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Is Recycling Aluminum Cans Worth Doing Anymore?

At one time, it was worth it for people to recycle aluminum cans for money.

So I thought it would be a good experience for my kids to the same, but I’m not so sure now!  You see, advances in technology has made it possible for the aluminum in the cans to be stretch so far, that the can walls are almost as thin as paper .  This in turn produces a much cheaper can!

While it might be worth it for kids, the hourly earning rate for crushing 5 cans a minute may not be worth it for adults.

See my calculations in the table below:

Recycling costs
Aluminum Statistics


The tricky part is that the aluminum prices vary weekly and by state.  So in my state, aluminum is going for .40 cents per lbs.  In some states (Michigan and California) people can get a specific money amount for aluminum cans.  For example, in Michigan the rate is 10 cents per can, in these cases, the effort would be worth it.

The 10 cents rate per aluminum can is much higher than my home state (Ohio).  We typically only get 1.3 cents per can.  In fact, a state like Michigan (which has such a great return policy) would have a rate of pay of around $30 per hour to crush cans!  There has even been scams where people (mainly store owners) from surrounding states take their cans over to Michigan for reimbursements.

Now back to my state, do you think $3.75 is a good rate of pay for a 10-year-old to crush aluminum cans?  I personally don’t think it is.  Especially when you factor in the gas money it will take to get the cans to the recycling center and the cost of the plastic trash bag to gather them in.

Update: We are trying to decide whether to have my son collect cans to make money off of them, or to drop off at the local Fire Department.  The Fire Department takes the cans as part of a charity effort.

I called a metal recycle center after this article was posted, and the aluminum rates are currently .60 cents per lbs in my state (Ohio)!  So the current price is actually 50% higher than the .40 cents per lbs price that I initially used in this article!  This just goes to show how much aluminum prices can fluctuate.

So revising my calculated number for hourly pay rate for crushing aluminum cans, the new pay rate would be 50% higher too, so it would be $5.63 per hour spent crushing cans!  This revised rate is a bit better for a 10 year old, so perhaps it is worth it to a 10-year-old?



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34 Responses to Is Recycling Aluminum Cans Worth Doing Anymore?

  1. Something that drives me nuts is how our undergrads save up soda can tabs– just the tabs, not the soda cans, and package them to to send to Ronald McDonald house. They always brag about the heavy package they send. I ran the numbers once and they were donating something like $3 on top of what they spent on postage.

    The snopes article on mcdonald house says that it started as an urban legend but they now accept tabs as a way to get publicity for the cause, even though they make very little from the can tabs themselves.

  2. I used to collect cans all the time as a kid up here in Michigan, but that is because you get 10 cents a can or bottle. I wish all states would implement this because it has really cut down on the litter up here.

    Back to the original question, 3.75 isn’t too bad for a 10 year old. Does he have to go around and scrounge up cans, or are they just ones around the house? If you have to scrounge, then the hourly rate is not nearly worth it.

  3. Yeah, that always had me scratching my head too. I mean, what it the tab from a weight perspective… perhaps an entire 2% of the total amount of aluminum per can…

    Totally silly and wasteful practice.

  4. @Roshawn @ Watson Inc
    Yeah, I’m torn… Teaching the lesson of “seeing opportunities that other pass up” or giving to charity.

    Both are powerful and merit.

    Currently I’m leaning towards charity. Perhaps I’ll take what I have processed already to the recycle place (since I told my son we would), and then for the future, send the cans to the fire station.

  5. @Everyday Tips
    Yeah, I calculated that at 10 cents a can, you have the potential of making $30/hr potential (not including the collection of the cans of course).

    For that amount of money, we’d definitely be collecting them for profit (for my kids).

    If all states did that practice, you are right! The percent that would be recycled would go through the roof!!!

  6. @Kevin@InvestItWisely
    Suprisingly, at 10, my son can only process about 5 a minute in an hours time. My daughter (she’s a light 6 year old), can’t process the cans at all… She’s too light 🙂

    I’m tempted to create some type of homemake crushing process/machine… But we don’t drink that much pop 🙂

    • seriously, I remember crushing cans by stomping on them with my grandpa and he died when I was 5. I was a very small child too.

  7. I have a grant proposal being voted on at the Pepsi Refresh Project this month that would change the economics of this situation dramatically. It is for the first in a family of “Trash Transformers” aimed at easy volume reduction plus increased return per trip to a collection center.

    The first major stop in developing an Aluminum Can Shredder for Households and Lunchrooms is presented at This will make it almost zero effort to collect cans (1200 in 9″ Diameter x 16″ Tall catch can) plus greater return. All cans are shredded before de-lacquering and reuse. Therefore, we expect people to ultimately get more per pound for our machine’s output (less handling).

    If you truly have a heart for recycling, please vote often for this project at the web site, and tell all your friends.

  8. Are you talking about collecting cans from around the neighborhood or just in your house? And why do you have to crush all of them? otherwise it is too big or something? I don’t crush them, once in 6 months or so I take it to the recycling center. I get money based on weight, a big trash can worth of stuff will give me may be a few dollars max. Totally not worth it for the money.

