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 in search of soda cans and other treasures. Most of the time we would collect the cans and trade in them for money so that we could 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 15 ways to get started:
1. Selling Aluminum Cans
Selling aluminum cans is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about making money from your trash. In fact, “According to the Aluminum Association, Americans earn nearly $1 billion a year from recycling aluminum cans”.
The national average is $0.50 per pound, and it takes about 34 cans to equal a pound. While you’re not going to get rich from recycling your aluminum cans, 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, Boxcycle will credit your account with the money. Payments are made via PayPal and can be requested anytime.
3. Turn Your Cooking Oil in Cash
Did you know that you can turn your old cooking oil into cash? Well, you can. There’s a company called EnviroTek that will come and collect your used cooking oil and convert it into biodiesel. The pay is $1 per gallon, and if you refer a restaurant grease account, they’ll send you an additional $25. The only downside, this company only collects in Vermont and New Hampshire, but, you may be able to find a company in your area that has a similar program.
4. Sell Your Used Electronics
Have you just upgraded your smartphone, laptop, or tablet? Then sell your old electronics on Gazelle and make some easy cash. Just find your gadget on their website, answer a few questions, and ship 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.
You can also check with your wireless phone provider. I've sold back used smartphones, iPads, and laptops to both AT&T and Verizon when I upgraded my devices.
Here are some other companies that will buy your used electronics for cash as well:
5. Money For Junk Mail
Learn to love your junk mail. The Small Business Knowledge Center will pay you for your junk mail that pertains to the insurance, financial, mortgage, banking, lending, credit, telecommunications, and travel industries. Just sign up to become a consumer panelist and then send your qualifying 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.
6. Scan Your Receipts For Cash
Don’t throw away those receipts! Believe it or not, some companies will use for your receipts for market research reports. Here are a couple of smartphone apps that will award you points and/or money for your scanned 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. This app can be used by U.S. and Canadian residents. Checkout 51 is available for both Android and Apple operating systems, and it has a customer rating of 4.5 stars.
Ibotta is an iPhone and Android application that you can use to earn money when you go shopping. Before you head 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 and can be transferred 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 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 just 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. To find out how much you can make, go to GotScrap.com and fill out their online form or give them a buzz. 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 the eCycle Group, 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. Just ship your items back and get paid via check. One thing I like about the eCycle Group is that they have a price list, so you know exactly how much your empty cartridges are worth. Please note, 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 Depot/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 percent off coupon for an HP Inkjet Printer, and with Office Depot/Max you'll earn $2 in-store rewards.
10. Recycle Your Wine Corks for Cash
Do you love to drink wine? Do sell wine 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 .10 cents per cork. Of course, you'll need to pay eBay seller fees and for 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 Ban the Bottle, the average American uses 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycles 38.3 of them. Because of this trend, many countries and states are encouraging individuals to pick up plastic bottles and recycle them for cash. Case in point, in the UK, Tesco has installed reverse vending machines where individuals can turn in plastic bottles for money. As plastic bottles are a worldwide 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 currently here in the US, only ten states pay (.05 – .015 cents per bottle) 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 an option worth exploring. Just do a Google search for your city, and the search term sell bottles. You may be able to find a local recycling center, a homebrew supply store, vineyard, or brewery that accepts glass bottles for cash.
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 you make 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 you've 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 sites like 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.
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 it's worth any money. Many stores and organizations have recycling programs that reward you for recycling your 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 type of reward or discount — worth checking out.
Then there are the professional dumpster divers who make a full-time living digging through the trash and reselling their finds for money. 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!
As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure!
For more ways to recycle your trash for cash — check out 111 online platforms to sell your stuff for money.
What unique and interesting ways have you made money?
Originally published March 30, 2015. Content updated October 3, 2018.
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