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Quick Guide: Recycling

Recycling has become popular over the past few years as a way to save space in landfills and cut down on the amount of new materials that have to be mined, harvested, or created. For decades before that, however, people thought of recycling as a way to make money. In fact, people have been reusing materials for centuries; there is even evidence of the Ancient Egyptians reusing building materials from the construction of the Pyramids.

Making money off of recycling isn’t as simple as collecting trash and turning it into the local recycling center. It’s important to know what items make money.

Common Scrap Metal

Aluminum cans are the most popular way for individuals to recycle, but there is typically a strong market for a lot of different types of scrap metal. Particularly in demand right now are iron and copper. In general, pure metals have a lot more value than alloys such as steel, since alloys typically have to be separated into their component parts and remixed.

To cash in, look carefully at the composition of metal in a lot of your everyday products. Aluminum and tin cans are the most common, but pure metal can also be found in plumbing components, nails, hardware, and silverware. Items can be turned in to any metal recycler.


Electronics recycling works by either fixing up and reselling a gadget as refurbished, or taking the electronics apart and selling the pieces. In the case of newer electronics (that is, those that are less than four years old) the items are typically checked for damage or other signs of wear at a central processing facility. Damaged parts are replaced, and the item is repackaged and sent to a wholesaler for resale. Depending on the item, an individual can typically get anywhere from ten to sixty percent of the original purchase price of the item.

Older electronics are disassembled and their parts are either recycled for the value of their materials, or the components are reused in other electronics. For example, some children’s toys can reuse the circuit boards from old computers and cell phones. To recycle your electronics, turn them into a retail store that offers electronic recycling (sometimes they run promotions offering store credit instead of cash), or look for a place to mail them to online.

Heavy and Precious Metal

Gold, silver, and other rare earth metals have a very high value per ounce. These metals can usually be found in jewelry or in small amounts inside electronics. Accessing them is hard to do, but it can very profitable.

What Doesn’t Make Money

Generally speaking, recycling plastic and paper will generate the least amount of profit. These items are very common, and the process to recycle them is very expensive. In fact, it can be difficult to even find a recycling center that is willing to accept less than a ton of these materials.

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