Collecting Aluminum Cans for Cash

Collecting Aluminum Cans for Cash

Can you still make money collecting cans?

When I was a kid, growing up in rural Louisiana, one of ways I would make extra money was to spend a day or two collecting aluminum cans, and redeeming them for cash.

When you were a kid did you ever find yourself collecting and recycling aluminum cans?

I think for a time, when times were tight, my whole family would join in to bring in some extra cash.

I’d take off on my bike with a friend, or sometimes Mom would drive us around. We’d spend an afternoon collecting as much as we could from just about everywhere.

I cringe thinking about where we might have obtained these cans. I guess most of it was on the road side though. There’s quite a bit of aluminum can litter out there.

Next time we would head into “the city” we would swing by the aluminum can redemption center. Thinking back on this place, it was probably just a middle man. He would buy from us and take them to the actual recycling center.

The Questionable Can Collecting Middle-Man

I have a random memory concerning the guy at the place where we would drop off the cans…

After weighing all our bags of cans, the man would always say, “40 lbs…$8 dollars”. It seemed every time we dropped off a load of cans, the story was the same: “40 lbs…$8 dollars.” Really?!?

It actually turned into a joke amongst my family and friends. Whenever someone questioned how much something weighed, we would all reply, “40 lbs…$8 dollars.”

It always seemed like the guy was just giving us what he wanted versus what the cans were actually worth in weight. I guess that’s kind of a sad story really. Kids work hard to earn an extra buck or two, and they get taken by the shady can counter guy.

Eventually I wised up and spent my time on more cost effective money earning efforts, like cutting lawns and washing cars.

Price for Aluminum Cans

These days, cans are fetching a little more than double the price I got as a kid. As of this post, the price for cans is around .85 a pound. Source: ScrapMetalPricesAndAuctions.com

Other Aluminum Can Collectors and Recycling Stories

Trent from The Simple Dollar collected cans as a kid. He tells a sad, but captivating story about his can collecting experience and how it affected his attitude towards money and savings. This is a great read.

Then there’s the true story of Maisie Devore, an eighty-something Kansas woman, who spent one day every month collecting cans for thirty years (video) to raise money for a community swimming pool. She was able to save $73,000 over the three decades and now the community is enjoying their pool. She still collects cans to help pay for pool maintenance.

Here’s a story from a reader (Bernadette):

“One thing I did when I was younger that still seems like a huge accomplishment came about as a result of a challenge in our religion class. It was based on the parable of the talents. Our teacher gave each student $.25 and told us to make something of our talent. Some asked their parents for more money.

Some did nothing, but based on my father’s suggestion I took our wagon out and went door to door asking people if I could buy their returnable bottles and cans for a penny. Then I took them back to the store for the full refund. At that time the store would give you two cents for a return bottle so I doubled my money and people had the convenience of at home pick up of bottles instead of having to drag them in themselves.

Well I bought and sold enough bottles to make over $12.00 which is quite a bit considering I started with only a quarter. The only reason I had to quit was my mom was getting tired of advancing me funds from the grocery money to finance more purchases of bottles against future earnings from returns. Pretty proud of that achievement.”

Want to start a can collecting business? It’s all about scale. Find a local recycling center near you by visiting http://earth911.com/.

Did you ever collect cans as a way to make a little extra money? What was your favorite way to make money as a kid?



Last Edited: July 21, 2014 @ 12:31 pm
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.

Comments

  1. Many moons ago I graduated high school into the ’91 recession. Here in Massachusetts, you get 5 cents/can, so I thankfully only needed twenty or so for a pack of cheap smokes, and another 20 for some Ramen noodle. My friends and I did this every day for a while, and managed to get by. Talk about starting from nothing!

  2. That guy still works there by the way.

  3. @J – Yeah, I’ve heard of the 5 cent deposit thing. We’d of raked it in had we had that option. I guess there might not have been so many cans on the side of the road though either.

    @Mike D. – Thanks for the update, man. Tell him I said hi next time you see. Tell him he owes me some money. ;)

  4. A friend and I were picking up cans along a country road and found some unopened cans of beer. That was years ago, on a military base. (We were both on active duty at the time.)

  5. Yea, I used to do that too – I remember getting excited when it hit 50 cents a lb. thats when I was really making the dough!

  6. There are plenty of people in my neighborhood who do this. I can leave a can out on the sidewalk at 11:00 P.M. and it will be gone by 6 A.M.

    I’m working on getting a decent amount before I turn them in again.

  7. Thank u for referencing my site http://www.scrapmetalpricesandauctions.com in your article. Best Wishes

  8. billy mullins says:

    do you think that picking up aluminum cans on a motorcycle to cover more territory is more of a profitable idea to make more money. you can only walk so far and you;re exhausted e-mail me back and tell me if you think that is a good idea

  9. Hello,
    I have a domain for sale. EmptyCans.com
    If you know anyone who may be interested please feel free to contact me..

    Have a great day!

    Joe

  10. Joe The Can Man says:

    If you really want to make money recycling aluminum cans just go to moneybailer.com and check out the web sight. It has really paid off for me.

