In the course of any given year, the world manufactures about 200 billion aluminum cans for soda and beer.
To most people, these cans cease being useful once they are empty, leading them to be thrown into recycling bins, trash cans and even onto the sides of roads.
What you may be surprised to learn, though, is that these cans are actually worth money, and collecting them can be a lucrative way to earn some extra income on the side.
Table of Contents
- Can You Make a Living Selling Aluminum Cans?
- Can Selling Aluminum Cans Meaningfully Boost Your Income?
- Which States and U.S. Territories Have Deposit Laws?
- Where Can You Find More Aluminum Cans?
- So, Can You Really Earn $50 Per Day Selling Aluminum Cans?
Sell Cans For The Aluminum Value
While this method doesn’t yield much of an income unless you can get your hands on a huge number of cans, some states in the U.S. have enacted container deposit laws to make sure residents recycle as much of their waste as possible.
These laws establish a minimum deposit level that retailers charge when selling cans and which can be refunded when a person brings those cans back to a recycling center.
Aside from promoting recycling, container deposit laws can turn collecting cans into a good way to put extra money in your pocket.
But how much money can you really earn?
We’ll show you here:
- The value of aluminum cans
- Where you can find them
- How to source enough to make it worth your while and
- Whether or not you can add up to $50 a day to your income by gathering up the cans everyone else assumes are worthless
Can You Make a Living Selling Aluminum Cans?
In order to estimate how much you could be making by selling aluminum cans, you first have to know what an individual can is worth.
As recycled metal, the value of a can depends on the scrap value of a pound of aluminum at any given moment. At the time of this writing, the national average price per pound for aluminum cans was $0.35.
At 32 cans to the pound, each can’s scrap value works out to roughly 1.1 cents.
While the numbers from recycling may seem pretty disappointing, there’s still the deposit option to be considered.
States with deposit laws set the value of the deposit at either 5 cents or 10 cents, making cans approximately five to ten times more valuable for their deposits than they are for their metal content.
How To Make $50 Per Day Selling Aluminum Cans
When you break these numbers down, making it to $50 a day is challenging but possible.
Trading cans in for deposits, you would need to collect 500 or 1,000 cans per day, depending on the deposit value in your state.
Recycling is quite a bit harder, requiring over 4,500 cans per day at the current prevailing price.
How To Find Aluminum Cans
The real challenge, of course, is finding all of these cans.
Many of the best places to source your cans are public recreation areas, such as campgrounds, public parks, beaches and well-trafficked fishing spots.
You can also ask permission from your employer to put a recycling bin out for your co-workers to discard their empties.
If you’re just getting started, having your friends and neighbors save cans for you is an easy way to start building up your supply.
120,000 Cans Are Recycled Per Minute
The prospect of coming up with 500 cans a day or more may sound daunting, but it might be easier than you think. For some perspective on just how many are available for you, consider the fact that approximately 120,000 cans are recycled per minute in the United States.
Furthermore, the average American drinks a whopping 45 gallons of soda each year, the equivalent of about 487 cans.
While plastic bottles naturally make up a considerable share of this, the sheer amount of soda consumed in America leaves an ample supply of cans up for grabs.
Can Selling Aluminum Cans Meaningfully Boost Your Income?
With all of this in mind, it’s time to consider how you can collect enough aluminum cans to make a substantial difference to your income. For convenience, the following numbers will assume that you live in a state with a 5-cent deposit law.
Suppose that you can collect an average of 400 cans per day from various public places in your area and another 200 over the course of the week from your workplace.
In 7 days, that equals out to 3,000, or $150. While it’s a way off of the $50 a day mark, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
This shortfall is where getting friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to save their cans for you can be helpful.
Offering to take empty cans off of your friends’ hands will help them and allow you to earn a little extra money in the process.
When asking around to find people who will save their cans for you, pay particular attention to people with multiple children, as about half of children age eight and up drink soda once a day.
For teenagers, that number skyrockets, with about 30% of teenage boys drinking at least three cans of soda every day. With these numbers, a family with two or three children is likely to go through several 12-packs of soda each week.
So, what about making a living from selling cans?
Unless you’re planning to spend all of your time finding, collecting, transporting and returning aluminum cans, making a living at it isn’t particularly feasible.
Creating an extra stream of income to pad the earnings from your job, though, is absolutely possible.
Which States and U.S. Territories Have Deposit Laws?
As you can see from the figures above, making it to $50 a day isn’t a very practical goal unless you live in a state that offers a deposit.
At the moment, the following 10 states have these laws on their books:
- New York
Of these states, Michigan and Oregon are the best places to live if you want to make good money from cans, as both of these states offer a 10-cent deposit.
In the remainder, as well as in the U.S. territory of Guam, each aluminum can will yield a 5-cent deposit.
Where Can You Find More Aluminum Cans?
Selling aluminum cans for extra money is very much a numbers game. The more cans you can reliably source per day, the more money you’ll be able to make.
If you really want to increase your revenue, one of the best ways is to make recycling arrangements with the owners of high-traffic local businesses to put bins out on their property for can collection.
Locations such as stadiums, theaters and other places where people tend to congregate for large events can yield mountains of empty cans, and even smaller businesses like shooting ranges and golf courses can provide a steady flow of them.
So, Can You Really Earn $50 Per Day Selling Aluminum Cans?
Absolutely, provided you can find enough cans on a regular basis. Unfortunately, you almost have to live in a state with a deposit law in order to turn can collecting into a profitable enterprise.
If you do live in one of these states, though, earning an extra $50 or more a day is an altogether achievable goal.
It’s also worth noting that aluminum cans aren’t the only containers that you can return for deposits. In Maine, for example, wine and liquor bottles with capacities of over 50 milliliters can be returned for a 15-cent deposit, while Michigan law provides for 10-cent deposits on a wide range of carbonated and alcoholic beverage bottles made from glass or plastic.
While these other types of containers aren’t common enough to target on their own, you’ll likely find enough of them while collecting cans to increase your earnings a bit.
One of the best things about making money from aluminum can deposits is the fact that it gives you an extra source of investment capital.
By taking the money you make from collecting cans and transferring it to your Stash, Betterment or Robinhood account, you can gradually build up a large pool of capital that can yield returns year after year.
Extra money earned on the side also presents you with a chance to explore new investment opportunities, such as commercial real estate REITs.