Trash Money: The Art of Collecting Aluminum Cans, Plastic and Glass
Collecting is a great way to make extra cash
Many people are in need of sidebar money and one of the best ways to make it is by collecting stuff people throw away. If you can ignore the label of being a scavenger, or collector as I prefer to call them, picking up this stuff is a great way of making money that is nontaxable and, as far as I know, not considered “income” at government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, Employment Development Department or the Department of Human Services. Let’s put it this way, since there’s no audit trail with this money, do what you want.
Collectors can make as much as $100 or more per week, particularly during the summer months when more thirsty folks are drinking bottled water, soda pop, energy drinks, beer and wine. It would be hard to make a living doing this, but as a supplement to a fixed income such as social security or SSI, this is hard to beat.
So, if you can do work that is messy, smelly and perhaps déclassé, please read more about Trash Money:
Who pays for these recyclables?
In California, recycling centers are located at many different locations in towns and cities, so check the Internet or the phone book to find the one nearest you. These California centers will pay for items for which CRV taxes have been paid. CRV is an abbreviation for California Refund Value, which is paid by consumers every time they purchase these items – five cents for each 12-ounce aluminum can, for instance. Moreover, the CRV value is listed on each container. (This value could go up or down depending on state legislation.) Other states will have their own rules and pay more or less for recyclables; therefore, if you live in Michigan, you’ll have to go online and check for details regarding that particular state.
Please note that from here on, all information in this article will pertain to recycling only in California.
Recycling centers will pay from $1.50 to $2.00 per pound for aluminum cans. You’ll probably find more beverage cans than any other collectable. Each recycling center pays a different amount for aluminum, plastic and glass, so find the best deal and haul your stuff there. Incidentally, scrap aluminum sells for about $2,000 a ton.
Recyclers pay 20 to 40 cents per pound for bimetal containers, such as the ones used for Sapporo beer and some health drinks. This is such a small amount of money I don’t bother to collect bimetal containers. But if you can find lots of them, then haul them away.
Plastic comes in two main types: #1 plastic, the clear kind used in beverage containers, which is worth about one dollar per pound, and #2 plastic, the cloudy, opaque kind that’s worth about 50 cents per pound. (The number of the plastic is located inside a small triangle at the bottom of the container.) Number one plastic sells for about $400 per ton.
Recyclers pay somewhat more for other types of plastic, such as that used to hold detergents and solvents, but I don’t bother with these because they’re too much trouble to find and identify. Also be advised that recyclers won’t pay for the type of #1 plastic used for food and toiletries. Since no CRV was paid when these containers were purchased, recyclers won’t pay you for bringing them in!
Here’s some important advice: go to the recyclers who don’t make you take the caps off plastic bottles, because the caps add weight to your collection!
Glass bottles pay 10 cents per pound, but you’ll need to separate them by color and be aware that some have no CRV value. Also keep in mind, since glass bottles weigh a lot, you’ll need a cart to carry them. Better yet, bring you pickup truck or van; however, paying for gas could cut into your profits. My advice is that if you don’t have a motor vehicle, don’t bother to collect glass bottles. But there’s certainly plenty of money to be made if you can find hundreds of pounds of bottles and are willing to lug around the heavy weight.
What’s the best method for finding collectables?
As with many other pursuits, the first one there gets the treasure, and it’s the same with “canning,” as some people like to describe it. You may not believe this but I get up as early as two in the morning to beat all the other collectors. Since I’m a walker, I also get exercise as I walk briskly about the neighborhood in Downtown Sacramento, California, essentially knocking over two cans with one stone. Ha!
With plastic bag in hand, I can find cans and plastic bottles lying on the sidewalk or in the gutter or street. Since there are plenty of litterbugs in town, this method works okay. But if you want to find many collectables in one place, you must hit the trash receptacles, those large, plastic containers, a blue one for recyclables and a green one for green wastes. Monday through Thursday people put these out near the curb so the trash can be picked up by the disposal companies. Bring along a flashlight if you like, but I usually do without, using the moon for light and feeling my way. If I don’t find something near the top, I go to the next container. You can dig way down if you want, but I never do; it’s just too messy and smelly. Hey, I’ll only stoop so low!
These plastic receptacles can also be found in alleys, so you can comb through them as well, any time of the week.
Sometimes I’ll check those huge metal dumpsters generally found in alleys or parking lots. Unfortunately, these containers are often locked and if you don’t have the key you’re out of luck. However, the private disposal company that empties these dumpsters during the week uses the same key that fits all the dumpsters they empty. So if you can get that key, you can open many dumpsters. Like most people, I have only one such key, the one that opens the dumpster behind my apartment building. Interestingly, some dumpsters have combination locks.
A friend of mine named Aaron has two different dumpster keys; therefore, in theory anyway, he can open twice as many dumpsters as I can. And Aaron knows one lucky guy who has four such keys, one of which is the key to municipal dumpsters. This quartet of keys, if you will, is the Holy Grail for local collectors!
Aaron actually climbs into these dumpsters and pulls out the collectables. This down and dirty approach is beyond an old guy like me, so I simply pick out what I find near the top. Some people use these so-called Piksticks for pulling stuff out, but I haven’t bothered to get one.
Beyond the aforementioned tips, I think it’s important to know your “collecting route,” because some containers will tend to have more collectables than others, more times than others. The dumpsters near restaurants and nightclubs are the best to hit, but you better get there early - two or three in the morning and have some entry keys with you. Competition is always a factor.
Some final advice
Please be as courteous, quiet and neat as you can be while collecting; otherwise, residents and business owners may complain and send the police after you and other collectors.
Also bear in mind that an article in the September 20, 2008 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that many cities such as San Diego, California have ordinances prohibiting scavenging from curbside containers. The citation for such an infraction is $100. The reason for this law is that the city of San Diego and its registered haulers use money from the sale of recyclables to offset costs for disposal. In addition, San Francisco has tough laws against what they call the “poaching” of recyclables.
In Sacramento, however, I’ve never heard of anybody getting busted for scavenging. Simply be advised that you need to know what the laws are regarding collecting (or scavenging) in your area before you set forth with collection bag in hand to get down and dirty.
P.S. If you’re looking for a local recycling place in California, click on this link: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov
Please leave a comment.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Kelley