    Thanks Joe the can man

  11. Michael Dean says:

    40#, 8 bucks.

  12. Kenia Garcia says:

    guilty!! I would do that and on weekends I would sell candy at the flea market where my aunt had a big stand, I made big bucks =]

  13. Holly Hewitt Cantu says:

    I loved it when each of my parents would give me money and tell me not to tell the other. Always ment double the money.

  14. Debbie Chioffe says:

    Did that and when I was really little (and the world was different and we could still get away with such a thing) I had lemonade stands.

  15. Every time I’m at my favorite surf break, I see an old man (at least in his 70s) walking the trash cans on the beach.  It must be part of his daily rounds.  He goes through the trash pulling out the HI-5 containers (Hawaii pays five cents for every recycled can & bottle).  He fills his ancient Datsun pickup bed with 30-gallon bags.
    We surfers don’t even put our containers in the trash– we pile them alongside to make it easier for him.
    I’d like to think he’s doing this for the exercise, but I’m afraid it’s his only income.  Yet there’s no way I’d insult his pride & fierce independence by slipping him a HI-5 with a $20 bill in it.

  16. Charles Madon says:

    My friends and I used to pull a red wagon behind our bikes and pick up cans (before internet & xbox). When we found full cans we put them road, it was really loud when cars hit them. Beer cans smelled like pee from the heat, it smelled soo bad that I have yet to try a beer. 36 yrs and counting!

  17. Lisa Wiedo Sams says:

    Lol. 16 oz bottles to get the deposit back on them. Then headed to the drugstore to buy candy!

  18. I collected cans as a kid too! My mom’s work would bag them for me. I would get them and crush them with a sledgehammer. This was before the plastic can crusher was invented. The thing was, I’d let the cans sit in the bags for a few days in the summer. The bees were attracted to the sugar, so you had to be careful. I never took the cans to get recycled. I had two trash cans full of flattened cans when the trash cans disappeared. (I think my mom got tired of having them in the garage!)

  19. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success says:

    A few years ago I tried collecting cans from the side of the road as a side income.  It didn’t work out well for me.  I had a lot of close calls with cars zooming by me and almost running me over.  At the time, aluminum was 30 cents a pound, and it takes about 30 cans to make a pound.  So in other words, I was making a penny a can.  I gave up on it when I had a pickup bed full of crushed cans and made $38.  But I put in many hours of work to get to that point to where I was only making a buck or 2 per hour of work.  Not worth my time factoring in the cost of gas and my safety.

  20. http://www.saletodsshoes.com/womens-tods-moccasin-gommino-c-3.html
    Also thought of a bad word was said: marriage is a pair of, the whole don’t fit me only oneself know.

  21. Have a nice day says:

    Good discussion.  With a quarter million dollars in savings, I still am compelled to collect and turn in my cans, usually around 30 pounds at a time cashed-in at about twice a year, with a  yield around $15 each time.  It’s all from personal consumption so effort is low.  I used to even ask for my plastic garbage bags back to reuse them (hey, they cost) but now I bring in a 50 gallon tote tub full of crushed cans and this makes it much neater looking while in the garage.  It’s good for kids to learn about work and rewards but certainly not substantial enough for any meaningful income.  I could save more by not having any canned soft drinks!

  22. Have a nice day says:

    Good discussion.  With a quarter million dollars in savings, I still am compelled to collect and turn in my cans, usually around 30 pounds at a time cashed-in at about twice a year, with a  yield around $15 each time.  It’s all from personal consumption so effort is low.  I used to even ask for my plastic garbage bags back to reuse them (hey, they cost) but now I bring in a 50 gallon tote tub full of crushed cans and this makes it much neater looking while in the garage.  It’s good for kids to learn about work and rewards but certainly not substantial enough for any meaningful income.  I could save more by not having any canned soft drinks!

  23. TLCExtreme says:

    Opportunity for people who collect cans and bottlesl! Everyone’s favorite cable network: TLC just completed two awesome seasons of Extreme Couponing. Now we’re looking to cast a new type of thrifty genius. Are you proud of your ability to save money? Are you (or is someone you know) the thriftiest person in America? If so, we want to hear from you! Here’s what I’ll need to submit you for the show:
    -Age
    -Photo
    -Current Location
    -Current Phone Number
    -Skype Name (If you have one)
    -Any close friends or family members who have opinions on your money-saving methods.
    -An explanation of all the EXTREME things you do to save money.
     
    We are specifically looking to cast people who collect cans and bottles on the side of the road for money.
     
    Send all submissions to LocalTVCasting@gmail.com.

  24. I’ve been collecting cans recently in hopes of earning a little extra cash to put towards vet bills for my dog. I remember when my dad discovered can collecting back in the early 80s. He’d stop the car sometimes and make me run out to get a can. As I recall, we couldn’t pick up Coke cans back then because they were tin, not aluminum. Once when we were walking on a roadside picking up cans, my mom tells of picking up a can that had a dead, liquified mouse inside of it. I didn’t see that, thank goodness, but I think of that every time I pick up a can now. [shudder]