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People recycle to protect our environment, and some of them take it to extremes. For example, Lauren Singer recycles so effectively that two years of her garbage fits in a mason jar.
Saving the planet is great, but some of us also repurpose, reuse, and recycle our stuff to save money or even to make money. For example, I’ve saved a lot of money on cat toys by making my own from used boxes and shoestrings.
And I’ve made money more than a few times by selling junk around the house as scrap metal.
So, with “green” values as a nice side benefit, here are dozens of ways you can save or make money by recycling just about everything. And unlike other “A-to-Z” guides, this one has every letter covered.
1. Aluminum Cans
If you live in one of the states with “bottle bills,” you can make good money returning aluminum beer and soda cans for the deposit. When I lived in Michigan I made hundreds of dollars annually from my own cans, along with those collected at work or from friends and family.
If you don’t have a bottle bill in your state, aluminum cans can be sold as scrap metal. The value of aluminum scrap makes the cans worth about a penny each.
You can also recycle aluminum cans in other ways. For example, if you’re a backpacker, why buy a camp stove when the lightest cheapest stove available is a homemade soda can stove. There are many other DIY projects using aluminum cans.
If your fish-caretaker days are over don’t throw away that aquarium. Use it in a new way. One article on repurposing aquariums suggests, among other possibilities, using it to make a holiday display, a coffee table, or an indoor herb garden.
You might save some money versus buying those things, but what if you want to make money recycling that fish tank? In that case, list it for sale on AquaBid.com, along with all of your leftover aquarium equipment.
If you live in California throwing any battery in the trash is illegal, so save yourself a big fine by using a battery recycling locator to find a place to take them.
You might be tempted to save money by recharging regular alkaline batteries, but it’s not really safe to do so.
You can get more life out of them by using almost-dead batteries for low-drain devices. For example, when the flashlight gets dim, move those batteries to a clock or a TV remote control.
Half-dead batteries can have enough power left to last a long time in either of those.
You can make a little cash recycling car batteries and other heavy-duty batteries. Google “scrap battery buyers” plus the name of your city to find companies near you.
Got a blanket with a stain? Cut and sew the blanket into a leaf shape, getting rid of the stain while making a unique cover.
That’s just one of the many ideas on Pinterest for recycling blankets. Others include making weighted doorstops, cushions, rugs, and slippers.
Recycle those books and make some money! Just enter the ISBN of each book in the search bar at BookScouter, and you’ll see which buyers are paying the most. Used textbooks, if not too old, can be particularly valuable.
You can also make a book safe with larger books, by hollowing them out. That saves you the $10 to $20 cost of buying one.
I mentioned using cardboard boxes for cat toys, but I’ve also used them as a bedframe. Believe it or not, they held up my boxspring and mattress for years (I used large ones with cardboard supports inside).
The many other uses for old boxes include file holders, signs, paint pallets, and garden knee pads.
Why buy a pair of shorts if you have pants with holes in the knees? Spend a minute with a pair of scissors to save a few bucks.
That’s a simple example of how to recycle clothes. The more creative ways to repurpose old clothing include making produce bags from t-shirts, quilts from jeans, hats from sweaters, and skirts from shirts.
If you are done with clothes that are still in good shape, you can sell them online.
Computers are banned from landfills in many states, so you can’t just throw them away. If your old computer still works you might be able to sell it. If you go that route be sure to remove all the data first.
Furthermore, if it’s no longer usable you might want to take the computer apart to sell the components as scrap metal. ScrapMetalJunkie.com has a nice explanation of how to scrap a computer, with advice on which parts are worth the most.
Don’t throw away those old plates and bowls! Just take a look at all the ways to recycle dishes on Pinterest. The dish garden flowers are pretty cool.
If your dishes are broken you can make a mosaic tabletop with them.
10. Egg Shells
Egg shells have long been used as compost for gardens, because they’re rich in calcium and other plant nutrients. But that’s just a start.
Among many other ways to recycle egg shells, you can use them to treat skin irritations (soak the crushed shells in vinegar first) and to repel snails and cutworms in your garden (sprinkle the dried shells around the edges)..
11. Food Cans
Steel or tin cans can be sold as scrap metal, but unlike aluminum cans they don’t have much value, so you need a lot of them to even bother. So what can you do if you don’t have room in the garage to save up enough to sell?
Throw most of them in the curbside recycling bin, but save a few for crafts. DIYCrafts.com has 50 projects to get you started. Planters, wind chimes and working speakers are a few of the things you can make with cans.
Our furniture has been recycled into cat furniture a few times. I’ve also repaired chairs without too much trouble using wood glue. That has saved us some money. And rather than throw away some old wooden furniture, we used it as firewood when we went camping.
