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Trash Money: The Art of Collecting Aluminum Cans, Plastic, and Glass

Make some extra cash!

Make some extra cash!

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” by 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.

Recyclable Materials and Their California Prices (August 2018)

Prices paid by California certified recyclers in August 2018. New rates take effect every July 1 and January 1.

MaterialPrice ($ per pound of CRV-eligible material)

Aluminum cans


Clear #1 plastic bottles


Opaque #2 plastic bottles


Glass bottles


Materials Recyclable for Money in California

Aluminum Cans

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 collectible. 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.

Bimetal Cans

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 $1.20 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!

Try to keep the caps on!

Try to keep the caps on!

Glass Bottles

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 that since glass bottles weigh a lot, you’ll need a cart to carry them. Better yet, bring your pickup truck or van, keeping in mind that 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 heavyweight.

What’s the Best Method for Finding Collectibles?

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 collectibles in one place, you must hit the trash receptacles—those large, plastic containers, a blue one for recyclables and a green one for green waste. 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 collectibles. 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 collectibles 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.

A resourceful way to carry cans

A resourceful way to carry cans

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.

Please leave a comment.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where can I find a location in Atlanta, GA where I can sell my plastic bottles for money?

Answer: Go online and find a place in the nearest city or town where they buy recyclable items such as aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles. As long as Georgia, like California, makes people pay taxes on such items, giving these recyclables value; otherwise, you may not find any place that pays for the aforementioned in Georgia.

Question: On average, how much money do you earn per week from recycling?

Answer: This depends on how long you work and how much you collect. A person can earn from $10 to $50 per week collecting cans, plastic and glass bottles. $200 per month or more would be very good.

Question: Where can I find a location in Buffalo, NY where I can sell my plastic bottles for money?

Answer: Go into any search engine and look for recycling centers or locations in Buffalo, NY.

Question: Where can I sell my plastic bottles in Beaumont, Texas?

Answer: You can check the internet for recycling places, but some of them may not have a website. In that case, you may have to look in the phone book or actually drive around and look for them. In California, they tend to be located near businesses such as gas stations.

Question: Where can I sell plastic bottles in Botswana?

Answer: You'll have to check the internet to see if the government of Botswana pays a deposit for plastic bottles. If it doesn't, such plastic bottles can't be returned for cash.

© 2010 Kelley Marks


Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 30, 2020:

Thanks for the comment, Chrismene. Check the question and answer section of this article for ways you can locate recycling centers near your location. Good luck!...

Chrismene on June 30, 2020:

Where can i sale my empty bottles and can's i really need a location near me i have so much and i need sime money please help me

Samantha t on June 05, 2020:

very useful and interesting, thank you! on September 11, 2019:

Great article would have added some valuable info for consumers to be aware of but ad is really a problem where it is placed. It is a Maven ad which has caused loss of comment 3x now.

erinshelby from United States on September 01, 2019:

In my area, collectors are respectful... I just hope that they are safe given that you can cut yourself going through trash. You just don't know what you might find.

Nicole lavare on July 15, 2018:

I got eight bags of bottles and cans down here in Athens Georgia I would love to have money back from those bottles and cans

Kosmo Kelley on February 26, 2018:

Hey, Fred, you can find local recycling places by going online and entering your location and/or zip code. If you live in California, try this link: Good luck!...

fred on February 26, 2018:

where do i tun in my plastic and glass

kathrynboyce380 on January 31, 2018:

Great article I'm gonna to start recycling more now thanks. I already save my pop cans and bottles .

Mrs.Brokesville... on October 06, 2017:

Great tips...thanks

Disgusted on May 20, 2017:

We need an app that would tell us if bottles or cans are inside a trash bag.

Recyclix on October 05, 2016:

Generate high and stable revenue by purchasing waste, processing it, and then selling it!

Kody Loveless on August 29, 2016:

I used to recycle aluminum cans quite a bit when I was a kid. I saved up for a bike that way. I used to go around my neighborhood and collect cans and bottles. It really can help out your pocketbook and help reuse our resources. I feel like it benefits society in many ways. It is amazing that aluminum can go for 2,000 dollars a ton. That is not bad money.

Watcha on June 19, 2016:

Dude I've made as much as $100 in one week from one trash bin at a motel. Motels can be an excellent source of recyclable's. If you get permission.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 28, 2015:

Thanks for your comment, Chapper1. Yes, indeed, one must be very careful while collecting; people love their privacy. Later!

