20 ways to turn trash into cash

6 September 2019

Recycling isn’t just good for the environment, it can boost your bank balance too. As a number of companies now offer incentives to recycle, your junk may be worth more than you think


There are now many ways to cut down on the landfill waste you produce and make money at the same time. We have taken a look at some of the most common – and surprising – possibilities.

1 Clothes

H&M’s Garment Collecting programme is a global initiative that aims to prevent unwanted clothes from going to landfill. 

The high street chain accepts any brand of unwanted clothes in any condition, as well as old duvet covers and sheets. If you hand in a bag of old clothes at the cash desk in any H&M store, you’ll receive a £5 voucher to use in store or online. All the clothes collected by H&M are either reused or recycled – nothing goes to landfill.

Another option is M&S and Oxfam’s ‘Shwopping’ scheme. If you take a bag of unwanted clothes containing at least one M&S item to an Oxfam shop, the charity will give you a £5 M&S voucher to use when you spend at least £35 on clothing, homeware and beauty products.


2 Cars

If your car is no longer roadworthy or economical to repair, you could sell it for scrap. But it’s important to do this legally and complete the correct paperwork. Only scrapyards with appropriate licences are allowed to scrap your car.

“Official scrap car recycling centres, known as authorised treatment facilities (ATFs), recycle cars responsibly and meet the 95% recycling targets set by the government,” says Kathryn Byng, a spokesperson for car recycling website Cartakeback.com. “They also handle legal issues correctly. When a car is scrapped, the DVLA needs to be informed using a certificate of destruction, which can only be issued by an ATF.”

Scrap car prices vary depending on the vehicle, location and constantly changing global price of commodities such as recycled steel. As a rough guide, you can expect about £60 for a medium-sized car.

3 Human hair

If you’ve got long hair and are planning to go for the chop, you can make some cash by selling your locks.

Companies such as Hair Harvest and Banbury Postiche buy hair to make wigs for people with hair-loss, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from alopecia.

However, you need to make sure your hair meets certain conditions before you can cash in. For example, Hair Harvest requests that the hair be in a ponytail and “root-to-tip perfect”.

How much you will be paid will depend on the quality and length of your hair. Hair Harvest says 14–15 inches of usable hair is worth between £25 and £60; 16–18 inches between £50 and £150; and 19 inches or longer between £60 and £200. Banbury Postiche pays between £3 and £7 per 25 grams of hair, depending on its condition.


4 Plastic bottles

Supermarket Iceland has introduced ‘reverse vending machines’ in selected stores to boost the recycling of used plastic bottles. The machines accept Iceland’s empty plastic beverage bottles and repay customers with a 10p Iceland voucher for each bottle.

Iceland Foods group managing director Richard Walker says: “At least a third of plastics, much of it packaging, is used once and then discarded. Plastic bottles are a prime example of this. Through our trial, we hope to understand how to make it easier for people to act in an environmentally conscious way while tackling the problem of the millions of plastic bottles that go unrecycled every day.”

Tesco and Morrisons are trialling similar schemes. Tesco pays 10p per plastic bottle returned to five stores while Morrisons gives customers 100 Morrisons More points per bottle (for up to a maximum of 20 bottles a day) to use in store, currently available in two locations.

5 Coffee cups

Coffee lovers can save money by taking their own reusable coffee cup to cafes and coffee shops for a discounted refill.

Both chains and independent cafes offer discounts on your coffee, but the amount you save varies. Pret A Manger discounts your coffee by 50p if you bring your own cup. Starbucks knocks 25p off. However, as they add 5p to the cost of your drink if you use one of their paper cups (as opposed to a china mug), the effective discount is 30p if you use your own. Costa takes off 25p. Caffè Nero doesn’t offer a discount. Instead, it gives customers with a Caffè Nero loyalty app or a paper loyalty card two stamps per coffee instead of one. This means that instead of needing to buy nine barista-made drinks to get a freebie, you only need to buy five. In theory, you can take any suitable reusable cup to a coffee shop. If you need to buy one, Starbucks sells a reusable plastic cup for as little as £1.


