Recycling Metal, Circuit Boards, and Wire for Fun and Profit

by john111

Earn some extra cash by recycling while enjoying the impact your actions are having on the environment. Recycled material usage means less energy in manufacturing.

My basis for a discussion of the merits of recycling focuses on two issues. The first is how to make money recycling on the local level. The second is how I do it, including a look at how to make some tools that will help in picking through and collecting recyclable materials. Since many people choose to recycle beyond the personal recycle bin for the garbage company, holding cost to doing business down is important. How much you spend on the tools is part of the equation; my ideas may help the avid for-profit recycler become profitable sooner.

What to Recycle

Motors of any size are great for recycling. The windings are made of copper, while the case is steel. Lead-acid batteries and lithium batteries are commonly recycled for lead and lithium. Electronic equipment is a great source of wire and circuit boards. They can be melted down for solder and copper. Circuit boards also have heat sinks made of aluminum. The value of wire depends on its gauge (thickness). Wire is worth more if the insulation is stripped, but the work time involved to do so brings the need into question. Scrap steel is plentiful, but the price is low, currently 1-2 cents per pound. Stainless steel pays more. Plastic drink bottles with CRV labels (or state recycle value labels) are abundant.

Frequently small scrap operations offer slightly lower unit values than some large yards. These small operations then transport their secondary recyclable (a term that began in the 1960s) metals and materials to the large yards. The obvious advantage to dealing with a smaller vendor is location. One must take into consideration the cost to deliver the material.

I recycle in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, and here are some sample current prices:

Cast Aluminum -  $.30 a pound

Painted Aluminum - $.13 - $.35 a pound

Aluminum wheels - $.30 a pound

Yellow brass - $1.30 a pound

Electric motors - $.03 - $.30 a pound

Aluminum cans - .$60 - $.90 a pound

Copper #1 tube - $2.50 a pound

Copper #2 tube - $2.40 a pound

Aluminum sheet - $.13 - $.35 a pound

Radiators - $.20 - $1.30 a pound

Car batteries - $.18 - $.20 a pound

Plastic bottles - $.40 a pound

  Most recycle centers will take a variety of metals. The following are typical and representative:

  1. Ferrous metals -metals which are iron-based. The most common form is steel, which can be found in cars, household appliances, construction beams, and rod.
  2. Non-ferrous metals - refers to scrap metal other than iron and steel, which include: aluminum, brass, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, titanium, cobalt, chromium, and precious metals.

Do You Recycle for Profit

Make Your Own Tools

It is my hope that sharing my experience making tools will help the individual who is trying to start up a recycling endeavor to cut start up cost.

For digging through dumpsters or large garbage cans, I find that a section of dowel with a bike hook attached to the end is an outstanding tool. Dowel is usually a no-cost  throw away, and a bicycle hook can be had for around $1.03 at Walmart.

Dowel Hook
Dowel Hook
John Wilsdon

Reacher grabber

Vive Suction Cup Reacher Grabber - 32" Heavy Duty Mobility Grip Hand Aid - Handle Tool Light Bulb...

Suction Reacher by ViveEasily reach high shelves, behind furniture and appliances and in other tight spaces with the suction reacher by Vive. The lightweight brushed aluminum fr...

View on Amazon

General Tools 70396 Lighted Steel Claw Mechanical Pick-Up Tool, 24-Inch

Product Description Reach into dark and hard-to-reach spaces using General Tools’ 24-Inch Lighted Pick-Up Tool. The flexible shaft bends and reaches into cramped areas such as u...

View on Amazon

A Typical Load of Metal and Plastic

A Full Trailer
A Full Trailer
John Wilsdon

To Stomp, or Not to Stomp

It may seem somewhat rediculous, but I pretty much pick everything up that I find. On occassion, there will be a bottle or can full of dirt. Different recycle centers have differing tolerances for filth. But before you think the yard you go to is being too picky, let me share what they experience.

On occasion, folks will put rocks and sand in the cans to add weight. Sometimes they will stomp on them so the filler doesn't fall out. That can really hurt the small entrepeneur's margin, and it is the height of dishonesty. If the yardman sees any piled dirt in a can, or if a bottle is covered in mud, expect it to be discarded, and rightly so. My yard gives a special rate to stomped cans which is half the unstomped rate - $.45 instead of $.90 a pound. Some yards will not take them, others will. Be forewarned.

For the occassional mucky plastic drink bottle, I have another homemade tool. Take a toothbrush and attach it to a piece of dowel. A quick dip in a little water with some vigorous agitation and the bottle is acceptable. I water my plants with the resulting brew.

