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How to Make Money Recycling: By the Numbers

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Benjamin Locke

Edited by

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You can make a good amount of money recycling various materials if you have the time and are able to implement a solid strategy. Finding and recycling materials such as scrap metal, glass, and plastic can earn you over $1,000 a month while helping clean up the environment. Certain more valuable items, like old car batteries and electronics, can help you net a substantial income from recycling.
If you’ve heard that you can cash in on recycled materials, you might be wondering just how much money you can legitimately make from picking through “one man’s trash.” The answer might surprise you. Interestingly enough, if you strategize correctly, you can make a surprising amount of money from recycling cans, bottles, old ink cartridges, and more as a side hustle. And you don’t necessarily have to go picking through actual trash. Don’t believe us? Let’s go through the numbers below.

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How much money can you make recycling?

Here is a breakdown of the amount of money you could make on a monthly basis from various forms of recycling.
Cardboard boxes$4 per 100 pounds2,000 pounds$80
Scrap metal$2.80 per pound100 pounds$280
Ink cartridges$2.50 per cartridge40 cartridges$100
Glass bottles$.10 per bottle2,000 bottles$200
Aluminum cans$.05 per can6,000 cans$300
Plastic bottles$.07 per bottle4,000 bottles$280
Car batteries$.75 per pound200 pounds$150
Wine corks$20 per 2001,000 corks$100
Toilet paper rolls$18 for 100300 rolls$54
Grand total$1,544
For our calculations, we are estimating what you can get for different materials, based on average prices. For example, if you recycle cardboard boxes, the recycler typically pays between $3-$5 for every 100 pounds. So we will use an average of $4 per pound when calculating the price. The amounts of each item we picked are based on an estimate of how much a person could recycle if they were doing this as a side hustle rather than a full-time job.

Recycling cardboard boxes

Cardboard is one of the most-used packaging items on the planet, and around 70% of existing cardboard comes from recycled cardboard. When cardboard is collected and sent off to the recycling plant, it goes through a process of re-pulping, followed by a cleaning and polishing of fibers before being reconverted into paper. Some people will also buy and sell cardboard boxes online, perhaps to help with moving.
The amount you can earn from cardboard depends on your location and local recycling center. Typically, recycling centers will pay around $3-$5 per 100 pounds of cardboard. Assuming you can recycle 2,000 pounds a month, that could net you up to $100 a month at the high end of the range.


Price: $4 per 100 pounds
Monthly amount: 2,000 pounds
Possible monthly earnings from cardboard: $80 per month

Recycling scrap metal

There is a big upside to recycling metal, as it takes a long time to decompose and can be very useful once it is recycled. The recycling plant will remove all leftover plastics or non-metal materials from the scrap metal. Then they will then shred the metal into millions of little pieces before inserting it into a furnace and melting it. Once the metal melts, the recycling plant will go through a further process of purification before shaping it for delivery.
Scrap metal is a blanket term that encompasses different types of metals, such as copper, aluminum, and steel. The prices of these metals fluctuate with the national average on a daily basis and can be found at As most metals fetch between $1-$3 per pound, we are using a price of $2.80 per pound of scrap metal.

Scrap metal

Price: $2.80 per pound
Monthly amount: 100 pounds
Possible monthly earnings from scrap metal: $280

Recycling empty ink cartridges

Ink cartridges are one of the most valuable recyclable items around. They are easy to recycle, as the recycling plant will simply clean, test, refill, and reuse them. Unlike other recyclable materials that are melted down or shredded, the integrity of the ink cartridge structure remains the same.
Ink cartridges will fetch between $1-$5 for an intact cartridge. The price depends on the type of cartridge, the brand, and the state of the cartridge. For simplicity, we will use $2.50 per cartridge as an average.

Ink cartridges

Price: $2.50 per cartridge
Amount: 40 cartridges
Possible monthly earnings from ink cartridges: $100

Recycling glass bottles

Glass bottles, and glass in general, can be found everywhere. When glass bottles go to the recycling plant, they get crushed into pieces. The broken pieces are then crushed more, sorted, and mixed with other raw materials, such as soda ash and sand. Once mixed, the materials are then inserted into a furnace and shaped into molds. The amount of money you can get for recycling glass bottles depends on the number of glass bottles that you can find and carry.
Most recycling plants will pay between $.05-$.15 per glass bottle. So we will use an average of $.10 per bottle.