6 Mobile phones

Recycling old mobile phones can be lucrative. Scores of companies, mostly online, will pay cash for your old phone. SellMyMobile compares the prices offered by the various recyclers. To get a quote, go to Sellmymobile.com and enter your mobile’s model and condition.

Your phone will need to be in reasonable shape, and a price quoted online may be revised once your phone has been inspected.

Vix Leyton, an expert in mobile communications at Decision Tech says: “Using a recycling comparison service allows you to compare prices to get the best deal available, see how you will be paid and check the purchaser’s Trustpilot rating, so that you can make an informed choice. Even broken mobiles can be surprisingly valuable. The average broken phone fetched £64 in December 2018. A working phone fetched £141.” 

The more recent the model, the more money you can make. A working Apple iPhone 7 32GB will get you about £205, while a fully functional Samsung Galaxy S8 64GB will net you roughly £220.


7 Scrap metal

Virtually all metals can be recycled into high-quality new metal. Scrap metal merchants buy both ferrous (containing iron) and non-ferrous (containing no iron) metals. Metals accepted include aluminium, brass, copper, steel, iron and stainless steel. Household items made wholly or partly of metal include radiators, power cables, PC motherboards, paint tins and Christmas lights.

Scrap metal dealers need to be licensed by a local authority and they’re not allowed to pay you in cash. To sell scrap metal, you’ll need to show ID and proof of your address. Payments are made by bank transfer or cheque. Visit the British Metals Recycling Association’s website (Recyclemetals.org/recycler-directory) to find a local recycler.

8 Make-up and skincare products

Cosmetics company MAC’s ‘Back to MAC’ programme encourages customers to return MAC packaging. For every six containers returned to a MAC counter, customers are given a free lipstick of their choice – not a bad deal when you consider that most MAC lipsticks cost £17 or so.

Skincare company Lush sells vegan and vegetarian makeup and skincare products in recycled, and recyclable, pots. You can exchange five of the firm’s black pots for a free face mask worth £7.50 at any store.

Another skincare specialist, Kiehl’s, runs a stamp card scheme. Customers can bring an empty Kiehl’s product container of any size to any Kiehl’s store and receive a stamp. When you have 10 stamps, you are eligible for a free travel-sized product of your choice worth up to £9.50.


9 Ink cartridges

According to stationery supplier Staples.co.uk, about 65 million ink cartridges are sold in the UK every year and, once empty, 85% of them are discarded or sent to landfill. However, plenty of ink and toner cartridge recycling schemes will pay cash for them.

The amount of money you can make depends on the recycling service you use and the cartridges you want to recycle. For example, Printercartridgerecycling.co.uk has previously offered £2 for a HP 45/514645A cartridge and £1.80 for a Canon CL-546 or HP 62XL/C2P07A Color.

Tesco has partnered with The Recycling Factory to offer Tesco Clubcard points in exchange for certain types of inkjet cartridges. 

10 Electronics

If you have an old laptop, Macbook, desktop PC or all-in-one PC lying around, Cashinyourgadgets.co.uk will buy it for cash. Electronics in good, working condition can be refurbished and sold on, while the plastic parts of defunct laptops and PCs can be ground down into tiny pellets that are used to make new electronic devices.

To get a price for your computer, you need to go to the firm’s website, enter your computer’s brand, operating system, processor type, condition and size, and confirm whether it has an AC adapter and a webcam. You will then be quoted a price. If you accept it, the site arranges courier collection and pays by bank transfer or PayPal within a few days.

As a rough guide, a working Acer laptop with Windows 8 and an Intel Atom processor complete with a power adapter and webcam will fetch about £20. If you are selling a Macbook, you can enter its serial number to generate an offer price.


11 Wine bottle corks and jam jars

Keep the corks from traditional wine and champagne bottles and old jam jars. Both are often used by crafters and sought after by cost-savvy brides as name place holders or wild flower vases, so you could sell your collection on eBay. At the time of writing, one seller was offering 10 champagne-style corks for £4.50, and another six jam jars for £2.99.