John's Blue Bag

Sewing Up a Tarp
Sewing Up a Tarp
John Wilsdon

Another Do-It-Yourself

Another common situation for the recycler is how to carry material back to your vehicle. You need something strong that can hold a goodly amount, but also light. You could carry large plastic bags, but they are rather expensive. You could drag a cart on wheels but that makes noise, especially in alleys. Cardboard boxes would work, but really, how large can you get and will they stand up to dragging? Here is my solution to the problem. Hope it helps you.

I like to use tarps that you can buy at Harbor Freight. You can purchase a 7' by 9 1/2' tarp for $4.99, and sometimes with a coupon you can get one free with no purchase necessary. These blue tarps are made of polypropylene and are sturdy. Stop! You ask, "How can something shaped like a blanket carry anything?" Next, get some dental floss, less that $1 at Walmart and sew two sides of the tarp up to make a bag. Dental floss is a great thread. You can even coat the thread with a little Goop type glue for extra strength, but that isn't necessary.

You could also opt for feed bags or heavy duty transport bags. Usualy white, these bags are also made of woven polypropylene. The bags can be purchased for $9 - $15.50, depending on quantity. Recycled bags run around $7.50 a bag. Holding thousands of pounds of weight, you won't have to worry about strength. This is another possible expense, but doable. I have heard that old bags can be purchased at dairies for around $7 per bag, but I have never done that.

For $5.99, my blue bag will last you a long time. I have made two and have had them for years.

Stuff Can Be Too Dirty

Toothbrush Scrubber
Toothbrush Scrubber
John Wilsdon

Blue bags

Note the bags
Note the bags
John Wilsdon

More Considerations

Here are a few more things to consider:

1. Getting a trailer - You can get a trailer cart for about $120 at Harbor Freight. Slightly larger ones      run around $200 new. You can do better than $200 if you check the classified for used ones. If        you own one, that's super too. My yardman recently purchased a 7' X 4' X 2' trailer for $50, but         that's  unusual.

2. Have a good pair of gloves. It is really easy to cut yourself diving in containers. Protect yourself      from injury at all times. Wear safety glasses. One visit to the doctor's for being stupid can ruin        your day!

3. Strongway makes a nice steel ATV trailer for around $200. It is 5 ft long, 3 ft wide, and 13"              high. They make a smaller one for around $130. These can be found on Amazon.

4. Many recycle centers will take cardboard, newspaper, non-bottle plastic, and glass. I don't              gather this material because it takes so much to make any money.

5. More than 100 billion aluminum cans are sold in the United States each year. Less than half           are recycled. Other countries incinerate or send to landfills a similar number of cans.

6. The average can contains 70 percent recycled metal.

7. Americans throw away nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum cans every year.

8. It takes approximately 31 empty aluminum cans to equal 1 pound. Soooo....assuming 60 billion      cans are not recycled, that's almost 2 billion pounds of aluminum that could be recycled.         80 cents a pound, that's about 1.5 billion dollars. There is plenty of aluminum out        there for those of you interested in aluminum foraging. There is no shortage of plastic bottles,        steel, circuit boards, glass, paper, cardboard, metals, and wire. Our country is a living                      cornucopia of potentially viable waste.


Final Thoughts

How much you make doing recycling depends on how far you have to travel, how many hours you work, and the resources in your community. I am retired and enjoy working for myself. Since Arizona is a rather scenic place to live, I enjoy taking my camera and photographing much of what I see along the way. I probably make $50 a week recycling, and usually don't turn my wares in until I have that in my trailer. I know I could make more if I spent more time at it.

School bins are great for investigating. Lunchtime provides a plethora of plastic and aluminum. Look under bleachers.

As disheartening as it is, if you have illegal dumping areas on public property nearby, they can frequently be a source of large quantities of material.

Roadsides always have available stuff. Dumpsters near public parks are frequently full to the brim.

Living in a more populated place would probably afford the opportunity for greater profits. But make sure there are no laws against dumpster diving, and stay on public property to accrue your commodities.

Have friends, neighbors, and relatives save plastic and aluminum for you. I collect it periodically and provide a plastic garbage can for each of those folks. Often I will find the can by my trailer in the morning.

Icelandic Debt

Bankruptcy is a rather common place event in the business world. A country nearly going bankrupt, well, that is another thing altogether. Since 2011, Iceland's economy has risen.
Updated: 05/30/2018, john111
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login

You might also like

Who Won the Vietnam War?

President Dwight Eisenhower's domino theory in Southeast Asia was the predomi...

Icelandic Financial Upturn 2011 - 2017

Bankruptcy is a rather common place event in the business world. A country ne...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...