Would you believe me if I said you could turn your trash into cash? It’s true! In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to turn your garbage into money!
As a youngster, I was extremely money motivated. My friend and I would come up with new money-making schemes all the time. Besides making and selling arts and crafts, perfume, and lemonade, we would also dig through the nearby office park’s dumpers, searching for soda cans and other treasures. Most of the time, we would collect the cans and trade them in for money to buy candy from the store. But one summer, we collected thousands of Pepsi Soda tabs and traded them in for a one-night stay at a hotel (don’t worry, my friend’s mom chaperoned us on our stay).
It’s crazy how many ways you can make money if you try.
If you’re looking to turn your trash into cash, here are 16 ways to get started:
1. Selling Aluminum Cans
Selling aluminum cans is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about turning your trash into cash.
With aluminum cans, how much you can earn will depend on which state you live in. According to Cohen, in bottle-bill states, you can expect to earn $0.05-$0.10 per can.
So, according to my calculations, if you have 35 cans, and each can pays $0.05, you’ll earn $1.75. While this isn’t a ton of money, it is an easy way to add some cash to your wallet while cleaning up your community.
2. Sell Your Cardboard Boxes
Boxcycle is an online marketplace where you can sell your new and used cardboard boxes for cash. (I wish I had known about this when we were selling Girl Scout Cookies, I had a ton of boxes)!
To get started, create a free listing on Boxcycle. Then when someone in your area is searching for boxes, you’ll confirm the availability of boxes and schedule a pickup time. Once the buyer has picked up the boxes and verified the sale, they’ll credit your account with the money. Payments are made via PayPal and can be requested anytime.
3. Turn Your Cooking Oil into Cash
Another way to turn your trash into cash is by selling your old cooking oil. A company called SeQuential will come and collect your used cooking oil and convert it into biodiesel. The pay is not disclosed in this article, but you can call for more details. There are a couple of downsides though. This company only collects on the west coast and from commercial kitchens, but you may be able to find a company in your area with a similar program. Or maybe you start your own biodiesel fuel company!
4. Sell Your Used Electronics
Have you just upgraded your smartphone, laptop, or tablet? Then sell your old electronic trash for cash on Gazelle. Just find your device on their website, answer a few questions, and mail it off for free with their pre-paid envelopes. Payments are made via check, Amazon gift card, or PayPal. Gazelle has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
If you’re looking for alternatives, I’ve sold used smartphones, iPads, and laptops to AT&T, Verizon, and Apple when I upgraded my devices. Amazon and Staples also have trade-in programs, but I have yet to use either of those.
Here are a couple of other companies that will buy your used electronics for cash as well:
5. Money For Junk Mail
Hate junk mail, turn it into cash! The Small Business Knowledge Center will pay you for your junk mail in the insurance, financial, mortgage, lending, credit, telecommunications, and travel industries. Just sign up to become a consumer panelist and then send your qualifying junk mail in pre-paid envelopes weekly. For each piece of mail that you send in, you’ll earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards.
The Small Business Knowledge Center has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Don’t throw away those receipts! Believe it or not, some companies will use your receipts for market research. Here are a few smartphone apps that will award you money or gift cards for your receipts.
Checkout 51 is a mobile app where you can earn money by redeeming offers when you grocery shop. Every Thursday, the site uploads new offers. Just check them out, purchase products on your grocery list, and snap a picture of your receipt. Once your account hits $20, you can request payment via check. US and Canadian residents can use this app. Checkout 51 is available for Android and Apple operating systems, and it has a customer rating of 4.5 stars.
Ibotta is an iPhone and Android app that you can use to earn money when you go shopping. Before heading out on a shopping trip, complete tasks relating to your favorite brands and companies. Next, go shopping at stores like Target and Walgreens and take photos of your receipts. Once your transaction has been verified, your account will be credited with the specified cashback amount. Payments are made via PayPal, Wells Fargo, American Express, Chase, Bank of America, or gift cards. Earnings can be withdrawn as soon as you earn $5.
Receipt Hog is a smartphone app where you take photos of your receipts from any grocery store, supercenter, club store, dollar store, drug store, convenience mart, beauty supply, or pet supply store. Once receipts are inputted into the system, Receipt Hog will award you with virtual coins that can be traded in for cash via PayPal, Visa, or Amazon gift cards. The amount of coins you earn per receipt depends on how much your total bill is. You can submit 20 receipts per week and trade 1,000 coins in for $5.
7. How to Sell Reclaimed Wood
Have you remodeled your home? Do you flip houses? Or do you have an old barn that needs to be removed? Then consider selling your old reclaimed wood for cash. Antique Beams and Boards will pay you money for your ash, elm, hickory, maple, walnut, and white oak wood. To get a quote, shoot them an email with length, sizes, type of wood (if known), and photos. Antique Beams and Boards has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
8. Scrap Metal
When I think of scrap metal, I think of steel mills. But the truth is most things that are metal (including cars, bikes, appliances, cans, file cabinets, BBQ grills, etc.) can be recycled for cash. Go to GotScrap.com and fill out their online form or give them a buzz to find out how much you can make. Scrap yards are located throughout the US.
