Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.
Want to make some extra money from your trash? Yes, you can do that!
Recycling centers and scrap yards all over the country (and beyond) will pay you for discarded aluminum cans. Here’s everything you need to know to put some extra cash in your pocket through aluminum can recycling.
Aluminum Can Prices
You could get around 5 cents per pound for aluminum cans at a recycling center or scrap yard. The price fluctuates, so check with the centers or scrap yards near you to see how much you could get today.
As of this writing, we saw these prices in the U.S.:
How Much are Aluminum Cans Worth?
|$0.56 per pound
|$0.02 per pound
(Prices reported by Scrap Monster and accurate as of February 2023.)
The highest prices show up in California and other Western states, and the lowest show up along the East Coast.
The price of aluminum cans in the Midwest fall somewhere in the middle: Aluminum can prices in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, are 60 cents per pound, while the average in the state of Wisconsin is just 36 cents per pound.
Your nearby recycling service or scrap yard might require a minimum weight before it’ll accept your cans, so check with the spots near you before hauling your cans over.
And don’t stop at aluminum. Scrap yards often pay for all kinds of scrap metal, so keep your eye out for cooper, steel and lead throwaways, too.
How Many Aluminum Cans Per Pound?
It takes about 32 empty aluminum cans to make a pound. The weight of a can fluctuates with various brand designs, but they tend to be around a half-ounce per can.
At an average of 56 cents per pound, that makes a single can worth about 1.8 cents.
At that rate, you could make about $20 for about 1,000 cans (or 84 12-packs of 12-ounce cans).
Looking for more everyday items you can recycle for money? Keep these seven items out of your trash cans.
State Beverage Container Deposit Laws
Depending on where you live, your cans could be worth a whole lot more than average. In the U.S., 10 states and Guam have passed “bottle bills” that incentivize consumers to return beverage containers, including aluminum cans, with prices up to 15 cents per container.
Technically, that amount is added to the retail price of the beverage, so returning your container just gets you back the extra money you paid. But a lot of people still don’t return their containers — so you can cash in on their reluctance.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, here’s what you can get for cans and other containers in states with bottle bills:
Payouts by State for Aluminum Cans
|$0.05 (less than 24 ounces)
$0.10 (24 ounces or more)
$0.05 (all others)
$0.05 (all others)
Where to Find Aluminum Cans
Once you start looking, you can find cans everywhere. Depending on how — er — scrappy you want to get, you can take your side hustle to these spots:
Of course, start at home. If you’re drinking a lot of beverages from aluminum cans, recycling them for cash is a smart way to cut into the cost a bit.
And if you typically drink out of plastic? See if you can replace it with cans to boost your bottom line — and reduce your carbon footprint.
Keep an eye on shared recycling bins at work if you work in an office or other shared space. The break room is usually a key candidate for discarded cans, especially if yours includes a vending machine or beverage refrigerator.
You might be surprised at just how lucrative your thirsty co-workers’ carbonated drink habits can be.
The Penny Hoarder contributor Steve Gillman told us he once earned $1,500 in a year collecting cans and bottles from the breakroom at the casino where he was a blackjack dealer. In his state of Michigan, beverage containers garnered a 10-cent deposit, so his collections added up quickly.
We hope your local parks have plenty of recycling bins. These are great spots to gather aluminum cans.
Just bring along some gloves or hand sanitizer (or make a stop in the park restroom before you leave) — you might come across sugary, sticky containers or non-recyclable scraps tossed into the wrong receptacle.
Any outdoor concert or event venue could be worth checking out. Start with the recycling bins, but make a trip around the grounds for discarded cans, too. Concert-goers tend to toss their empties left and right while partying in fields and parking lots.
Festivals draw thousands of people to a venue, often for several days. Pop over toward the end of the day or early each morning to pluck empties out of the grass and off picnic tables. You’ll want to look for events that are free otherwise you might spend all your earnings on a multi-day ticket. If you’re going anyway, that’s fine. Think about roaming around with your collection bag just after a parade has passed by and the crowd is dispersing.
Friends and Family
Your friends and family are another good source of returnable cans. If they don’t want to deal with the hassle themselves, you can take it off their hands and split the proceeds.
You could even set up a route that includes a few stops at friends’ and family members’ homes once a month or so to gather cans for them. Nabbing bulk returns like this could make the trips worth your time, and you could avoid digging around in public garbage cans.
Bonus: Antique Cans
If you happen to be collecting empties in a garage or barn that’s been around for a while, keep an eye out for certain old cans. Some antique collectible beer cans are worth $35 to $1,000 each, so you could get lucky!
Think of Cans as Scrap Metal
Recycling is environmentally friendly, yes, but it’s also cheaper for manufacturers than producing new aluminum. So they’re happy to pay consumers a bit to get those valuable cans back.
Recycling aluminum cans to re-use — usually, to make more aluminum cans — uses just 5% of the energy it takes to create new aluminum, according to The Economist. Making new aluminum requires mining an ore, then refining it through a special process. Better to just melt the stuff we’ve already got.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How Many Aluminum Cans Does it Take to Make $100?
At an average price of 5 cents per pound, you’d need about 5,000 cans to make $100. That could be significantly reduced if you live in an area that pays higher prices. At $2 per pound, you’d need just 1,600 cans (50 pounds). In a state with a 10-cent container deposit, you could make $100 with 1,000 cans.
How Much is a 12-ounce Aluminum Can Worth?
A single 12-ounce can is worth about 1.8 cents on average in the U.S. but could be as much as 15 cents in a state with container deposit laws.
How Many Aluminum Cans Make a Pound?
It takes about 32 aluminum cans to make one pound on average. Weights fluctuate depending on brand and can design.
Why is the Price of Aluminum Cans so Low?
Recycling overall slowed down in the U.S. around 2019, due largely to a decrease in demand for recycled materials from China, once a major importer of our recyclables. That makes it harder for aluminum rollers to turn a profit on their re-used aluminum. With a lower demand from manufacturers, prices have dropped.
Is Cashing in Aluminum Cans Worth It?
Whether it’s worth your time to collect and drop off cans for cash is up to you. One way to see it: It could be a time-consuming, messy (sticky) job that pays a relatively low rate per hour you put into it.
Another way to see it? Recycling cans keeps them out of landfills and reduces our reliance on energy-intensive processes to create more Mountain Dew cans — and if you can make a few bucks while protecting the environment, why not do it?
Dana Sitar has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media. She’s written about work and money for the New York Times, Forbes, CNBC, The Motley Fool, The Penny Hoarder, a column for Inc. and more. Follow her work at danasitar.com.
Make Money Online Money From Home
Ready to stop worrying about money?
Get the Penny Hoarder Daily