In some states, "cash for cans" programs allow you to trade in soda cans and other recyclable beverage containers for a cash deposit that you put down when you buy the items. Exactly which beverages are covered varies from state to state. Many states require any business that sells the bottles to redeem them for the cash deposits, and some larger businesses will have automated machines that make it easy to trade in many bottles and cans. Check your state's website and stores near you to find deposit return locations.
Cash for Cans Laws
In order to encourage recycling of aluminum cans, glass bottles and other types of recyclable drink containers, a number of states collect a small tax, often called a bottle or can deposit, on drinks that come in such packages. The tax is usually a few cents, perhaps five or 10 cents, depending on the state.
After you drink the beverage and want to dispose of the can, you can usually take it to a store that sells the beverage and return it to get the deposit back. Uncollected deposits go either to stores that sell the beverage, to the state treasury or a mix of the two.
Which Beverages Are Included
Exactly which beverages and containers deposit laws cover varies from state to state. Some states include only beverages often considered to be junk food, such as soda and beer, while others include a wider range of beverages, including bottled water and carbonated seltzers. Whether alcoholic beverages and juice is included also varies from state to state, and some states only include beverage containers of certain sizes.
Deposit laws regarding the material of the container vary from state to state as well. For instance, certain states include paper containers in their container deposit programs, while others only include containers made from plastic, glass and metal.
Finding Places to Take Cans
Some states provide online listings of supermarkets, drugstores and other sites where you can return bottles and cans for money. Check to see if your state has such a listing. Other states require businesses that sell drinks in containers eligible for recycling accept them for recycling and pay consumers the deposit back. Visit the website for your state's recycling program to see if that's how it works where you live.
You may find that certain places are more efficient for recycling items. For instance, it might make sense to take bottles and cans to a store where you usually shop so that you can just add the bottle return process to your regular shopping itinerary. On the other hand, you might find that that store has a bottle return machine that is frequently out of order or that there's often a long line of people waiting to return their bottles and cans for the deposit. In such a case, you might want to make another stop to return your items to save time or frustration overall.
States With No Such Law
The majority of states do not have a bottle deposit law, and you generally cannot return bottles or cans to places where you bought them for any kind of compensation in these states. You may still be able to recycle these containers through a recycling program in your city and town, and some jurisdictions require that you recycle certain types of containers or potentially pay a fine.
If your state doesn't have a bottle recycling program or doesn't have one that covers a type of beverage or container that you use, you can check to see if your municipality has a recycling program that will cover it. In some cases, you may need to bring containers to a central recycling center. You may also be able to recycle through curbside pickup, depending on the services available where you live. It might be necessary to wash or rinse the container before you bring it for recycling or put it out for curbside pickup.
Many stores and restaurants provide recycling for recyclable containers that you use on site. Some also provide compost disposal for some food waste, biodegradable containers and items like napkins and paper plates. If you use a recyclable container in a restaurant, deli or similar store, check with an employee to see if there is a away to recycle it or see if there are signs posted near the garbage cans about how to recycle containers and waste from your meal.
Recycling Your Cans for Money
If you are a frequent drinker of soda or other beverages that come in recyclable containers, the deposit costs can add up, so you may want to make a plan to regularly bring these items back to the store for recycling. You can set aside eligible bottles and cans to take to the store as you use them, then pack them up and bring them back when you make your next shopping trip.
If you use reusable shopping bags when you shop, you might bring the containers back in these bags and then use them to pack your groceries to bring home. Some stores will also give you a discount if you use your own bags, and some jurisdictions charge you a fee or tax to bring home single-use bags.
If you're drinking sugary beverages or beer, you may want to rinse the containers as you use them so they don't attract bugs or rodents. Also check to see if your state or the place you're returning them has any policy on what condition they should be in, such as if you should wash them or whether or not you can crush them before you return them.
Collecting Cans to Recycle
Some people collect cans to recycle for money from other people's trash or from public trash cans. It's generally not considered theft to take things from someone's trash, since it's been put out with the expectation that it would be hauled away. However, some jurisdictions might have laws that affect when it's legal to root through someone else's garbage.
It's also potentially trespassing if you go on someone else's property without their permission to access a trash can that's not out at the curb. You could also run afoul of littering laws if you make a mess while going through trash and don't clean it back up.
Taking Cans Across State Lines
Not all states pay the same deposit for cans and bottles, and some states pay deposits on items that other states don't. If you live near a state line or have reason to travel from one state to another, you might be tempted to bring some bottles or cans with you to cash in for a higher deposit than you can get at home.
It's important to keep in mind that bringing bottles and cans into a state where they weren't sold to claim a deposit is often illegal. It may also harm the store where you cashed them in if the store is unable to claim the tax money back from the state on the items you brought in from another state.
If you're unsure about the legalities of a bottle or can return transaction, carefully research the law to make sure you're staying on the right side of the law and not putting yourself or the merchants you do business with in any kind of jeopardy.