Aluminum Can Recycling Prices [Is it WORTH the work?]

Share the wealth!

Are you the eco-friendly type who enjoys saving money every chance you get? Well, we bet you’ve considered recycling your aluminum cans for cash if you haven’t already started.

But do the financial benefits outweigh the effort it takes to store them and haul them to a recycling depot in exchange for a bit of cash?

Let’s dive in and see for ourselves. 

Current prices of aluminum cans

Below is a list of the current national average price of aluminum cans.

  • Average Price: USD $0.65/lb
  • High Price: USD $2.00 /lb
  • Low Price: USD $0.05/lb

What you can get out of this is that the buyback price of aluminum cans varies significantly depending on a few factors. A few things to consider are the time of year and the city and state you’re located in.

For example, suppose you’re located in and around Pinehurst, Texas.

You will receive, on average, $1.00/lb of aluminum cans. Conversely, if you’re located in Waldorf, Maryland, you will receive, on average, $0.15/lb. So, as you can see, although the national average is an attractive $0.65/lb, you need to determine what the buyback price is for your specific city and state.

But first, let’s learn how getting paid to recycle works.

How do bottle bills work?

(The Bottle Bill applies to 10 states, so read on to find out if your state participates.)

The Bottle Bill, otherwise known as the “Container Deposit Law,” is a regulation that governs consumer recycling. It requires that there be a minimum refundable deposit on specific bottles, including soft drinks, beer, and any other beverage container. The purpose of this law is to encourage consumers to recycle as many beverage containers as possible.

The way the bottle bill works is relatively simple. For every transaction that is made between the retailer to the distributor, the retailer pays a deposit to the distributor for each can and bottle that is included in the total order.

When the retailer sells an item to a consumer, the beverage deposit is added to the cost of the beverage, paid by the consumer. The consumer can only get this deposit back by returning the empty container to any participating retailer, including a redemption center or a reverse vending machine.

Essentially, the deposit works as an incentive for the consumer to recycle rather than litter or throw it in a landfill.

From here, the retailer is responsible for recouping the deposit back from the distributor and typically charges an additional handling fee, ranging between $0.01 – $0.03, depending on the state.

You might be wondering how the distributor makes money or recoups any losses. They do this by selling all their scrap bottles and cans to companies that recycle them into other reusable items.

By the end of the cycle, no one loses out on money. Instead, recycled beverage containers and cans end up at a company that can put them to use, rather than creating pollution in a landfill.

10 states with Beverage Container Deposit laws (aka “Bottle Bills”)

As of 2022, only 10 states throughout the United States enforce Beverage Container Deposit Laws:

  • California. As of 2020, California recorded a 62% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, non-alcoholic beverages, wine coolers, and distilled spirits coolers. 
  • Connecticut. As of 2020, Connecticutrecorded a 44% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, sparkling water, and flavored water.
  • Hawaii. As of 2019, Hawaii recorded a 62% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, sparkling water, non-alcoholic beverages, wine coolers, and distilled spirits coolers. 
  • Iowa. As of 2016, Iowarecorded a 65% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, mineral water, wine coolers, wine, and liquor.
  • Maine. As of 2017, Maine recorded an 84% return rate on all beverage items other than dairy products and unprocessed cider.
  • Massachusetts. As of 2020, Massachusetts recorded a 43% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, and mineral water.
  • Michigan. As of 2019, Michigan recorded an 89% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, mineral water kombucha, wine coolers, and distilled spirits coolers. 
  • New York. As of 2020, New York recorded a 64% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, mineral water, flavored water, and wine coolers.
  • Oregon. As of 2019, Oregon recorded an 86% return rate on all beverage items other than wine, distilled liquor, dairy and plant-based milk, and infant formula.
  • Vermont. As of 2020, Vermont recorded a 77% return rate on all eligible items, including beer, soda, mineral water, wine coolers, and liquor.

As the data indicates, there is a discrepancy in return rates among the participating states. This may be due to a lack of public awareness, or it may be that the incentive is not significant enough.

How does CRV work?