9. Used Ink Cartridges
Working from home, you go through a good amount of ink cartridges, but did you know that can you sell those old cartridges for cash?! At Evolve Recycling, you can send in your used ink cartridges (and cell phones) for quick money.
Just sign up on their website, and a pre-paid envelope will be sent to your home. Ship them your items back and get paid via check. One thing I like about Evolve Recycling is that they have a price list, so you know exactly how much your empty cartridges are worth. Please note that you must send in 20 items at a time, so you may need to save your cartridges up for an extended period before you can ship them off.
If you prefer to sell locally, HP has partnered with Staples, Best Buy, and Office Max to recycle your used ink cartridges. Staples rewards your recycling efforts with $2 in-store rewards. With Best Buy, you’ll receive a 15% off coupon for an HP Inkjet Printer, and with Office Max, you’ll earn $2 in-store rewards.
10. Recycle Your Wine Corks for Cash
Do you love to drink wine? Do you sell for the direct sales company, the Traveling Vineyard? Then sell those old wine corks for money! According to Vinepair, you can sell your old wine corks on eBay for approximately $0.10 per cork. Of course, you’ll need to pay eBay seller fees and shipping costs, but if you have a lot of wine corks lying around, you could earn enough money for a new bottle of wine.
11. Selling Plastic Bottles
According to Greenpeace, of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced, only 9% is ever recycled. Because of this trend, many countries and states encourage individuals to pick up plastic bottles and recycle them for cash. Tesco has installed reverse vending machines in the UK where individuals can turn in plastic bottles for money. As plastic bottles are a global problem, I expect this trend of paying for recycled plastic to continue. To see if there is a plastic bottle recycling center near you, check out Earth 911.
12. Selling Glass Bottles
Recycling glass bottles for cash is nothing new. But here in the US, only ten states pay money for bottles: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. If you don’t live in one of these states, it’s still worth exploring. Do a Google search for your city, and the keywords “sell bottles.” You may be able to find a local recycling center, a homebrew supply store, a vineyard, or a brewery that accepts glass bottles for cash.
If you’re unable to recycle bottles for cash in your state, and you’re crafty, you can sell upcycled bottle crafts on Etsy for a profit. People have turned used bottles into candles, lights, home decor, tumblers, and more!
13. Cash For Junk Batteries
Does your vehicle need a new battery? If so, you can trade-in your old one for a small discount on a new one. Most auto parts stores will automatically discount your new battery when you give them your old one (so be sure to ask about this before making your purchase). However, if you have old batteries lying around your garage, you may be able to sell them for cash at auto part stores, junkyards, or on sites like Craigslist. According to this article, you can earn anywhere from $5-$12 per battery.
14. Selling Your Old Appliances
If you’ve moved into a new house or purchased new appliances, you likely have old ones that need to be removed so you can make room for the new ones. Depending on how old, what condition they’re in, and if they’re working — you may be able to sell them for cash.
If your appliances are in good condition and still work, consider listing them on Craigslist, VarageSale, or Facebook Marketplace. If your appliances don’t work, you may be to sell them for spare parts on the websites mentioned above or to a local salvage yard.
15. Selling Toilet Paper Rolls
I would have never thought of this in a million years, but according to this article on Country Living, crafters and teachers need toilet paper rolls for craft projects. The going rate on eBay is $15 for 100 rolls; remember that you’ll have to cover shipping costs, packaging costs, and eBay fees.
16. Cash for Food Scraps
Back in my college days, when I waited tables, we would scrape the leftovers of patrons’ food into a giant trash bin. These food scraps were then donated to a local farmer, who would feed the scraps to his pigs. Food waste is a massive problem in America! In fact, according to the USDA, it’s estimated that 30-40% of our food supply is wasted by consumers each year.
While some companies and consumers have found creative ways to recycle their scraps, some clever entrepreneurs have found ways to make money from food scraps! One company, Carter’s Compost, bikes to consumers’ homes, picks up their food scraps, and drops them off at their compost sites. Your food scraps (coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, paper, and egg shells) are turned into valuable compost, and their service is only $10 for monthly pickup or $15 for weekly pickups.
Other Ways to Turn Your Trash Into Cash
There are lots of ways to make cash from your trash!
If you have unwanted items lying around your home, do some research to see if your garbage is worth any money. Many stores and organizations have recycling programs that reward you for recycling unwanted goods and trash.
For instance, TerraCycle is a company that allows individuals to recycle their un-recyclables (toothbrushes, snack bags, drink pouches, etc.), all while earning TerraCycle points for charities, schools, and prizes.
This post from Rather Be Shopping has a list of stores that reward consumers for recycling their old goods. Each of these stores offers some reward or discount — definitely worth checking out.
Then there are the professional dumpster divers who make a full-time living digging through the trash and reselling their finds. This guy, who lives in my hometown of Austin, earned $100K last year digging through the garbage of major retailers like Sears, Best Buy, and Office Max, then flipping his items on sites like eBay and Craigslist! Melissa and Rob Stephenson also have a reselling business, and many of their items are found in the trash too!
As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
Have you turned your trash into cash? We’d love to hear your story!
Originally published March 30, 2015. Content updated June 3, 2022.