Chapper1 on December 26, 2015:

I think you can forget Elem/High Schools/etc They all have their own recycling projects, and collect cans in school. Be careful going into peoples trash, my friend got SHOT doing that!

BodaciousAces on September 10, 2015:

Would have been great to read this prior to being busted collecting cans. I bumped over a big blue bin and the neighbour came down to flip out.

Key to be Stealthy!

RicoLyrix on August 18, 2015:

Gotta be careful.. Homeless everywhere n local neighborhood mental persons have made this life! It is almost rediculous how they fight over blocks space also just area. You come from North Flint you'll understand. As a kid of 9yrs old I moved to Nashville, Tn with the big GMotors boom (Saturn). They arent as violent but very hostile over a can. I still got sent back home every Summer. I wasnt allowed to stay in Tennnessee.. Went back to North Flint but one year returning to North Flint some times my last weeks I'd go see my second home Grand Rapids, Mi.. Anywho but my Uncle n Grandad father saved me over the summer almost 2 grand.. Would have been more if my Uncles and Cousins did take from me. They ended up locking it them up. I no idea what areas you all are in but 10c per bottle plus the cans. You could make a nice amounts. The key is to save them all...SAVE FOR 2 Summers and until fall or December 1st ;) wow! Can take car of children if you none then spent that great money on a gift for any partner. Target your friends that drink pop(drink)soda(coke) I say Pop(Michigan). If are going by the pound? You might just quit.. My friend had roughtly 60-70lbs. He was paid 17 bucks.. We got my many cans, his almost the same.. One more friend chipped in his cans for free... Talk about pilled up but out come 17 bucks.

mick on January 15, 2015:

be quick and make it look like you've never been there just a simple walk

through town at gas stations in late afternoon will be the best time after

people have been getting their gas for the day

Jamesm1968 from UK on March 16, 2013:


In the UK you now need to provide photo ID at the scrap merchant before they will take your scrap.

KatNance on March 13, 2013: said FREE

Great hub..

.great show kids how to collect and see how much they can get from their hard work

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 07, 2013:

Thanks for the comment, Cas Merchant. Collecting can net a person some extra cash, but making a living from it would be very difficult. Later!

Cas Merchant from Worcester, Massachusetts on March 06, 2013:

The income gained from recycling bottles and cans can add up big time. It's a free tank of gas at the end of the month. recycling metals like copper and steel is also becoming a popular way to make extra cash.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 05, 2013:

Hey, Jlo 123, there ain't much science involved in collecting cans and plastic. If you prefer science, read about archaeology or astronomy, two subjects about which I write at great length. Later!

Princeton love 21 on February 05, 2013:

Hi! That was great. I need to start recycling cans.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 30, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, Jamesm1968. I recycle all the time, and so should everybody else. Later!

Jamesm1968 from UK on May 30, 2012:

I started saving my aluminium foil/cans and steel cans as well a couple of years back. I now have at least 3 people picking-up/saving cans and any other scrap metal they find.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 15, 2012:

Hey, MigsMcGee, many people have written stories about collecting cans and plastic - but mine's the best. Hey! Anyway, collecting doesn't pay much, but the stuff is tax free, so in some cases it's worth doing. Later!

MigsMcGee on March 14, 2012:

Wow, I can't believe an article like this exists. If digging through people bins isn't your thing, try to find a place that uses a lot of cans, such as restaurants, bars and banquet halls. If you live in a city, this may not be too feasible, because most business already have some guy who comes buy in a truck to pick up their recycle products. I work in catering, so after some events I make sure to take the empty cans and bottles with me.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 23, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, GmaGoldie. You're right - everyone should recycle, whether or not they keep the money for such. Later!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on February 23, 2012:

When my husband and I moved, consolidated households, picked up items left by two tenants at a rental, I was very organized and gave literally thousands of items to Goodwill yet the metal - the really heavy metal I took to recycling. Lo and behold it paid for lunch that day! Which isn't much but a 100% more than what I had gotten directly from Goodwill.

I grew up too poor to waste. I don't collect aluminum I do recycle with my municipal trash but I learned a great lesson that day.

Metal is precious and can pay.

Excellent hub!

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 18, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, Angela Kane. I agree this is a very helpful article. Hey! Later!