Glass bottles

Price:$ .10 per bottle
Amount: 2,000 bottles
Possible monthly earnings from glass bottles: $200

Recycling aluminum cans

Aluminum is even more prevalent than glass and probably the easiest recyclable material to find in abundance. When aluminum is recycled, a recycling center will clean, sort, and crush the cans. They are then sent to an aluminum manufacturer, where they are shredded, melted, and turned into new solid aluminum products.
The price you get for aluminum cans can vary if your state has (or has not) implemented a “beverage deposit law.” These beverage deposit laws are return schemes in which the recycler is paid a premium on certain types of bottles to encourage recycling. Michigan currently has the highest bottle deposit price, with $.10 paid per bottle. We will assume $.05 on a country-wide basis.

Aluminum cans

Price: $.05 per can
Amount: 6,000 cans
Possible monthly earnings from aluminum cans: $300

Recycling plastic bottles

Plastic that is not recycled can lead to materials lining our ground and oceans that take thousands of years to decompose. When plastic bottles go to recycling centers, they are shredded down. They are then melted and turned into new plastic pellets, which are sold to various manufacturers around the world.
Most recycling centers will offer $.05 -$.10 per bottle, depending on the location and the bottle. We will assume, for calculation purposes, that you can receive an average of $.07 a bottle nationwide.

Plastic bottles

Price: $.07 per bottle
Amount: 4,000 bottles
Possible monthly earnings from plastic bottles: $280

Recycling car batteries

Unless you save up your old car batteries, this is something you will probably have to search for at a car scrap yard. Electric car batteries that use lithium-ion will fetch an even higher price than a typical battery due to the general rarity of lithium.
Typical car and truck batteries will fetch $.22 per pound based on today’s market prices, but this can fluctuate. Lithium-ion batteries can be sold to recycling centers for much more, around $1.30 a pound. If you collect a diverse array of lithium and traditional metal batteries, we can estimate your return to be around $.75 per pound.

Car batteries

Price: $.75 per pound
Amount: 200 pounds
Possible monthly earnings from car batteries: $150

Pro Tip

Electronic waste is more complicated to recycle. E-waste is expensive to process as the recycler has to shred and melt it down, then separate it into metallic and nonmetallic pieces using a series of magnets and electric currents. There is generally not much money to be made from recycling e-waste. In fact, many places have implemented laws in which businesses have to pay for their e-waste. However, you may be able to get some money from a retailer that accepts e-waste, such as a cell phone provider.

Sell materials to artists on eBay

Although it might sound counterintuitive, there is a market for some second-hand products that enables you to recycle at the click of a button. Try selling them on eBay. Wine corks and toilet paper rolls are popular items because various artists and craftsmen can use them to make works of art. If you built up a consistent flow of materials, you could even turn this side job into a full-time job with plenty of extra cash.
For example, 100 empty toilet rolls can fetch you $18 on eBay, and you can sell 200 wine corks for around $20. You can use your own waste products or implore your friends (or maybe a local restaurant?) to give you their used wine corks and toilet paper rolls.

Toilet paper

Price: 100 rolls for $18
Amount: 300 rolls
Possible monthly earnings from wine corks: $54

Wine corks

Price: $20 per 200
Amount: 1,000 corks
Possible monthly earnings from wine corks: $100
There are many creative ways to make some extra money, and some that you can even do from home. Use our comparison tool to find the side gig that’s right for you.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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What types of recycling are profitable?

All types of recycling can be profitable, but some will make you more money than others. For example, you would need to have large amounts of time and space to collect enough cans to make $300. But if you could find 100 pounds of scrap metal, you could potentially make the same amount of money.

What is the most profitable type of recycling?

The most profitable form of recycling on a per-pound basis is probably lithium-ion car batteries at $1.30 per pound. The trick is being able to find them, as electric vehicles, although ever more popular, are hard to find in dumps and scrap yards.

Is recycling financially worth it?

If you do it as a side hustle and maximize the highest value of recyclables, it can be. The trick is finding a steady, consistent source of recyclable materials. Digging through trash might not pay off. It’s better to have contacts at places where you can pick up certain types of waste like scrap yards, supermarkets, and office supply stores. You might want to invest in a trailer as well.

Is recycling a good side hustle?

Yes, if done correctly. It’s also the type of side hustle where you can brag to people about how environmentally conscious you are by making the world a cleaner place. However, you may need to start by doing some research to find out how you can get access to consistent recyclable materials.

Key takeaways

  • There is money to be made in recycling products. Different types of recyclable products, such as glass and aluminum, will fetch different prices per pound or item.
  • Recycling a large amount of plastic, metal, aluminum, and car batteries, among other items, can net you over $1,000 per month as a side hustle.
  • You can sell obscure items, such as wine corks and toilet paper rolls, on eBay to artists and craftsmen who utilize them in their projects.
  • You may have a harder time finding a place to recycle e-waste or more restrictions on how to do it. However, some retailers will pay for it.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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