12 Food scraps

Gardens love food waste, so make your own compost rather than leave it for the council to deal with. It’s a great way to recycle fruit and veg peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, plant and grass clippings, dry leaves, wood and bark chips, shredded newspaper, straw and sawdust. Keen gardeners can save a fortune by producing their own ready supply of high-quality compost, and if you produce more than you need, you can sell barrowloads to friends and family.

Turn your trash into charity cash

13 Recycle your glasses

You can’t donate prescription glasses and sunglasses to charity shops because they won’t be able to sell them. However, many opticians collect used glasses on behalf of Vision Aid Overseas. The charity no longer sends the glasses overseas but instead recycles the frames to raise funds that are used to improve eye care services across Africa. Enter your postcode at Visionaidoverseas.org to find a participating optician in your area or order a pack to post your glasses to the charity.

14 Ditch your old bras

Few women in the UK will buy second-hand bras, but plenty of charities will take them off your hands. Oxfam shops accept bra donations to raise money for women in Senegal while the Scottish charity Smalls for All also accepts donations of bras in good condition. Against Breast Cancer accepts bra donations by post or you can check its website (Againstbreastcancer.org.uk/recycling/bra-recycling) to find out if it has a bra bank near you.

Alternatively, ask if your local charity shop runs bra collections.

15 Recycle used stamps

Don’t bin stamps when you get a letter, as many charities collect them and are able to raise funds by recycling them. Charities that run stamp appeals include the MS Society, RNIB, Macmillan Cancer Support and Against Breast Cancer.

16 Old doors, windows and boxes

If you are coming to the end of a big building or DIY project, don’t just take your rubbish to the tip. Old or uPVC doors and double-glazed windows can all be sold on – even if they have been exposed to the elements. You can also try selling surplus building and decorating materials, and even the packing boxes used when moving house, which are quite expensive to buy new. Sell on eBay or to local renovation groups on Facebook.


17 Old drink cans

Many local councils will collect your old drink cans, but they won’t pay you for them. Instead, find out if a local recycling centre will pay cash for used aluminium cans.

Think Cans says metal merchants usually pay between 40p and 50p for a kilo of cans (approximately 65–70 cans). You might need to drink a lot to produce a significant volume of cans yourself, but you can always get the kids on board and gather cans from neighbours, family and friends or organise collections at schools and local businesses. This can be a fun way to raise money for a charity. Visit Thinkcans.net to find out where you can cash in your cans. The site has lots of educational resources on aluminium recycling and tips for increasing your haul.


18 Car boot sales

If you have more clutter than you know what to do with, it’s worth thinking about doing a car boot sale. Clothes, old toys, CDs and DVDs can all be readily turned into cash. You’ll be surprised at the things you’ll be able to sell – your junk could always be someone else’s treasure.

19 Cash in the attic

If you are doing a big clear out, be careful what you sell at a car boot sale or flog on eBay. In 2017, Sotheby’s sold a diamond ring for close to £657,000 that its owner had picked up at car boot sale in west London in the 1980s for £10. Always check you aren’t undervaluing jewellery or underestimating the desirability of antiques or works of art. Retro toys may also be worth more than you think – especially if they are still in their boxes – so do your research.


20 Old and broken jewellery

Old earrings, broken watches, and necklaces with clasps missing could be worth more than you think.

Carole Edge, a 63-year-old retiree, has taken clutter clearance to a new level by selling what she regards as junk via Vintagecashcow.co.uk. “We moved house a while ago and had so much clutter,” she says.

Carole saw an advert for the website on Facebook and, although she was a bit dubious, decided to give it a go because it was free. “I packed up a shoebox of things such as watches and old jewellery, most of it not working or broken. There were some cut-glass candlesticks, old coins and some pearls that I didn’t know whether were real or not. It was just junk really.”

Carole sent the box off using prepaid packaging that Vintage Cash Cow sent her and then accepted the company’s offer. She says: “There was nothing in the box that I was sorry to lose, and I got around £400. I was gobsmacked.”

Emma Lunn writes for publications including The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph

Cash for cans

Just to help with accuracy of information in the above article: I checked on the link Thinkcans.net and there is no firm in Scotland taking cans.


Due to a house move, I cleared out all recylable metals from my garage and got paid £130 by a metal recycling company.

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