Americans recycle approximately $1 billion worth of aluminum cans each year, according to the Aluminum Association. Aluminum cans are easy to obtain and lightweight, and they have a ready market from recyclers. In addition, eleven states levy deposit fees on aluminum cans, which you can recoup when you turn in the cans. Making money with aluminum cans requires finding a ready supply and matching them with the best paying market.
When most people talk about recycling aluminum cans, they mean aluminum beverage cans used to package beer, soft drinks and juice. Though aluminum is sometimes used for pet food cans, not all recycling centers will take these, and they must be processed separately from beverage cans. Though some people pick up cans from the side of the road, or collect them from neighbors, if you want to make money recycling, look for a source of a large quantity of cans. Ask at restaurants and schools, hotels, amusement parks, ballparks and anywhere groups of people gather to drink beverages in cans. If you work with an organization or charity, publicize your efforts to collect cans to raise money for your group and ask people to drop off their cans at a central location.
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Recycling centers pay by the pound for aluminum cans. According to Alcoa, you'll need 34 cans to make one pound. Prices fluctuate and can vary between centers. Some places will pay more for larger quantities of cans, so you may find it worthwhile to save up until you have a trailer full of them before you turn them in. If you live in a state with a can deposit, compare the deposit amount to the price of scrap aluminum. In most cases, you'll make more money by turning the cans in for the deposit price instead of selling them to a metals recycler. For instance, in Michigan, the deposit fee for each can is ten cents, while the price per pound for scrap aluminum has often been under a dollar a pound.
Growing Your Business
To collect more cans and make more money, expand your outreach to more sources of cans. Present businesses with a package: you'll not only collect the cans, but you'll provide bins for people to place them in and signs about the benefits of recycling cans. Establish a schedule for picking up cans, so the business doesn't have overflowing bins and bags sitting around for long periods of time. Emphasize your service as something that benefits the business. Advertise to reach other businesses. You could contract with other people to collect cans for you, providing them with a flat fee or a percentage of your profits from selling the cans.
If you're collecting large quantities of cans, you'll need some place to store them before you turn them in for recycling. Check your local regulations and arrange to keep your collection out of sight of your neighbors. You'll also need a truck or trailer to transport your cans. Since the price you'll get for your cans varies, you may find it beneficial to wait for better prices, which means storing even more cans in the meantime. Crushing the cans makes them easier to store, so you might find it helpful to devise a method for crushing them. Collect only clean cans; recycling centers won't take dirty cans and dirt attracts rodents and roaches.