How Much Are Aluminum Cans Worth?


side hustle, extra income, selling aluminum cansWhen I was a kid, I would earn a windfall of cash by bringing to a scrapyard the aluminum cans I had gathered digging through garbage cans at the local baseball field. It was an event I looked forward to all year and would use the cash to buy a new video game. Today, most people throw their household’s empty aluminum cans into recycling containers and let the refuse company deal with it. Could this be a lost source of valuable cash that we’re all just giving away?

I did some analysis to figure out just how much a person might make by selling aluminum cans to a scrap yard as opposed to just recycling them through their usual garbage and recycling pickup service.

How Much Aluminum Will You Collect?

The answer to this question is going to vary family to family. For the purpose of this example, let’s use a family of 4 that consumes one beverage each per day from an aluminum can for a total of 28 cans per week or 1456 cans in one year.

How Much is Aluminum Worth?

The amount scrap yards buy aluminum cans will vary on the market cost of aluminum. Normally, scrap yards will pay roughly half of the market cost of aluminum per pound. A nearby scrap yard lists their aluminum can buyback rate as varying between $0.07 and $0.30 per pound. For the purpose of this example, let’s use the high end of the range; $0.30 per pound.

How Many Cans Equal A Pound?

Aluminum cans are lighter today than they were in the past. At today’s weight, it takes 31 cans to equal one pound.


1456 cans from a family of 4 consuming one beverage from an aluminum can per year, at 31 cans per pound yields (rounding up) 47 pounds of aluminum. If we got $0.30 per pound at the scrapyard, our year’s worth of aluminum cans would give us a payday of $14.10.

The time and effort needed to separate a family’s aluminum cans, store them, and take them into a scrap yard seems hardly worth $14.10. This might be a good exercise for a young child for a lesson in responsibility and work ethic, but hardly worth the time for an adult. There are certainly better ways to earn a little extra cash.

How about you, Clever Friends, have you brought aluminum cans to a scrap yard for money?

About the author

Brock Kernin

1 Comment

  • In my zip code, the scavengers come out en force, but things have changed. Generally speaking, the scavengers are either latinos who I suspect take the cans to California where they bilk the state at 5 cents per can (far above the per pound price you proffer) or older retired people who do this I think to augment their retirement accounts and pick up cans while they walk their dog or run errands. It used to be much easier. Since I live near a municipal boundary, at one point we had three different garbage days, two of which had separated recyclables in stacking milk crates, so it was probably possible to get 200-300 each of those mornings in an hour or so since many people separated the cans for you. While still a much lower return than the hourly wage, for a retired, poor, or young person, that’s free money. Now, we all have the same amalgamated service with large and deep cans so that you literally must fish for cans located in the bottom of the barrel. This has not deterred many latinos who open every single can and use grabbers, gloves, and flashlights in winter while they rifle through my refuse. I agree with you. I can earn that much money in a shorter amount of time doing something else or I can change my behaviors to save money so that I don’t have to worry about recycling cans. When I was 12, they were worth 25 cents/pound, so adjusted for inflation this is a bad return even in my lifetime.

Leave a Comment