Recycling diverts waste from landfills and helps protect the environment. Many recycled materials also offer indirect economic benefits by keeping prices low on popular products. In addition, it's possible to earn cash from your local recycling center by collecting items ranging from aluminum cans to scrap paper. Of course, prices and acceptance rates can vary widely depending on region and material demands, so call your local recycling center to learn about current policies.
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You can make money by recycling scrap paper and cardboard from home, offices and other waste sources. Because of its weight and relative abundance, mixed scrap paper is only worth about $45 a ton, according to Cleveland Live. Clean white office paper sells for nearly $200 a ton at some recycling centers, according to NYU Live Wire. Try making a deal with local businesses to collect and dispose of paper waste, or simply collect used paper from friends, neighbors and the community.
Aluminum cans are one of the most widely recycled items in the United States and also offer consumers a chance to earn money at the recycling center. According to the Can Manufacturers Institute, a single aluminum can is worth between one and two cents. If you can manage to collect an entire ton of cans, Cleveland Live estimates you can earn around $2,300. Look for cans at local parks and recreation facilities, or start a collection drive at your school or church. Aluminum can recycling is a popular way for many organizations to earn money, according to the Can Manufacturers Association.
The plastic bottles used to hold water, soda and beer can be recycled for cash at many recycling centers. Look for a "Type 1" marking on the bottom of the bottle, which helps identify the type of plastic it contains. Bottles marked "Type 2," which include hard plastic milk and water jugs, can also earn you money. According to Cleveland Live, Type 1 bottles are worth about $500 a ton, while Type 2 bottles can net you $800 a ton.
Of course, the real value of plastic bottle recycling comes from bottle deposits. Some states have mandatory bottle deposit programs in place to encourage recycling. Each bottle you recycle in these states will earn you five to 10 cents, depending on the area. If you know of a nearby state that offers a bottle deposit program, consider collecting and storing bottles to earn money.
Scrap metals offer some of the highest value of any recycled product. The American Institute of Steel Construction estimates that a ton of scrap steel is worth $555 per ton as of May 2008. You can find scrap steel in the form of cans, appliance casing and old automotive parts.
Scrap copper is often worth even more than steel. According to Metal Prices, scrap copper values range from $2.73 to $2.83 per pound as of June 2010. Look for scrap copper in the form of wires, air conditioning coils, electronics components or plumbing pipes and connectors.