To make money I’ve recycled (repaired) furniture and sold it on Craigslist. I’ve also made a few bucks selling old aluminum lawn furniture as scrap metal.
When I worked at a fast food restaurant, we sold all of our old fryer grease to a company that made soap from it. Of course, you’ll never have enough grease at home to bother selling it.
On the other hand, if you have a cooking oil recycling program near you, bring your grease there.
That’s good for the environment, but properly recycling it will also save you money, because putting cooking oils and grease down the drain is one of the biggest reasons for clogged plumbing.
If your hair is long enough you can make some real money recycling it. According to the hair price calculator on HairSellon.com, that pony tail I chopped off years ago was worth $151. HairSellon.com says one user of their platform made $4,000 selling her hair!
What if your hair isn’t long enough to sell? Recycle Nation lists seven other ways to recycle human hair, including making jewelry from it and using it as fertilizer.
15. Ink Cartridges
Those old ink cartridges are worth $4 each at Staples. You have to buy new ink to get the rebate, and you’re limited to recycling 5 cartridges, but that would save you $20.
You might save even more money refilling the cartridges to use again. For example, at Costco photo centers they refill many brands, starting at $7.49. That’s a lot less than the cost of most new cartridges.
Recycling jars to use them for food and other things saves you the cost of buying storage containers. I use them instead of buying organizers for my hardware supplies too.
They also make for good craft supplies — just look at all of the bottle and jar projects on Pinterest. There are even ways to recycle broken jars and bottles. Among the many craft projects that use broken glass are mosaic stepping stones and unique jewelry.
17. Kitchen Appliances
I once sold an old washing machine as scrap metal for $12. It might seem like too much trouble to load and haul an old washer to the scrap yard for so little cash, except for one thing… You have to do something with it. Consider the money you save versus paying to have it hauled away.
Most large appliances are made of metals that have relatively low scrap value (air conditioners are an exception, thanks to the copper coils). According to RECraigslist.com most common appliances have scrap value between $8 and $28.
If you have a free afternoon and are willing to watch YouTube videos on appliance repair, you might be able to fix and sell that washer, dryer, stove, or fridge for $100 or more.
18. Laundry Detergent Bottles
I just needed an item starting with “l” for this list, but then I found a list of ten ways to upcycle laundry detergent bottles, and there were some pretty cool ideas.
For example, why buy weights for exercise when you can fill two identical bleach jugs with sand and use those? Other projects include making a watering can, scoops, and a detergent bottle lamp.
Some magazines are valuable, especially if they’re old or have covers with famous people on them. Vintage ads can be cut out and sold too. Online tutorials can help you successfully sell magazines.
If you heat with a wood burner you can also use some magazines (the glossy ones have too many dangerous chemicals) to make paper bricks to burn.
20. Motor Oil
If you do your own oil changes to save money, you’re left with a lot of used motor oil. What can you do with it to save some more money?
Survivopedia.com list 17 ways to recycle oil. You can burn it as heating fuel, make a lamp that burns the oil, rust-proof your tools, and make a fireball-throwing weapon (you know, so you don’t have to buy one of those).
They even have a video on how to mix motor oil with creosote to paint on wooden fences as a preservative.
If they’re lightly used we recycle paper napkins, using them the second time around to clean up cat vomit and other messes. And a YouTube video will show you how to make a paper rose out of a napkin (I’ve actually done this a few times).
Cloth dinner napkins can be recycled for many purposes. One list includes using them to wrap bread, shine shoes, and as paint rags.
There are several ways to make money recycling newspapers. For example, if they’re old you might be able to cut out and sell old ads. You can find hundreds of vintage ads for sale on eBay right now.
Birth-date newspapers are also sold on eBay (search the date of your birth to see). People have to age a bit before getting nostalgic for things like this, so again, you’ll need old papers.
23. Orange Peels
Yes, this one started as a search for an “o” word for my list, but I found some really cool ideas for recycling orange peels. I especially liked the orange-scented cooking oil lamp using an intact half of an orange peel.
Other uses? Freeze the peels in water and throw the icy citrus chunks in the garbage disposal to clean it and make it smell better.
Apparently you can also rub them on plants in the house to keep cats away — something I’ll try since we’ve previously bought cat repellent spray to protect our cats (and the plants).
What can you do to recycle pillows that are too flat and old? Earth911 has a few suggestions, and some of them can even save you money.
For example, put them in pre-made cushion covers to use them as floor cushions. Use them as packing material when shipping things. Make pet beds from them.
25. Plastic Bags
We save all of our plastic grocery bags and use them for various purposes. Larger bags are used for garbage, saving us about 10 cents per load (versus a regular garbage bag).