(CRV pertains specifically to California, so if you don’t live in this state, go ahead and skip over to the next section.)

The CRV recycling program refers to the California Refund Value program. Simply put, it’s a chapter of the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, which was introduced to California in 1986. The purpose of the act is to acquire and maintain high rates of recycling among the general public, which includes recyclable aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage containers.

CRV determines the amount that is paid by consumers when they make a purchase at a store, as well as the amount they will be reimbursed if and when they recycle it. If a consumer would like to know if a beverage container is CRV recyclable, all they need to do is look on the bottle for an imprint of the phrase: “CA CASH REFUND,” “CA CRV,” or something similar. A general rule of thumb when it comes to how the beverage container is imprinted is that aluminum containers will be labeled on the top of the can, while glass and plastic are generally marked on the label.

There is a standard buyback rate that doesn’t fluctuate unless the state of California makes an amendment to the program. Rates are as follows:

  • 5¢ for containers less than 24 ounces
  • 10¢ for containers 24 ounces and larger

Something to keep in mind about the CRV program is that it allows recycling vendors to pay by the pound of the bag if a consumer brings in a large bag of eligible cans and containers. This is designed to save both the vendor’s and consumers’ time.

How to sell aluminum cans

Since aluminum cans are one of the most common scrap metals sold by American consumers, many retailers are more than happy to take your heavy load off in exchange for quick cash.

If you live in one of the ten states listed above with a bottle bill law, you will find recycling stations, such as recycling depots or reverse vending machines. These are located inside brick-and-mortar retailers like grocery stores, and they automatically pay you for your cans. The good thing about living in one of these states is that you will receive a higher rate per can than you would in a state that does not encourage recycling through the bottle bill law.

If you reside in a state without the bottle bill law, you will receive the current buyback price for aluminum cans, which is often much lower than other participating states. Nevertheless, you can find bottle depots or scrap metal buyers located across your town or city.

The best way to crush aluminum cans easily

If your aluminum cans build up quickly and you prefer to save them for a sizeable recycling trip to the bottle depot, the best way to conserve space in your home is to crush them.

As you probably know, the traditional way to crush a can is with your shoe or a boot-covered foot.

But if you’re looking for a more modern way of doing this, you can purchase a can crusher. These are extremely common devices that are relatively small and extremely affordable, ranging from $25.00 to $100.00, depending on the brand.

Since Americans are avid can recyclers, you can find them at many hardware retailers or Amazon.

If you go through a few cans a day and you recycle all of them, this is an excellent investment that will save you time and space in your home.

Is recycling aluminum cans worth it?

Recycling aluminum cans can be worth it depending on where you live. If you live in one of the Bottle Bill states, I’d say it’s definitely worth the time if you and your family go through a substantial amount of cans on a monthly basis. However, time and space are important commodities too, so I would highly recommend getting a can crusher.

Finally, if you live in an area where there is a pick-up recycling service, lucky you! Going through a good amount of cans with your can crusher will save you space and time, but having a pick-up service helps you save on gas too! If that is the case for you, then you’ve got it good, and I would most certainly participate in aluminum can recycling.

A pick-up CRV recycling service we recommend

(Again, CRV applies only to California, so skip this if you’re not in this state.)

If you want to recycle your beverage containers but have no way of getting to one of California’s 1500 recycling centers, we have good news. Some organizations will come directly to your home to pick up the load and drop it off for you. Once your load has been processed at the recycling center, your deposit will be sent to you either electronically or as a check in the mail.

If you live in the Irvine, California area, Recycle From Home is an excellent family-owned company that will pick up your load of recyclables and drops it off for you at a participating retailer. They are highly reputable and a favorite among the locals.

In conclusion

Since aluminum cans are the most recycled scrap metal in America, many retailers are willing to pay you.

That’s not all; since you can make your money back on a deposit, it only makes sense to bring them to a recycling center since it also helps create a healthier environment and reduces pollution.

It takes, on average, up to 500 years for aluminum to decompose entirely in a landfill, which is detrimental to the planet. If you’re consuming a lot of beverage products in aluminum cans, you can do your part by recycling while making money at the same time.