Gather and return cans

During his childhood, my dad and his friends often gathered and returned cans to pay for movie tickets and other fun activities. Although he grew up in the 1970s, this side hustle idea is relevant even today. Many states still collect a fee from consumers who purchase soda, beer, and other drinks in recyclable containers such as cans and bottles.

If you collect and return cans and bottles in one of these states, you can earn anywhere from 2 to 15 cents per  container, which adds up. For example, a high school senior from Michigan was able to collect $10,000 worth of cans for charity during the pandemic.

Even if your state doesn’t have a bottle deposit law, you can still gather and return cans to scrap yards and recycling centers for a smaller payout. Here are some tips to help you earn money while recycling and helping the planet.

Gather and Return Cans in Bottle Deposit States

As of this writing, Guam and the 10 states below have bottle deposit laws:

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Vermont
  • Iowa
  • Hawaii
  • Michigan
  • Maine
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Connecticut

Customers in these states pay a small deposit for each can or bottle they buy, which usually ranges from 2 to 15 cents. If they bring their cans back to a supermarket or redemption center, they can get this bottle deposit returned to them. However, many bottle deposits go unclaimed. Some people are too busy to return their cans and may throw them in the garbage or even litter them on the ground.

Review Your State’s Rules

Each state has different rules about which types of containers are eligible and how they should be returned. Where I live in Michigan, supermarkets usually don’t accept brands of bottles and cans that they don’t sell. Stores can also limit the number of cans you can return per day.

It’s also important to note that the payout for each type of can or container can vary depending on where you live. In Michigan, you can earn 10 cents for each beverage container you return. In some states, you can earn more for big containers over 24 ounces and wine and liquor bottles.

My favorite way to gather and return cans is to ask neighbors, friends, and family for their empties. You can also look for cans that have been littered in public. Before sports games, many people tailgate outside the venue and drop their empties on the ground. So you could potentially collect a lot of cans in one fell swoop.

Keep in mind that trying to return cans that weren’t purchased in that state isn’t allowed. So if you live in a state without a bottle deposit law, you can’t travel to a different state and return your cans there to get a bigger payout. But luckily, you can still earn some money by gathering and returning cans to your local scrap yard or recycling center.

Return Cans to Scrap Yards and Recycling Centers

Believe it or not, aluminum has some value as a scrap metal. So you can earn pocket money by collecting them and selling them to a local scrap yard or recycling center. According to Scrap Monster, you can earn anywhere from 5 cents per pound up to $2 per pound of aluminum cans you collect.

However, the national average price of aluminum is always changing. To ensure you’re getting paid a fair price for your aluminum cans, you can use apps that show you what various scrap yards in your area are paying for scrap metals, allowing you to return your cans to the highest paying business.

Have you ever gathered and returned cans as a side hustle? If so, share any tips you have in the comments below!

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