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Cans to Win: Making Money That Pays Twice

Updated on November 19, 2016

Recycling Pays in Two Ways

This elementary school group raised enough money to pay for their trip to Washington, D.C.
This elementary school group raised enough money to pay for their trip to Washington, D.C. | Source

Do you recycle?

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Making Money That Pays Twice

Collecting and recycling aluminum cans is nothing new and the process is fairly simple. Cans for a Cause, however, is how to do it to make the most making money for your cause or non-profit organization by using some simple and other resources in some fun and practical ways. And yes, this same approach can be adapted to make money for yourself on the side if you would so choose. The bottom line is that recycling of cans and other items not only will generate cash, but also gives back at the same time. It is good for your cause and it is good for the environment; it pays twice and is repeatable.

Is it worth it?

This article is not for the “naysayers” who are quick to discourage a fundraising approach without themselves doing some homework. I have found that many times these same people are the same who complain about the price of gas, cost of manufactured goods, or generally don’t care about the environment. I will, however, agree with these people, that “simply” collecting cans will require work with very little obvious reward—if indeed, the plan stopped there. To appease these people, we will look firstly at the potential negative aspect and then explore the positive.

The price of aluminum fluctuates on a daily basis. As of this writing the going redemption rate or scrap rate for clean aluminum cans is $.50 pound over 50 pounds. For quantities less than 50 pounds; the price will be lower, for over 200 pounds; the price will be higher. The price will vary by state depending on redemption policies.

Example of Can Value


This is an example of how much money can be made from aluminum cans as of this writing. The price of aluminum changes from day to day.

How many cans does it take to make a pound?

Based on standard 12 oz. cans, it takes about 32-35 cans to make a pound. The number can vary depending on manufacturer.

You make look at the chart and at first glance, you may determine, “it’s not worth it”, but before you make your final conclusion, there are some factors to consider which may change the way you look at it.

Beyond Cans

Recycling cans is the starting point. But, the “real” fundraising income is produced by what is connected to the approach. Bottom line, the income raised by a “cause” comes from the ancillary. The highest most profitable fundraising comes from recycling the following; the chart below will give you a sampling of the potential:

Other Recyclables for Money

Cast Iron
Aluminum wire
Sheet Metal
Aluminum wheels
Car batteries (ea)
House wire
Wheel weights

Sample chart of other some of the many recyclable items that can be collected and turned into money for your fundraising cause. Just like aluminum cans, this prices can change from day to day. These rates are per pound except for car batteries.

Recycling of Cans Teaches Business Planning

The logistics of recycling from point A to point B requires a good plan.
The logistics of recycling from point A to point B requires a good plan. | Source

The Can Plan

Any successful business leader will tell you that to make any business work, first you have to have a business plan. Creating a profitable fundraising project is no different. What follows are the elements of a plan that will guide you and your group along a path that can be repeated year after year and will actually grow itself as it becomes known in the community. Not only will the initial plan produce results but will also give valuable business training to the participants and establish a method that can be adopted for other fund raising adventures.

Advantages of “Cans for a Cause”:

  • Good for the environment
  • Teaches Business Planning
  • Creates positive cash flow
  • Repeatable and Transferable
  • Teaches Accounting Principles
  • Involves Community
  • Not Age specific
  • Teaches Marketing Skills
  • Financially Supports a Cause
  • No/Low start up investment
  • Develops communication and social skills
  • Creates Mentorship Opportunities

Business Plan Overview

When putting together a group of volunteers, the initial meeting should be about the business plan. This can be practiced before hand with the group of originators with some of the aspects already established. In a large group, not everybody will be active in every part but together, all of the parts must be connected. The initial meeting is a great time to find those with special interest or skill sets. Below is the list of the business plan components. At the conclusion of the first meeting you should have a pretty good idea of who can be responsible for what. Make sure you gather all contact information and assign somebody to manage it. This will become extremely important as the plan is put into motion and future activities are scheduled.

  1. Name: Create a project name that is both descriptive and marketable
  2. Mission Statement: What is the goal? How does it serve?
  3. Business Structure: Who is the point of contact for each of the task involved?
  4. Description of product or service: This should be a direct expanded version of the Mission Statement
  5. Strategy: The how and when is a creative process that should be open for all ideas.
  6. Mechanics: What tools, equipment, and space will be needed?
  7. Marketing: A plan to communicate the project and the support advertising.
  8. Accounting: Keeping track of expenses, donations, and money received is critical to encouraging future growth and should be open for review.
  9. Action: Put the plan to work.
  10. Review: Celebrate the success, discuss what worked and didn’t work, make changes to make it better.


Methods of Collection

As you build your volunteer list, you can offer some ideas on how, where, when to put your plan into action. Listen to the response and be open for additional ideas. Narrow the first approach to one or two based on what generates the most excitement or the most practical to start with. Once you group becomes proficient, you can expand and explore other approaches. Below are a few to get you started.

  1. Collection Day: pick a single day and advertise where and when items can be dropped off
  2. Street Fair: Street fairs generate a lot of empty soda cans…rent a booth and set up a collection site promoting your cause
  3. Festival: Music festivals generate lots of cans and generally run for several days
  4. Community Collection Drive: Advertise in advance and on a scheduled day follow your map of people who have agreed to hold their donations
  5. Campgrounds: Partner with campgrounds to collect cans, perhaps in exchange for help with cleanup or light maintenance.
  6. Recycling Event: Create an “Event” that not only serves as a drop off but perhaps a carnival type atmosphere that focuses on recycling. Invite local vendors to discuss how their businesses conserve and recycle. A great day to hold this would be on Earth Day.
  7. Parade: Create a “Cans for a Cause” parade float and stage it at the rear of the line. Parade viewers can come alongside and deposit their cans.

Can Crushing

Crushing of cans is not a requirement of cashing in, however, for the sake of space and ease of transport, it certainly does make sense to crush your stockpile. There are many variations of can crushers on the market from simple wall mounted lever actuated hand machines to larger automatic crushers that take a lot of the repetitiveness out of the mix.

If you are mechanically inclined and have the tools to create your own, there are many sources to get plans and the engineering knowledge required. There are also a great number of videos showing some unique approaches.

Cashing In

While the recycling of cans themselves will not generate a huge amount of money, combing the collection of other recyclables will add up pretty quick. If you decide to pursue this fund raising method, consider doing it for the “long-haul”. If you become established in the community as a reliable and consistent outlet for recycling, both business and individuals will be happy to contribute and patronize your cause.

More money from marketing: Your cause is important and the more people you can educate about it, the more business you will receive. Create a newsletter about your cause along with simple articles and where the money actually goes. Include advertising space for a low cost and supporting businesses will be glad to contribute in exchange of a shout out.

Let the community newspaper do an article about your efforts to recycle. Human interest stories are in high demand especially when the story provides great exposure to your cause and how it can be supported.

Redemption Centers

It pays to shop around. Some redemption centers merely pay for scrap metal regardless of the combination at a much lower rate. Some are very well organized and you will find them very supportive of your efforts. A great example of a well established center that maintains an up to the date going “price” list is Earth Works Recycling.

Cans for a Cause

You CAN do it!


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