Author Topic: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....  (Read 1946 times)

TheGadfly

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(If you don't want to read my blabber, just skip down to the hard numbers)

Redeeming cans and bottles has always lingered in my brain as a potential way to make money a couple bucks on the side but I've always reasoned my way out of actually doing it. The time consuming nature of the task rarely makes it a worthwhile venture. I've finally found myself in a position where it might make sense. If you've ever contemplated a strategy to collect and redeem recyclables without sacrificing a lot of time, money and effort, consider this scenario:

I recently took at job as a "Trash Valet" in my own fancy-pants apartment community. My job is to collect residents' trash each night and throw it in the dumpster. The job pays $16 per hour.

When I first moved into my apartment, my wife and I couldn't believe this was a real amenity. This "complimentary" service is the height of luxury and just perfect for people who can't reduce themselves to the barbaric task of depositing their waste into dumpster that is literally 100 feet from their door. Unbelievable, I know, but it created a job that happens to be a perfect side hustle for me.

My apartment community is made up of 7 buildings, totaling ~800 units. This is a 2-person job that my co-worker and I can accomplish in about 2 hours each night. A few months ago, we started setting aside cans and bottles that residents leave outside their door. Residents are required to put recyclables in a separate, transparent blue plastic bag so the redeemable stuff is easy for us to find. This does require us to dig through each bag and I estimate that we devote an extra 15 minutes each night (through the course of our normal duties) separating aluminum cans and glass bottles. What makes our situation unique (and what separates us from your run-of-the-mill dumpster-diver) is that we are getting paid to do this. Collecting recyclables for personal gain seems to be a (purposefully?) gray area of company policy. While they don't advocate this practice, it's not strictly prohibited or discouraged.

Over the course of two weeks, we collect enough cans/bottles to fill a 55-gallon trash can, which we hide behind a dumpster and pray that no one steals. Since rogue dumpster-divers tend to lurk around the area in the wee morning hours, we limit our inventory to the 55-gallon can. It's just too risky to leave a massive unguarded stockpile outside for too long. I'll admit that whenever I hear the distant rattle of a grocery cart or crackling trash bag in the night, I leap out of bed and jut my head out the window to make sure my stash is safe. I'm beginning to understand the subtle mania that I often observe in redeemers at the recycle center.

I load our collection into my car and drive it 5 miles down the road to a certified redemption center. If you are thinking about doing this, don't even think about going to the grocery store where you have to deposit cans one-by-one into a scummy machine. This takes forever. At the center, I separate cans from bottles and arrange them in a series of shallow cardboard cases that each hold 24 cans/bottles. I stack the cases and a staff member counts them up (see attached image). The whole process takes about 30 minutes. It's important to note that you can ask the staff to simply estimate your haul based on size/weight but I've been told that they tend to vastly underestimate so it's better to count everything yourself.

I went to the redemption center yesterday and counted exactly 452 units, 37 of which were considered nonredeemable. So for 415 units at 5 cents per unit, I received $20.75. This was a typical run. My co-worker and I alternate weeks going to the center so we tend to split our earnings (more or less) down the middle.

Here's how the numbers worked out for this particular effort:

Value of 415 units............$20.75
My total share.................$10.50
Fuel cost (10 mi)..............-$1.00
Total................................$9.50

Travel time......................30 minutes
Sorting time....................30 minutes
Total................................1 hour

Again, this is total unpaid time. I'm not counting the time it takes to collect the cans because I'm on the clock for those hours. But, if you're curious, I can safely say that my co-worker and I each spend 2.5 hours over the course of two weeks collecting cans. In other words, if it were just me and I wasn't getting paid during my can collecting, I would devote 6 hours every two weeks to collecting, sorting and redeeming $20.75. That's $3.46 per hour not including fuel costs. This is likely on the high end of what you can earn since I was able to find these recyclables with 300 yards of my apartment.

