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What Can I Recycle And Make Money – Side Hustle Guide

Many of us are aware of the environmental benefits of recycling, but did you know that you can also generate some green for your efforts? Yes, recycling can put a little extra cash in your pocket, while you contribute to making the world a greener place.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through some materials you can recycle for money, how to go about it, and some extra tips to maximize your earnings.

TL;DR: In the spirit of both environmental responsibility and economic savvy, recycling can provide a unique opportunity to make some extra cash. Key recyclable items that can generate income include scrap metals, electronic waste, cardboard and paper, used cooking oil, ink cartridges, and even wine corks.

To fully capitalize on this opportunity, research local recycling programs, understand the value of different materials, and consider starting your own recycling business.

Key Recyclables That Can Earn You Money

When we think of recycling, we often limit our thoughts to paper, plastic, and glass. While you can recycle these items, they might not be the most profitable. Here’s a list of items that can earn you some decent money:

  • Scrap Metal: Metals are amongst the most valuable recyclable materials. Brass, copper, aluminum, and steel can earn you a fair amount.
  • Electronic Waste (E-Waste): Old phones, computers, and other electronics often contain precious metals that can be quite valuable.
  • Cardboard and Paper: Companies pay for old cardboard and paper, especially if it’s in large quantities.
  • Used Cooking Oil: Some companies pay for used cooking oil, which they recycle into biodiesel.
  • Ink Cartridges: Many office supply stores offer store credit for recycling old ink cartridges.
  • Wine Corks: Believe it or not, there’s a market for used wine corks, which can be recycled into various craft projects.

Know Your Local Programs and Facilities

Understanding what your local recycling programs and facilities offer is crucial. I recommend you check with your local recycling center, scrapyards, and municipal recycling program to understand what materials they accept and what they pay. Online platforms like Earth911 can help locate recycling facilities in your area.

The Art of Pricing Your Recyclables

Pricing in the world of recycling can be complex, as it often varies by region and is dependent on the current market rate for the material.

Websites like iScrap App provide updated pricing for scrap metals in various regions, and can be a valuable resource.

Expanding the Value of Recyclable Materials

To enhance your recycling efforts and make the most money, it’s essential to take a deep dive into the value of different materials and how you can get the best price for them.

Metal Recycling: A Golden Opportunity

Scrap metal recycling is a lucrative industry and a great source of income. Not all metals are created equal in the recycling world, so it’s important to distinguish between the different types:

  • Copper: This is one of the most valuable metals. It’s found in electrical wires, roofing materials, and plumbing pipes. I recommend separating your copper into different grades for the best return.
  • Aluminum: Often found in soda cans, window frames, and car parts, this lightweight metal is valuable due to its widespread use and recyclability. A great way to increase your earnings from aluminum is by crushing your cans, allowing you to store more in less space.
  • Steel: This common metal is found in appliances, cars, and cans. It’s worth noting that while steel is not as valuable as copper or aluminum, its prevalence can make it a consistent earner.
  • Brass: Often found in plumbing fixtures, musical instruments, and decorative items, brass can fetch a decent price.

Remember, cleanliness and separation of your metals are crucial when turning them in for recycling.

E-Waste: The Hidden Treasure

E-Waste recycling is another profitable avenue. Old electronic items like laptops, cell phones, and TVs contain precious metals like gold, silver, palladium, and copper. These metals can be extracted and sold for a significant profit.

Furthermore, large appliances like refrigerators and washing machines can also be recycled for their metal content. However, I recommend hiring a professional to handle such items due to potential hazards like refrigerant gases.

The Potential in Paper and Cardboard

While it might not be as lucrative as metal or e-waste, paper and cardboard recycling can still provide some income, especially if you can supply it in bulk.

Consider reaching out to local businesses to collect their cardboard waste, as businesses often generate a significant amount of this material.

Cooking Oil: A Slick Opportunity

Used cooking oil can be recycled into biodiesel, a type of renewable energy. There are companies that will pay for your used cooking oil, but it’s crucial to store it correctly. Never mix it with water or other materials as it can reduce its value.

Ink Cartridges: Turning Ink into Cash

Some office supply stores, like Staples and Office Depot, offer store credit for each cartridge you recycle. Online platforms like eCycle Group and TonerBuyer will also buy your used cartridges for cash.

Wine Corks: An Unconventional Earner

Used wine corks can be sold to crafters or companies like Yemm & Hart, which turns them into sustainable products. While not as profitable as metals or e-waste, this is a great example of finding unique recycling opportunities in everyday items.

Starting Your Own Recycling Business

If you’re serious about recycling for money, you might consider starting your own recycling business. This could involve offering a pickup service for local businesses and households, or even setting up a drop-off point for people to bring their recyclables.

To maximize your profits, diversify the types of recyclables you collect. For example, consider also collecting bottles and cans, which can earn you deposit returns in certain states.

Remember, while the business idea has potential, there are legalities and logistics involved that need to be thoroughly considered.

Additional Tips to Boost Your Earnings

  • Stay Informed: Keep an eye on the market trends for recyclable materials as they can fluctuate based on supply and demand.
  • Expand Your Network: Networking with other recyclers, businesses, and community organizations can lead to more opportunities and higher earnings.
  • Educate Yourself: Learn about the recycling process for different materials. The more knowledgeable you are, the better you can negotiate prices.

Recycling for money is not just an excellent way to supplement your income, it also helps conserve our planet’s resources. The more we recycle, the less we need to rely on the extraction of new materials, making this not just an economical choice, but an environmental one as well.

A Few More Tips To Earn More From Recycling

  • Separate and Clean Your Recyclables: Many recycling centers pay more for items that are separated and cleaned, as it saves them time and resources.
  • Collect In Bulk: Selling your recyclables in bulk can often fetch you a higher price.
  • Be On The Lookout For Unique Opportunities: For instance, some companies offer buyback programs for their products or packaging.
  • Don’t Forget About Composting: You can sell composted organic waste as garden soil.
  • Consider Upcycling: Instead of recycling, consider upcycling items into craft projects that you can sell.


In conclusion, making money through recycling is a real and achievable prospect. Not only can it be a source of additional income, but it also enables us to contribute to preserving the environment.

By understanding the market, recycling correctly, and possibly even starting your own recycling venture, you could be on your way to making significant earnings from your recyclable waste.


What is the most valuable item to recycle?

Metals, particularly copper and brass, tend to be the most valuable items to recycle.

Can you make a living off recycling?

While it’s possible to make a living off recycling, the amount you earn can vary significantly depending on several factors including the materials you’re recycling, your location, and current market rates.

Can I recycle for money in every state?

Some states have ‘bottle bill’ laws that provide for a cash return when you recycle bottles and cans. Check your local laws and recycling programs for more information.

Are all metals recyclable?

Most metals are recyclable. However, some scrapyards or recycling facilities may not accept all types. Always check with your local recycling facility.


  • Chris Chamberlan

    Chris Chamberlan, passionate animal welfare activist and USC graduate, conducted undercover RSPCA missions exposing slaughterhouse malpractices. A vegan and advocate for humane treatment, Chris has spoken at international conferences, been involved in vegan outreach, and founded Solarpunk Solutions for sustainability. His blending of animal welfare with eco-living principles for a compassionate future.

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