Scrap metal recycling for profit: How to turn your old clutter into cash

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OK, cards on the table: I am by no means an expert on recycling scrap metal. I’ve only done it once in my life and my entire haul got me only 40 cents!

But this article isn’t really about the few pennies I earned for a bag of aluminum soda cans that I would have otherwise recycled curbside via my municipality.

It’s about trying something new, learning what the process entail and then thinking about other ways you can use what you just learned to make some extra money.

Read more: 5 new things going on at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet

My 40-cent adventure in a scrap metal yard

Earlier this year, I read a report about an 86-year-old man who spent 32 years recycling paper, cans and more and amassed $400,000 in profits that he donated to needy children.

After being blown away by the amazing philanthropic angle to that story, it got me thinking: What is the process of recycling scrap metal? How easy is it to do? Where can you do it?

How do you find scrap metal yards?

If you don’t know where for-profit recycling facilities are in your town, just Google “where to recycle scrap metal + (your town’s name)” or something similar to find the nearest location.

You’re looking for private businesses who do recycling, not your community’s recycling center. The latter probably won’t pay you.

And here’s another tip: Once you locate a for-profit recycling center, either study their website or give them a call before heading over. You want to make sure they’ll take what you’ve got.

What do you need to get started?

This might vary based on where you go, but this was my experience…

I pulled up to the facility with aluminum cans in hand. I stopped at the front desk to ask how the whole process works. The nice woman (behind bullet-proof glass!) explained to me that I had to register as a new customer before getting started.

Registration involved handing over my driver’s license, which they scanned for their records. This is obviously something they do to weed out criminals who might be selling stolen metal.

The woman then gave me a customer card with a unique customer number tied to my newly created account. You must have this number every time you show up to recycle.

Next it was time to “weigh in” on the scale…

The nuts and bolts of it all

My little bag of 20 or so aluminum cans looked so puny on the industrial-sized scale built that’s built to hold hundreds of pounds of junk.

But I didn’t care; I was just taking in the sights of the warehouse while being weighed in — the crushed bundles of corrugated metal as big as automobiles, the heaps of twisted and torn rebar waiting to be crushed into neat cubes, the piles of used car batteries meticulously stacked atop each other as high as your waist at the entrance.

The going rate for aluminum was 40 cents a pound and I had exactly one pound.

But before my first weigh in was official, the man operating the scale needed a few other pieces of info from me — like license plate number and make and model of my vehicle.

I assume they want to be able to track down commodity thieves who show up with stolen copper wiring or other materials to resell for their scrap metal value.

With the weigh in done, the computer printed out a payment receipt that I took back to the front desk.

Cashing out

Another day, another 40 cents, right?!

Because my transaction was so small and it was only aluminum cans, I was able to cash out right then and there.

Otherwise, when you have a larger transaction, you have the choice of taking a check that day or waiting three business days and coming back to be paid in cash.


For me, the beauty of going to this particular recycling center is that it’s on my way during the normal course of my weekend errands. So I’m not spending extra gas money to drive off the beaten path just to earn 40 cents!

But as I mentioned at the start of this article, this is not about the 40 cents.

Now that I know the process, I can think about recycling other things that have greater value that might be hanging out around the house.

For example, next time I need a new car battery, I was told I can bring my old one to be recycled and they’ll pay about $5 or so based on the exact weight.

Got some old aluminum siding hanging out in your garage? Bring it to a recycling center and get a few bucks.

That old second fridge in the basement that’s spiking your energy bill? Haul it to the recycling center and turn it into cash!

Old lawnmowers that have seen better days, busted hot water heaters, valves, piping, tubing…they can all put a little extra money in your budget.

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo has co-written several books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller "Living Large in Lean Times."
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