4 Simple Ways to Make Money Picking Up Trash

You’ve heard it said countless times: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But what you probably didn’t realize is that “treasure” could be synonymous for “cash.”

From cleaning up parking lots to recycling scrap metal, there are countless ways to earn real money by simply picking up other people’s trash. And it can even be lucrative – people earn anywhere from a few dollars to six figures per year.

That’s a wide range, but it should be enough to (hopefully) get you thinking about how you can try your hand at it!

So, here are 4 real ways to make money picking up trash:

  1. Cleaning up parking lots
  2. Recycling aluminum cans
  3. Collect and sell trash
  4. Recycle scrap metal

Let’s dive in to each and see what it all entails, which ones can earn the most money, and which ones might work best for you!

1. Cleaning up parking lots

If you’re an entrepreneur at heart, then you’ll want to consider making trash-cleaning a full-on business by cleaning up parking lots!

Basically, you would go around to local businesses and offer to pick up the trash in their parking lots for them – for a fee, of course. 

Once you get hired, you simply go around and sweep up their trash, and get paid. It’s as simple as that!

Now I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way that can really make me any money. But shockingly, you’d be wrong.

Take, for example, Brian Winch, who has been doing this for over 30 years and makes a whopping $650,000 per year. And, while that’s not a realistic expectation for everyone, it’s enough to make us reconsider it as an actual side gig.

Man Cleaning up Parking Lot

And if you’re thinking that you need to own a big dump truck or some other fancy (and expensive) gear, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t! In fact, you can purchase all the trash collecting equipment you need for under $100. You just need an outdoor broom and dustpan to get started!

Read: Can You Make Money Cleaning Parking Lots?

If you do decide to take this route, just make sure you approach smaller businesses first. Most larger companies will already have someone picking up their trash, while certain smaller businesses might not be able to afford someone full time.

Another bonus to this type of job is that you can easily do this while still having your current full-time career – but it’s not limited to a side hustle. You can always work your way up to enough clients to make this a full-time business.

2. Recycling aluminum cans

This idea is a bit more simplistic, but much more suited for someone who’s not so keen on approaching businesses.

Basically what you’re doing is collecting aluminum cans – like soda pop cans – and recycling them for money. The key to making money with this idea is to collect enough cans to make it worth your time and effort.

Aluminum Cans Crushed For Recycling

Since there’s literally no startup costs, your biggest investment is going to be your time. You don’t want to spend hours picking up cans to only make a few bucks. Instead, try combining some of these ideas to build up your stash faster:

  • Collect cans on the side of the road on your daily walk
  • Keep your family’s old cans
  • Ask your friends if you can have their used soda cans
  • Approach local event venues and ask if you can pick up their cans after an event

You can get creative, but just remember: the more cans you collect, the better. And that’s because you get paid by the pound.

Read: How Much Money Can You Make Selling Aluminum Cans?

Once you’re ready to cash in your cans, you simply go down to your local recycling center and sell them. Right now, aluminium cans are going for $0.28 per pound but you can check scrap metal prices at sites like iScarp App.

To put that into perspective, it takes about 32 cans to make one pound. Therefore, you would have to collect approximately 115 cans to make $1.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it can definitely add up if you’re able to collect enough aluminum. Plus, you could do that in conjunction with other things, like cleaning up parking lots, just to earn a little bit more.

3. Collect and sell trash

Have you ever been driving down the street in your neighborhood just to see a slightly-worn sofa with the word “FREE” written on a cardboard sign in front of it?

If you have, you’ll know that some of the things people give away for free probably should be free. You know, things that have rips and tears, or are waterlogged because they were put outside right before a huge downpour.

But other things might look brand-new, and if you’re like me, you’d probably wonder why someone would give away something for free that looks like it’s in perfectly good condition!

But actually, even if something looks and works great, if it says it’s free, it’s technically defined as trash. That’s because the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trash as “something worth little or nothing.”

So, when we’re saying to collect and sell trash, don’t immediately picture a grimy dumpster. People often times throw away things that could easily be sold for a few bucks – or more!

Pile of Junk on Side of Road

So if you’re driving around and see something that says free, it’s worth pulling over and checking it out. You might be able to pick it up (before it gets all gross or damaged) and be able to sell it later on sites like Craigslist or OfferUp.

Read: Can You Make Money Doing Dumpster Diving?

This is an especially good idea if you know how to fix broken things. For example, say you go and pick up a freestanding electric fireplace with a beautiful wooden mantle. The fireplace works, but the mantle itself has tons visible of chips and scratches.

If you took it home, sanded it down, and restained it, you could easily sell it for $100, or more. Plus, you actually put work into it to raise the value, instead of just reselling something you got for free.

And that example is actually based on personal experience. My husband and I made around $900 in one month picking up free sofas, barbecues, and fireplaces, fixing or cleaning them up a bit, and reselling them. And all it really cost us was some gas and a little time!

4. Recycle scrap metal

Different than aluminum cans, recycling scrap metal can actually be a whole different ball game. The process is similar, though. Collect metal, recycle it, and get paid.

Basically anything metal can be recycled. Here are just a few ideas of things you could collect and get money for:

  • Old barbecues
  • An old, junk car
  • Copper from old wiring or old plumbing
  • Old metal filing cabinets
  • Old water heaters
  • Appliances

And don’t think you have to find this in your own home or on your own property, either. Get creative! You can go to your friends and family and ask if they have anything metal that they’re looking to get rid of.

Or you could approach your local contractors and ask if you could take away any old appliances or water heaters from a job they’re doing. They might be more than happy to not have to figure out a way to dump it, and you can make a good amount of money from it!

Crane picking up pile of scrap metal

Garage sales are another good place to look if you want to find something scrap for cheap. Old barbecues can be as little as $5. Or, if you hit the garage sale near the end of the day, most people will give leftover things away for free, because they’d rather have them be gone rather than hold onto them in hopes that they’ll make a dollar or two next time.

Read: Can You Make Money Selling Scrap Metal?

Either way, once you’ve collected enough scrap metal, you can take it down to the scrapyard and cash it in.

Scrap metal can pay anywhere from $0.35/pound for stainless steel, up to $2.00/pound for copper scrap!

To give you an example, let’s say you got an old metal filing cabinet for free from your neighbor. The price for steel is $115/ton, or about $0.05 per pound. The average weight of a standard filing cabinet is 150 pounds (empty), which means you could get $8.63 for a free cabinet!


Overall, there are a variety of different ways you could earn money by picking up trash – some that aren’t even covered in this list.

Most opportunities have little to no startup costs, and just require a bit of time, effort, and creativity in order to start earning some extra cash.

Plus, there are things you can do in conjunction with other business ideas. For example, you could add parking lot cleaning to your repertoire along with cleaning up people’s yards – they can really go hand-in-hand.

And because there’s so many different options, you’re likely to find one that you might want to give a try!

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