will pay for it, perhaps basing the price on the metal they can recycle from it. There are also a lot of companies that will buy your car regardless of its condition. Do an online search, and review the possibilities. You might find charities that you know and like (such as Habitat for Humanity) have programs in which they pick up your car and you then can take a tax credit.

Recommended: 25 Tax Deductions for Freelancers

7. Clothes

Perhaps it’s time to clean out your closet to make some cash. You can sell your gently used clothes for quick cash. Websites (such as Poshmark, thredUP, eBay, and Etsy), in-person consignment stores, and hybrid businesses such as The RealReal are just some of the options.

8. Cooking Oil

When wondering, “What can I recycle to make money?” bet you never considered the vegetable oil in your kitchen. Okay, this option is mainly for restaurants. But if you own an eatery, there are companies that will pay for rancid or used cooking oil. It can be reused as biofuel.

9. Hair

Hair can be a surprisingly lucrative thing to repurpose. Wig makers and hair extension companies may pay $500 to $2,000 dollars for long, uncolored human hair. Typically, you need at least 10 inches to sell. In addition to searching for wig and extension businesses online, you might even find buyers on CraigsList and Ebay.

10. Makeup Containers

Many beauty supply stores will take back your old lipstick, eyeshadows, and other makeup containers. They’ll recycle it properly and, in many cases, give you cash-back reward points towards a product purchase.

11. Gift Cards

Sometimes, a well-meaning person will give you a gift card you have no intention of using. If you have unused gift cards lying in a drawer, there are websites, like CardCash or ClipKard, that will buy them from you or provide a marketplace where you can sell them.

These websites will collect a fee, however — you won’t get what your card was worth. But better to collect some cash than have the card collect dust in a drawer.

Recommended: Can You Buy Gift Cards with a Credit Card? Everything You Need to Know

12. Electronics

Some electronics contain hazardous materials and can’t be disposed of in your regular trash or recycling. But that doesn’t mean that taking care of e-waste is a losing proposition. Certain companies will offer money for your old electronics — computers, rechargeable batteries, and calculators, to name a few. Apple may let you trade in a laptop, tablet, or other devices for a credit, or recycle it for free.

Just make sure the company isn’t greenwashing. Here’s what greenwashing means: It’s a practice whereby companies profess to be environmentally friendly with their e-waste, but actually aren’t. Do a bit of research before you hand off your electronics.

13. Cell Phones

Need more inspiration for things you can recycle for money? There are financial benefits to not just tossing your old phone. Many cell phone providers like AT&T and Verizon will give you a gift card or vouchers for a phone you’re no longer using. These can be used toward purchasing a new product.

Recommended: Tips for Overcoming Bad Financial Decisions

14. Car Batteries

Has your car battery stopped working? This is another item you can recycle to make money. There are auto part stores and junk yards that will give you cash for your car battery — anywhere from $7 to $30 dollars. Some auto part retailers will give a store credit toward future purchases.

15. Ink Cartridges

There are many office supply stores, including Staples and Office Depot, that will recycle your used ink and toner cartridges and offer cash-back rewards.

There may be limits on how many ink cartridges you can bring back per month and certain spending requirements in order to qualify for the rewards.

16. Wine Corks

Do you love drinking wine? If so, don’t toss the corks when you open a bottle. Some craft enthusiasts, manufacturers, and other businesses are willing to buy popped wine corks. Artistic types can turn them into anything from picture frames to wall art and beyond. By listing yours on sites like Ebay and Craigslist, you can get about 5 cents per cork.

Recommended: Different Ways to Earn More Interest on Your Money

17. Holiday Lights

Those strands of holiday lights that once brought you cheer can now bring you cash. You can box up and ship your old, broken lights to companies such as Holiday LEDS and Christmas Light Source. They’ll typically give you up to 10% or 15% off your next purchase.

18. Toys

You can earn money selling gently used toys to consignment shops, second-hand shops, and online. You’ll give your budget a boost and bring joy to another child.

19. Bed Sheets

Here’s another way to recycle and earn some cash: If you recently upgraded your mattress from, say, a full to a king, you can sell your used bed sheets, as well as your towels, curtains, and other fabrics, on sites such as Facebook Marketplace and Ebay.

Recommended: 37 Places to Sell Your Stuff

20. Tennis Balls

Around 125 million tennis balls get tossed out as garbage in the U.S. every year, but you might be able to make some money on them. One savvy person packaged gently used tennis balls in a four-pack muffin container and wound up earning thousands of dollars for a local charity. See if you can try your own version of her clever idea.

21. Trash

While this way to recycle and earn cash may not directly improve your bank account, it’s a good one to know about. Small businesses, schools, and nonprofits with a lot of garbage can turn it into a fundraising opportunity. Companies such as TerraCycle will donate money to your cause for every piece of trash, often including hard-to-recycle items. There are paid and sponsored opportunities, and your school could earn $50 for every five shipments you send them.

Recommended: 5 Ways to Achieve Financial Security

The Takeaway

With a little research and effort, you can turn your used and unwanted items into extra money. Recycling items can be a big win for your pocketbook and the planet. Whether you focus on collecting cans, unwanted clothes, cardboard, or corks, you can wind up with some extra cash while doing good.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


How many items are recycled a year?

America recycles around 69.1 million tons of material a year. Paper makes up about 66.5% of recycled materials, followed by metals (12.6%), wood (4.5%), plastics (4.5%), and glass (4.4%).

What can you recycle for money?

There are lots of items you can recycle for money: cans, metal, old cars, used clothing, electronics, and even human hair and cooking oil.

What are the non-financial benefits of recycling?

Even if you don’t get paid, recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to a landfill, prevents pollution, and conserves energy and natural resources.

Photo credit: iStock/Eric Panades Bosch

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