Recycling is good. We should all do it. But how much effort does it take, and can you actually make any money?

The thing with recycling is that it stops trash becoming landfill (we will run out of land space one day), it reduces the trash in your house (keep bad smells away), and it keeps the streets clean.

I decided to take on the task of collecting recycling at home to see what it would entail and if I could make any money doing this.

Is it possible to make money from recycling? 

1. Decide what you are going to recycle

One mistake I made was that I tried to recycle everything:

  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • ‘Hard’ plastic (like bottles, plastic fruit containers etc)
  • ‘Soft’ plastic (like milk sachets, labels from plastic bottles etc)
  • Glass
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminium

What happened was that I couldn’t focus (yes, yes it’s just recycling I hear you saying, but it has struck me that I might just be a recycling ‘nerd’ ūüôā ) I do feel that if you focus on one or two items you will be more aligned to finding your ‘junk’ and the other items you can arrange for a different recycling centre to handle.

Plastic is my bug-bear and so this is what I am going to focus on from now. The reason is because it takes on average 500 years to decompose (some takes longer and some takes less).

The other thing I did not realise was that you get paid a different amount per product and the prices fluctuates depending on supply and demand.

The higher paying items are aluminium, copper followed by steel.
Then plastic and paper.

2. Get organised

You need to have somewhere to store the recycling. You won’t believe it until you do but your recycling is going to pile up quickly.

If you are going to have it in your kitchen, your garage, outside your back door I do recommend that you have separate containers or bins to collect everything. Separate it before you take it to a buy-back centre.

3. I should have told more people what I was doing

I did tell some of my family members and I collected plastic, cardboard and aluminium from two local coffee shops and a restaurant & pub but as you will see below, it wasn’t enough to live from.

I should have told ALL of my family members and friends. I should have told the local pubs and restaurants as there are quite a few in my neighbourhood.

The trick here is that one you decide on your material that you will focus on, fine larger places that can provide you with more quickly.

For me, everyone uses plastic.

My first trip to the buy-back centre included the following and this is the price that I got for the products:

  1. 3.8 kgs alluminium                           R38.00
  2. 0.6 kgs of alluminium light               R0.60 (this is those food foil containers and tin foil)
  3. 2.0 kgs steel                                     R 2.00
  4. 5.0 kg plastic                                     R 10.00
  5. 3.0 kgs mixed paper and card           R 1.95
  6. 18 kgs mixed paper waste                 R 7.20
  7. 1.0 kg UBC                                        R 7.00
  8. 80 kg glass                                        R 28.00

GRAND TOTAL: R 94.75 !

On my second trip I made R18.70

So is it worth it? On that scale, no. I probably spent the same in petrol that I made. BUT there are people who do this for a living and are making thousands but then this is what they are doing for their full 8-hour work day. I was doing it part time as and when I received it, and I collected form the coffee shops and restaurant once a week.

On a really good note, there are people who have grabbed this opportunity and are collecting HUGE amounts of rubbish and taking it to the recycling centre, and they are making their own little businesses from this.

Other ways to make money from recyclable materials

If you are thinking of getting into the recycling business, either to save the planet, clean the streets or to make money from recycling, I suggest that you rather brainstorm ideas of products that you can make from recyclable materials.

Here are some wonderful examples of South African women who have started businesses from recyclable materials and have created employment opportunities for others:

  1. Lynn Worsley from All Women Recycling in Cape Town recycles the bottoms of 2 litre plastic bottles to create beautiful holders.
  1. Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane from Repurpose Schoolbags make school bags out of recycled plastic and the bags have a solar panel which charges during the day to provide a light to study by at night.

3. Natalie and Kim Ellis from The Joinery create products out of eco-products and recycled plastic bottles

The way I feel is that if you want to make money from recycling, it is best to set up a business creating a product from a recyclable material.

Or getting into the recycling chain a bit further down the road, such as shredding plastic, baling tin cans or providing plastic pellets to companies who need them to build products.

On the other hand, recycling at home is a great way to teach your children about doing something good, improving the organisational skills, teaching them some entrepreneurial skills and making their own pocket money. You know never what this could lead to!

If you are looking at ways to make money from home, then have a look at these posts for some ideas:
1. How to make extra money if you have one free hour per day
2. How to start a blog if you love animals