A few tips if you're thinking about can and bottle redemption as a side gig:
  • Unless you are in a situation where you are getting paid or have a labor-free way to collect recyclables, the math will never work out in your favor.
  • If you are in such a situation, having a place to securely stockpile thousands of units can make those occasional trips to the recycle center more worthwhile.
  • Obviously, don't search far and wide for empty cans and bottles. Stick to areas of concentration like apartment complexes, particularly those that recycle
  • Go to a certified recycling center for your redemption. You could waste an entire afternoon depositing cans at a grocery store.
  • I live in Massachusetts where redemptions are 5 cents per can. If you live in or near Michigan where you get 10 cents per can, you can potentially double your earnings. This is a double edged sword, however, since Michiganders are more likely to redeem their recyclables themselves. There are also a lot more can/bottle scavengers in Michigan, some of whom have creative arrangements with frat houses, restaurants and university cafeterias.
  • For the love of god, please wear gloves. This is not only a dirty job, it can be dangerous. People throw away hypodermic needles (and occasionally, an entire cactus) without thinking twice.

Ok, I realize that's an enormous amount of information for such a ridiculously non-lucrative side gig. But, if you're like me and can't help considering the cost/benefit analysis of redeeming recyclables, hopefully this post will save you some time and effort.


meghan88

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2017, 09:45:13 AM »
I was kicked out of home at 18, so scrounging for cans and bottles to return was an early source of income for me.  Old habits are tough to break, so I will often rescue returnables when I see them, if it's easy and convenient.  Up here, wine bottles are .20 and beer bottles / cans are .10, so it adds up fast.  In any given week, I can add $5 to $10 to the family coffers without going out of my way at all.

Can you lock the trash can or store it elsewhere?  Sounds like your sleep is suffering ...

slappy

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2017, 10:28:59 AM »
I have a coworker that works in NH and lives in MA. Some of our coworkers give him their cans when they are finished. I think he makes about a dollar per week with the cans. He says if you don't redeem them, the government gets the money instead, and that's his real motivation.

dycker1978

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2017, 10:41:55 AM »
I have never done a drive, but I go for walks around my neighborhood daily.  I pick up what I see when going and make 30-40 every couple months.  Not a ton, but I am taking the walks anyway.

NoStacheOhio

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2017, 11:32:22 AM »
I have a coworker that works in NH and lives in MA. Some of our coworkers give him their cans when they are finished. I think he makes about a dollar per week with the cans. He says if you don't redeem them, the government gets the money instead, and that's his real motivation.

This may be illegal (no idea how you would ever get caught). I know in NYS it's illegal to redeem deposits for cans from another state (for obvious reasons). I briefly considered saving my cans and redeeming them on my annual trip to Syracuse, but quickly ruled it out based on both the cost/benefit and illegality. Even when I lived there I just recycled in the bin at our apartment instead of redeeming.

I'm a red panda

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2017, 11:38:32 AM »
I have a coworker that works in NH and lives in MA. Some of our coworkers give him their cans when they are finished. I think he makes about a dollar per week with the cans. He says if you don't redeem them, the government gets the money instead, and that's his real motivation.

And the way he is redeeming them, he's stealing from MA and benefiting NH. The deposit is paid to NH. You can't redeem it in MA.

I'm sure I've had a can or  two  get redeemed that wasn't bought here (like if my parents drove up from Texas and a Coke can was in the car and they tossed it into my recycling)- but to do it intentionally is wrong.

As for cans, well bottle deposits have basically made me stop drinking anything in a can. It is such a giant pain in the ass to return them. On the rare occasion we have cans, I give them to a neighborhood kid to redeem. The redemption machines are always broke, the rooms with the machines gross, dirty, sticky, and reeking of alcohol.  And then I have to remember which beer my husband bought at Walmart and which at Hyvee, because the machines only take the products they sell. 

I miss single stream recycling I had in other states. But they won't take anything with deposits here, so a lot of people just throw them in the trash.

slappy

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Re: For anyone considering can & bottle redemption as a side gig.....
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2017, 12:43:57 PM »
He actually mentioned that the cans he can redeem have a stamp on them. Supposedly the cans sold in NH don't have that stamp. I'm not sure if the place redeeming them looks at every can. We are only talking 3 cans per day max between a couple of coworkers, at least one of whom lives in MA. It's not like people are bringing in trash bags full of cans for him to redeem. Still, even on a small scale it would still be illegal, assuming what he said is correct about a cans sold in NH vs cans sold in MA. I've only bought soda once in the last couple of years (for a birthday party) and I didn't give him the cans because he said he wouldn't be able to redeem them anyway. I think we can redeem cans in NH but it goes by pound, not by can. My brother bags all of his and leaves them in a place where a homeless person can grab them easily. (We often seen homeless folks carrying their bags of cans to the collection center).