  9. I vote for the charity option. Not that it’s up for a vote, but it seems as though the financial alternative isn’t that high otherwise. There are other intangible things that could be learned from efforts toward charity. Just my 2 cents!

  10. @Suba @ Wealth Informatics
    We don’t collect them sort of. I say sort of because our parents save them for the kids. That’s why I dind’t include the collecting time in the calculations above… If I did that would even make it much lower.

    We crush the cans so when we take them in, we save dad money in:
    1.) gas
    2.) trash bags
    3.) dad’s time (lol)

    Kudos to you for going such a green postive practice!!! I should have have tried to factor the postive effects on the environment somehow… Oh well, too late now 🙂

  11. @Squirrelers
    Actually your vote does count 🙂

    My kids just started doing this, and I think it would be better (and easier) to take the cans to the fire station (after I get refunded for the current batch, and I told my son we would).

    An added perk would be my son gets to go to the firestation. He’s a firefighter enthusiast.

  12. We still recycle cans and plastics. It may not be a lot but knowing that you are also helping the environment at the same time makes it worth it. We never spend the earnings but instead we just keep on saving them and donate them to charity when it comes to a certain point.

  13. […] It’s exciting times on Babci’s Street.  You see, one of her neighbors is moving out of town and has made a gigantic “free” pile in front of their house.  To Babci, this is like Christmas.  To my husband and I, we cringe and hope she shows some restraint.  You see, Tuesday is garbage day and she regularly takes a walk down the street looking for jars or aluminum cans to recycle. […]

  14. I have been doing this for 3 years ! using a bicycle and cart riding around my large city pick up cans !
    Currently highest prices ever on all metals not only cans at .70 cents per lbs but copper is $3.50 a lb Brass and bronze $2.20 a lb clean aluminium like in doors and windows or siding 63 cents a lb !
    I normally gather at laest 200 lbs of cans per day now using my van ! MY big problem is crushing them !
    Trying to find a crusher thats manually operated that can hold 30 cans (1 lb.)with a weighted plunger so i can smash all the cans in one shot !

  15. MR- I liked you section on scams by people taking cans over the border. I went to the University of Toledo and my roommate and I would collect cans we saw lying around and take them up to Adrian MI. We made about $100 bucks/month each and helped clean up campus a little.

  16. Why are you crushing the cans? I just take them in the way they are. It’s more volume but I don’t waste time processing them. The recyclers do their own crushing.

    I am in Calfiornia where it is wort the effort to recycle. I run a summer camp and we use the money for kids that cannot afford camp. Usually we return about $ 500 in a year. I am using paid staff to prepare the loads so all we do is sort.

  17. Well I have a little different perspective. First to answer the question about why you crush – the recycler I take my cans to pays a few cents more per pound.

    I live in a suburban area, and as I can no longer jog for exercise due to a bad ankle, I go for long walks. I was amazed at the number of aluminum cans in the ditches. I started taking empty pet food bags with my on my walks and walking until I had the bag filled with crushed cans (I would crush them as I picked them up).

    About 4 times a year I take a truckload of cans to the recycling center. One year, when aluminum prices remained high throughout the year, I made several hundred dollars and accumulated enough cash to make a mortgage payment.

    So, while getting some exercise, I have made quite a bit over the years. While the “per hour” pay isn’t much, it adds up to some serious dollars if you are a saver.

    It reminds me of hauling hay when I was younger. 10 cents a bale doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of hay season, if you save what you earn, you’ll have a nice little savings at the end of the year.

    • What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

      I have a post called getting paid to lose weight, and your comment fulfills that post too!

      Kudos to you sir, and thanks again for sharing your clever system 🙂

  18. How about the money it saves in energy costs? 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than to mine bauxite ore. Aluminum cans are endlessly recyclable.
    As kids we collected newspapers once a week to take to a buyback center. Taught us about responsibility and the environment.
    It would be extremely valuable for your kids in ways other than just the $5 per hour – donating to a charity like the FD, protecting the environment, fundraising, etc. They could sponsor an endangered animal with the money.

  19. I live in California, and it is worth it!. My wife and I decided to start collecting cans and bottles. Not the ones in our house but the ones left carelessly to trash our neighborhood and places we frequent. A typical 30 minute city outing, to the store or what not, generally yields 10 – 20 of cans, plastic, or glass bottles. Mind you we are not scrounging around trash cans, we simply pull over while driving to pick up cans left beside the road; or while out on a walk picking up visible items. We don’t go out of our way or deviate (while driving), if it is visible, and in range we grab it. We also take it upon ourselves to ask our sons school, our church and the YMCA , if we can take their recyclables. My wife has also become the office recycle person. In general we add about 1000.00$ a year to our income just from “smart” recycling. Take it from me recycling can become very addicting.

    It is mind boggling, when you think about the sheer amount of recyclable materials in our world. When taking my kids to school I see the local jogger with a bag of cans, a transient with a dog and a bag of cans. It seems no matter how many people are recycling, I still find my own share, everyday.

    Do the math again, .05 cents for every can bottle or (non wine) glass 24 ounces.