Angela Kane from Las Vegas, Nevada on September 12, 2011:

I work with people who are always looking for ways to make money and this hub will give them a great idea.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on September 08, 2011:

Hey, ckiser16, I'm not surprised many people are collecting nowadays. Thanks for the comment. And you're right, Earn4free, collecting cans and plastic is a tough way to make meaningful dough. Later!

ckiser16 on September 08, 2011:

My mom used to make me and my sister collect cans when we were younger. It was pretty embarrassing! Lately, though, I have seen people in my neighborhood collect aluminum and things on a much bigger scale. For instance, my friend across the street had her old watercooler picked up by one such “scavenger.” She was very relieved that she didn’t have to call the city to come pick it up. Seems to me that everyone won in that situation! So it can be done, because there are quite a few different people who scowl my neighborhood on trash day.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 15, 2011:

What pays off much better than collecting recyclables is panning for gold. I'm not kidding! At $1,800 an ounce, you gotta love this way of making sidebar money. I haven't tried it yet, but I almost certainly will. What would work best for your mother or grandmother would be working online, but earning decent money with such work is not easy as well. Good luck for all concerned. Later!

Raymond D Choiniere from USA on August 15, 2011:

Hey Kosmo, yeah it is tax free, but as you said, unless you collect many pounds each week, which is difficult for those who are collecting such checks. Those who are on it, either are too old to do a good enough job to supplement their income or have medical issues which would also prevent them from doing so. These are the other factors I mentioned in my first comment. My mother is 64 years old and presently works 2-3 days at her present job, just to make ends meet, and her salary at that job isn't chump change, like minimum wage. She makes over $16 an hour at her job and it's barely making it, due to costs of rising rental expenses and food, and gas for her car(so she can get back and forth to work). She is not a person who has good credit anymore and she is no longer interested in credit anymore. If she cannot afford it, then she goes without. My grandmother was the same way. If trash money- was to be done, it would need to be done seriously and in huge bulk. That's all.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 15, 2011:

Hey, Cagsil, living on social security is always going to be a challenge, and supplementing this low income with collecting won't improve matters much, unless you collect many pounds each week. The best thing about collecting is that it's tax free income. Thanks for the comment. Later!

Raymond D Choiniere from USA on August 15, 2011:

Hey Kosmo, great hub. However, I would like to touch on one thing you said and in my current living situation, your statement would be untrue. I am currently living at home with my mother who is collecting social security on as a part-time retiree and she would be unable to live on what she receives and collecting as you suggested. There would not be enough income actually coming for her to live, without cutting out something important. There are plenty of other factors with her particular situation, but with just those two it would not be adequate. Just thought you should know. Voted up! Marked useful. :)

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 15, 2011:

That's right, Kathy, collecting is an excellent way to make tax-free cash. It has certainly helped me through my recent lean times. Later!

Kathy Justi on August 15, 2011:

After living in the Silicon Valley for 10 years where recycling is required for residential pick up, we started setting the can and bottles aside for the kids, and it resulted in a nice profit for them increasing their disposable income coming from parents, birthday, and holiday cash gifts. Years later we still do it and average over $100 a month! The amount is higher if we have had a party, so that's over $1200 a year tax free! Great article and a reminder how a little bit adds up and can positively effect your quality of life.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 23, 2011:

Yes, Sunnyglitter, girls can collect too. You gotta love tax free cash. Later!

Sunnyglitter from Cyberspace on May 23, 2011:

Nice. I totally want to do this.

Elena@LessIsHealthy on May 10, 2011:

One vote up, I like your hub.

mreslam206 on January 16, 2011:

a great article

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on November 30, 2010:

Great hub, as an hvac service tech who gets his hands and tools all over many scrap a/c systems, I well appreciate the value of scrap.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 18, 2010:

Hey, makd1788, thanks for calling my article useful - that's what I always want to hear. Later!

makd1788 on November 18, 2010:

you have mentioned one different approach for making money...collecting! nice way to make extra income...because in these days additional income earning sources have became main need... so your suggestion is much useful..

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 16, 2010:

Yes, friends, it's easy to joke about this modest endeavor, but when you need pocket money your imagination tends to wander until you're out at two a.m. contemplating your descent into the nether world of stinky trash cans and shambling derelicts . . . yikes has my life come to this . . . or something like that. Later!

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on November 16, 2010:

Thank you for opening the doors to an exciting new career path. Think, even those of us who are undocumented (though I am in the process) can enter this new and entirely green field. Lynda

Megavitamin on November 15, 2010:

The timing on this is funny because I just started collecting cans from my friends after weekends of beer-drinking. I'm going to cash them in this week and see how much I can get back. Great minds think alike :0)