We inevitably end up with too many to use in normal ways, at which point the crumpled-up bags make for good packing material when sending stuff by mail.
One list of ideas has 60 ways to reuse plastic bags.
26. Plastic Bottles
When I hike I carry my water in recycled plastic bottles. Why buy a canteen or fancy water bladder?
The many other ways to reuse plastic bottles include as watering cans, storage containers, and starter pots for plants (cut off the bottom half). There is even a YouTube tutorial on how to make an outdoor broom from plastic soda bottles.
27. Rubber Bands
I reuse rubber bands to close bags of snacks, which is cheaper than buying those plastic clips.
A rubber band around my wallet may have saved me even more when I was traveling, since it might have prevented a pickpocket from getting my money (the rubber makes it harder to slide the wallet out).
Instructables.com has 30 more uses for rubber bands. They include using them as erasers, to mark the level of paint in cans, and for child-proofing cabinets.
When I’m done with a pair of shoes for “regular” use, they’re recycled as painting shoes or for hikes where I’ll be walking through water.
Extending the life of my shoes in these ways saves me a little cash, but it isn’t nearly as creative as the shoe recycling ideas on Pinterest. Boot birdhouses, hanging planters, and sculptures are a few examples.
Yes, even socks can be recycled. In fact, one list has 62 ways to reuse socks. You can use them as dusters, to stuff pillows, as packing material, to make puppets, and as leg warmers (cut off the toes).
Some of those ideas will save you cash, but what about making money from those socks? Well, in the interest of completeness I should mention that some people sell old socks to fetishists.
30. Toilet Paper Rolls
People use empty toilet paper rolls for crafts. You could do the same to save money on craft supplies, but you can also make money recycling those cardboard rolls. Empty toilet paper rolls on eBay sell for about $10 for 50 rolls, if shipping is included.
We cut up old towels (and just about everything else) to use as rags. I can’t imagine ever buying cleaning rags.
One list of ways to recycle old towels includes cutting them into strips and tying into knots to make a dog toy. Now that could save you some money (pet toys are expensive!).
Before you throw away that broken umbrella and buy a new one, see this tutorial on how to repair an umbrella.
If it’s not worth repairing, look at all the ways you can repurpose an umbrella. I really like the mini-greenhouse idea (clear umbrellas).
33. Vegetable Scraps
You might think the only way you can recycle vegetable scraps is by throwing them in the garden compost pile. But there’s a better way to save some money and reuse those scraps.
You see, you can regrow vegetable scraps. I’ve done this with carrot tops in water and potato pieces in a pile of leaves (I got 5 pounds of new potatoes). To learn more, read up on foods that will regrow from scraps.
Okay, I needed a “v” word, and I wrote this entry before “vegetable scraps,” but my wife and I really did recycle the old vines that grew along the fence in our backyard.
We wove them into wreaths, added flowers from the dollar store, and sold these creations for $5 each at flea markets and craft shows.
I once recycled an old window by installing it in a shed to let in some light. That beats buying a new one.
Most other ideas for repurposing old windows are about making crafts. But there are a few projects that can also save you money. You can make a small greenhouse from old windows, for example, or use them as picture frames instead of using store-bought ones.
36. Wine Bags
The plastic bags that hold the contents of boxed wine are really strong. Don’t try this at home, but I’ve stood on them fully inflated and they didn’t break.
That ruggedness makes them good as water bladders for camping. I’ve also used a wine bag, half-inflated with air, and inside a sweater, as a camp pillow. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, like Florida, they can be used for storing water
37. Wine Corks
Don’t throw away those wine corks! Sell them on eBay. You can sell them for up to 25 cents each depending on the type, the size of the batch, and whether you include shipping.
You can also recycle wine corks into useful items, including coasters, jewelry holders, or even a bath mat.
I’ve taken my x-rays home with me a few times from the doctor’s or dentist’s office (hey, I paid for them). But I just learned that you can recycle x-rays and even sell them.
Apparently there is enough silver in the film to make them worth something. (And this might have been my only chance to have an “x” word for this list.)
What do you do with yogurt that has passed its “best used by” date? Don’t eat it, but use it for something else!
That’s right, apparently there are at least three uses for expired yogurt. I’ll let you follow the link for the details, if you’re interested, but here’s the short version: Skin cream, plant fertilizer, and pet food.
It is possible to repair broken zippers. You can learn how on YouTube. So don’t buy a new jacket too quickly.
Of course, the zipper might be fine but the clothing worn out. Or you might not know what to do with that long zipper on the plastic bag in which your comforter came.
In that case, check out the cool zipper projects on DIYJoy.com. Zipper purses, pencil bags, jewelry and art are a few examples.
Feel free to contribute your own recycling ideas below… and keep on frugaling!