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

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Image Credit: Clark Howard Staff
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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 a couple of times and it didn’t exactly make me rich.

But this article isn’t really about the few bucks you can earn for a bag of aluminum soda cans or the perfectly good stainless steel “trash” that people throw out curbside.

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

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My $6 adventure in a scrap metal yard

People throw away the darndest things. Last week, I found this shiny item on the side of the road waiting for the recycling truck, sitting there unloved right next to a garbage can.

stainless steel item

There was a brand name logo on the item of which I’d never heard, so I Googled it. Turns out someone was throwing out high-quality stainless steel made by a medical supply company.

So into my trunk it went! I didn’t know for sure if I could sell it at a scrap metal yard, but the item was heavy enough that I sensed it would bring a nice chunk of change if did sell.

This weekend, I stopped into the scrap metal yard as my children and I were en route to our local library. The scrap metal yard is about a tenth of a mile off our normal library route, so popping by to see if I could sell what I had was a no-brainer.

About five minutes after I pulled up, I had a check for $6.37 in my hand. It was the easiest six bucks I ever made!

scrap metal money 2

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 whatever it is you’ve got.

What do you need to get started?

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

The first time I sold scrap metal, I was a real newbie. So 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 stainless steel item 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.

Twenty-five cents a pound was the going rate for the kind of stainless steel I had, and I had 25 pounds worth of it. I also brought along a small wire-frame laundry hamper that I was going to throw away. Because that was a different steel alloy, it had to go on a different scale.

But before my 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.

My total haul? $6.37!

Cashing out

Another day, another six bucks and change, right?! Because my transaction was so small, 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.


Conclusion

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 routine. So I’m not spending extra gas money to drive off the beaten path just to get paid peanuts!

But as I mentioned at the start of this article, this is not really about the money. 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 be used to 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 New York Times #1 bestseller Living Large in Lean Times. As a single widowed parent of two young children, he strives to bring unique savings tips to men and women like him who must face life without their spouses. He can be reached at [email protected]
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