If you live in a state that offers cash for bottle and can redemption, you need to keep a closer eye on your recycling—that’s free money you’re throwing away! With some states paying up to 15¢ for certain containers, you can make yourself a lot of money while you’re helping the environment too.
The states that offer redemption are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Most states pay around 5¢ a can, so if you have a La Croix habit (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), you can get make a tidy return on the cans if you’re careful about saving them up.
Sandra Stevens, an Oregon resident who contributes to the finance website The Penny Hoarder, actually makes about $150 a month through can and bottle redemption. This requires redemption of about 3,000 cans a month (!!), but if you pillage your office or apartment recycling room, it’s pretty easy to find a sizable collection.
How To Deposit
The rules governing bottle and can redemption vary by state, but often you can return your empty containers to grocery stores, convenience stores or plain-old redemption centers. If you’re looking for one in a grocery store and don’t see it, ask! Usually there’s an area cordoned off for the machine and you might need help finding it.
If getting to a grocery store or a redemption center is too far, ask around at nearby gas stations and convenience stores. Stevens says her local convenience store lets her return up to 50 cans a day (which is $5!), and it’s just down the block.
Important: Before you go, make sure to check each can and bottle for your state’s imprint. If you live in California and it only says “CRV IA-ME” (Iowa and Maine), you won’t get any money for it. So just toss it in your regular recycling bin.
How To Find Bottles And Cans
In the states where bottle and can redemption exists, there are plenty of “gleaners”—a term used to describe people who collect recyclables for cash. Even though it’s technically legal to go through your neighbors’ bins before pickup, it’s not super polite. Here’s how Stevens does it.
1. Ask Friends And Neighbors
You don’t have to dig through your neighbors’ trash—just ask! Most people don’t want to deal with the hassle of going to redemption centers just to get a couple bucks. If you let your neighbors know that you’d be happy to take them off their hands, you can return a lot more cans and bottles at once, which means a lot more money for you.
They might even offer to leave their stuff at your door, or outside for you to pick up! Just make sure to be courteous and quiet when you come to pick up the recyclables.
2. Contact Bars And Restaurants
Local bars and restaurants might be willing to partner with you. Just tell owners you’ll bring your own containers, offer convenient times for pickups, and make it seem like you’re doing them the favor.
Stevens said she hasn’t personally done this, but a friend of hers circulated flyers and was able to make agreements with a few bar owners who were happy to help her out.
3. Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Stevens says that sadly, a lot of her bottle and can redemption money comes from plain old litter. While this is gross (and depressing), it has actually turned into what she calls “a major motivator.”
Keep an eye out when you’re walking for bottles and cans under bushes and in the street. If there’s an event in your town, a street fair or otherwise, that can be a total jackpot. Trash cans and recycling bins are always overflowing, and if you come sidling along to remove some of that spillover, nobody is going to complain.
Some Important Notes
If you decide gleaning is for you, please be safe and smart about it. Always wear thick gloves (gardening gloves are a great option as they go high up on your arms and can protect you from icky stuff, plus they wash easily). And don’t walk into traffic or in unsafe areas just to scout some extra soda cans.
Also, come prepared! If you don’t have extra trash bags stashed in your backpack or purse, you can miss out on bottles and cans aplenty. If you make a habit of keeping them around, you’ll always have them on hand if you spot a heap of cans. Happy gleaning!
For all the information about pricing and acceptable containers, click here.