How to Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash

Two Methods:Preparing to RecycleTurning Your Cans and Bottles In

Recycling not only benefits the environment; recycling certain items can also benefit your pocketbook by providing you with extra spending money. The easiest items to recycle for money are aluminum cans and plastic bottles, which can be turned in at recycling centers that pay you by the weight or number of items turned in. Read below the jump to learn what you need to know to recycle aluminum cans and plastic bottles to earn cash.

Method 1
Preparing to Recycle

  1. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 1
    Know which states and countries have bottle deposit laws. The first U.S. state to enact bottle deposit legislation was Oregon in 1971, at the direction of then-governor Thomas Lawson McCall. Bottle deposit laws place a value on each beverage container sold; consumers pay the deposit when they buy the beverage and can return the empty container to reclaim the deposit. In practice, however, many people discard the containers, so by collecting them, you can turn them in yourself for the deposit money.
  2. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 2
    Locate nearby deposit and recycling centers. Recycling centers, which pay for aluminum cans by weight, are usually located on the grounds of firms that deal in scrap metal or paper. (Those located on the grounds of paper dealers often pay for old paper, as well.) Deposit centers, which pay money for aluminum cans and plastic bottles by the number of containers, are found on or near the grounds of supermarkets and beverage stores, either within the store or adjacent to it.
    • Most deposit centers have a limit as to how many containers a person or group may turn in per day. Limits range from as few as 48 to as many as 500, with 144 to 150 being among the most common.
  3. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 3
    Know what items are accepted at deposit centers. All the states with bottle deposit laws will accept aluminum cans and plastic bottles used to hold carbonated beverages (beer and soda pop), while some states may take containers for such non-carbonated beverages as wine, liquor or bottled water. In addition, most store-based deposit centers will redeem only containers of the brands they sell at their location.
    • Recently, a number of deposit centers are also requiring that certain beverage containers bear a stamp indicating that the item came from that store or the distributor who wholesaled the beverage to that store.
    • Cans and bottles are usually required to be clean, empty, relatively intact and able to stand upright. It is possible to straighten bent cans by inserting a wooden or metal rod into the can and pushing out against the sides of the can. (Don't push hard enough to tear the can's sides, however.) Plastic bottles can be straightened in the same fashion or by blowing air into them.
  4. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 4
    Look for labels showing that the can or bottle is a deposit container. Aluminum cans are labeled as deposit containers either by having the label stamped into the container top or printed on the bottom. Bottles have the information printed on the neck or side labels and sometimes directly on the bottle or the side of its cap.
    • Because cans are stamped and bottles are labeled at the bottling plant, these deposit label identifiers identify all the states where the container can be redeemed for a deposit. The can or bottle may not necessarily be distributed to one of these states, however; it is possible to get a container with a deposit that's not valid in your state
    • Remember, if a can or bottle lacks a deposit identifier, you can still recycle it, either by taking it to a recycling center or through your city's curbside recycling program.

Method 2
Turning Your Cans and Bottles In

  1. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 5
    Gather a sufficient number of cans and bottles. Turning in a few pounds of aluminum cans or a 6- or 12-pack of plastic soda bottles at a time won't earn you much money, and you'll likely spend more in fuel costs turning them in than you make. Try to gather at least the maximum number of deposit containers that a deposit center accepts and/or several garbage bags full of non-deposit aluminum cans; you can always visit more than one deposit center to turn everything in, if necessary.
    • While gathering aluminum cans and plastic bottles, you can store the containers in your garage or basement during the winter or outside in good weather. But be aware that the sugar in the soda residue in the containers will attract ants, bees and wasps.
  2. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 6
    Separate deposit from non-deposit containers. Aluminum cans and plastic bottles with deposit identifiers go to the deposit center, aluminum cans without a deposit identifier go to an aluminum recycling center and plastic bottles without deposit identifiers go into your recycling bin.
    • Non-deposit aluminum cans can be crushed so they take up less space and so you can turn more of them in at a given time in fewer bags than if you didn't crush them. Deposit cans will not usually be accepted if crushed, however.
  3. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 7
    Separate deposit cans from deposit bottles. Most deposit centers require cans and bottles to be separated from each other. Bottles can be placed in cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates, while aluminum cans need to be placed on cardboard flats, the shallow boxes in which cans are delivered to the grocery store. These flats usually hold 24 cans apiece, which will help you count the number of containers you have and get a rough idea of how much money you'll get when you cash in.
    • Most deposit centers have a number of empty flats on which you can organize your cans before you turn them in. You can also get flats in advance to organize your cans before you go.
  4. Image titled Recycle Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles and Earn Cash Step 8
    Organize your deposit cans and bottles by brand. Although not required, you can speed your time through the deposit center by organizing your containers by brand. (This also makes it easier for the center to return your boxes and flats to you if you want them back.) Grocery stores get different brands of beverages from different distributors, and just as you return your empty containers to the store, they return the empty containers to the distributor who sold the beverage to them, requiring them to sort the containers by product line before they can be sent off to the correct distributor. Most distributors deal in the 3 largest soda companies: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper/7-Up. Below is a partial list of products sold by each company:
    • Coca-Cola: Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Sprite, Fresca, Mr. Pibb, Barq's, Fanta, Tab
    • PepsiCo: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Free, Pepsi Max, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist
    • Dr. Pepper/7-Up: Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Diet 7-Up, Cherry 7-Up, A&W Root Beer, Crush, Diet Rite. Squirt
    • Store-brand deposit containers can be turned in only at the deposit center of the store that sells the product. Keep these cans and bottles separate from the national brands you turn in at another store's deposit center.
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    Turn your cans and bottles in. It helps to know in advance how many cans and bottles you're turning in, as many deposit centers will ask you how many containers you have instead of counting them for you. Any cans or bottles the store doesn't sell will be returned to you, along (usually) with your emptied flats and boxes. You may either be paid at the center itself or given a receipt to take to the store to receive your money.


  • Collecting deposit aluminum cans and plastic bottles can be a good way for organizations to raise money. Several people can gather and turn in deposit containers and non-deposit aluminum cans at one time, increasing the amount the organization can earn at one time.
  • You can also use the ring pulls as a bracelet use the holes and put wool through them, which offers an added means of generating income from recyclables.
  • If you live in a state nearby a state that has a bottle deposit law, it is important to remember that it is strictly illegal to cross that state's border and attempt to turn in your collected beverage containers. If you attempt to commit this type of fraud, you may face paying fines ranging anywhere from $100 to $25,000, imprisonment or both.

Things You'll Need

  • Cardboard boxes and flats
  • Plastic garbage bags (for collecting containers or delivering non-deposit aluminum cans)

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Reduce Recycle and Reuse | Money Management for Young People