Can you really make money with scrap metal?
If you’ve got a truck and some extra time, it could be a viable side hustle to earn $100-500 a month.
In this post, we’ll dive into how to scrap metal for money and whether or not it makes sense for you.
How Scrapping Metal Works
The basic premise of this side hustle is to take scrap metal to local recycling centers. These centers pay you based on how much and what type of metal you bring in.
Since most “scrappers” get their inventory — the metal — for free, the biggest cost is your time.
because one day you might be picking pieces of metal from a dumpster and the next you might be helping clean out a house. There are plenty of places to get scrap metal if you know where to look and how to handle the job.
More on where and how to source free metal in a moment.
Why Scrap Metal Recyclers Exist
Scrap metal recycling reduces metal waste in our landfills and reduces our need to mine new raw materials. Strong demand for steel in the automotive and construction sectors is fueling industry growth.
Most cities have one or more metal recycling facilities, or at least collection centers where you can drop off (and get paid for) the metal you find.
Interview with a Scrapper
Coach Dom Costa is a metal scrapper in Los Angeles, CA, who reported earning $400+ per month.
Where Do You Find Scrap Metal to Sell?
There are many ways to source scrap metal.
Some popular options include Craiglist, local manufacturers and businesses, and your neighbors and neighborhood.
1. Check (Free) Junk on Craigslist
There are so many people who want to dispose of old appliances and other items on Craigslist. These are people who want to replace items and not repair them. They also might not have time, knowledge, or capability to take them to the recycling center — or they’re worried about the costs of taking them to the dump or junkyard.
Check for homeowners and businesses that advertise their items on Craigslist and haul them for free.
You can filter your search to only pick scrap metal from people who live nearby. Head to the free section and you’ll be good to go, but you’ll have to act fast since other scrappers will be doing the same thing.
2. Check Local Manufacturers
Local manufacturers might have pieces of metal they need to give off. You can walk in or call and ask whether the manufacturer has metal to scrap for free.
This works best with smaller companies as larger manufacturers probably already have a process in place to recycle their own metal.
In fact, John Wilker of Birmingham, Alabama, built an entire business by helping local companies with their so-called industrial byproducts. In his case, he’d acquire pallets, drums, and other dunnage items that weren’t core to these businesses operations for free, and go resell them to other companies that needed them.
Coach Dom advocated the same strategy with metal.
3. Check Local Businesses
If you’re in an area with construction or businesses that deal with metal, you can talk to a few and ask what they do with their excess or scrap metal. If they’re currently paying a service to haul it away, giving it to you for free could be a win.
You can even collect soda cans from businesses where employees drink a lot of soda. (Some neighbors of ours asked us to save our cans and bottles so their daughters could take them to the recycling center — a pretty simple “business idea” for kids.)
4. Tell People What You Do
Family members, friends, and neighbors can help you with scrap metal recycling.
Ask if they have metallic cans or any other scrap they’d like to give away. Again, ask if they’d be willing to save their cans for you to pick every week.
If they have old appliances or even cars, you can ask to take them off their hands. You’ll help them get rid of some junk and can make some money in process.
Dom echoed this strategy, explaining that if you can build a reputation in your community, you’ll begin to get inbound leads on scrap metal.
5. Check Your Property
The best place to start scrapping metal is your home. You may have old furniture, shelving, car parts, or appliances lying around where the metal components could be cashed in.
6. Trash Collection Day
You can collect scrap metal from your neighbors on trash collection day. However, it’s still best to talk to them in advance so they don’t get weirded out by some random guy or girl going through their garbage!
What Scrap Metal Should You Collect?
Should you collect all metals? How should you sort them?
Metals appear in one of two categories:
Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals
Ferrous metals are those that contain iron (atomic symbol “Fe”) and non-ferrous are those with no iron.
The easiest way to test if your metal is ferrous is to check it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it’s ferrous.
Why does it matter? Well, there’s a price difference between the two — you’ll earn more for non-ferrous scrap metals than for ferrous metals.
Common non-ferrous metals include aluminum, brass, copper, and lead.
Which Scrap Metals are the Most Valuable?
If you can collect enough, almost all scrap metal has some value. Some of the most common metals include:
Aluminum is common in window frames, structures, airplanes, boats, trains, cars, trucks, and many other applications.
It’s also common in bicycles, motorcycles, and other mobility devices. As we’ve mentioned, you can also recycle old soda and beer cans, but at $0.05-$0.10 each, you’ll need a lot to make significant money.
Fun Fact: Can-collecting was one of my earliest money-making ventures. Dad would pay my brother and I $0.05 for every can or bottle we found littered around the neighborhood.
Brass is common on valves and pipe fittings. It’s also found in faucets, bullet cases, light fixtures, and doorknobs.
Copper is common in wires, circuits, pipes, switches, electromagnets, and a few plumbing fittings. It is also found in air conditioners, water supply systems, and refrigeration units.
Stainless steel is a ferrous metal that contains 70 percent iron. It looks like steel, but isn’t magnetic.
The material can fetch a high price due to the presence of 8% nickel.
You can scrap stainless steel from appliances and kitchenware. It is also available in some aerospace and automotive technology.
You can scrap lead from wheel weights and piping.
Although lead is valuable, it’s not easy to come by. If you do find lead, you need to take safety precautions to protect the environment and those around you because the metal is highly toxic.
The material feels soft and pliable, but it is heavy. The metal is also so heavy and can be challenging to transport.
Even with the challenges, scrap lead will fetch a lot as it is in high demand.
Silver and Gold
Precious metals like silver and gold are priced high. Sometimes, silver is priced higher at scrap metal centers than at the jewelry store or pawn shop. You can scrap silver from jewelry, medals, silverware, and antique vases.
Gold is the most expensive of all scrap metal, if you could even call it that. At nearly $2000 an ounce at press time, gold is incredibly valuable, but hard to find. Hence, all the “gold rushes” in history.
Still, you may be able to source gold is available in jewelry, antique items, and coins. Some outdated electronics have gold parts in them, but you’ll need to research on how to safely remove it.
What Tools Do You Need to Scrap Metal?
A truck comes in handy if you are planning on recycling large autos, machinery parts, and large appliances. If you don’t have a truck, you can use your car to haul a trailer.
The size of truck you need will depend on the size of appliances you need to haul to the recycling center.
A magnet helps you discern ferrous from nonferrous metals. If you’re uncertain of the metals you’re scrapping, you can use the magnet to test them.
Wrench and Screwdriver
You need these two tools to remove non-metal parts from the scrap metals, or separate different types of metals.
Naturally, if you decide to repair and sell appliances, you may need other tools. YouTube is a tremendous resource for repair information!
A dolly is essential for hauling heavy appliances or other sources of scrap metal from different places to your truck or to the recycling center.
These are important to ensure safety when you carry scrap metals. Get high quality straps to ensure secure tightening.
It might be helpful to weigh your metals before you take them to the scrapyard, just to make sure your estimates are close.
Scrap Metal Safety Considerations
Scrapping can be dangerous work, and there are many safety considerations that scrappers need to observe. They include:
A helmet, industrial gloves, and eye protection come in handy when you are scrapping metal. Cut-resistant gloves are perhaps the most important as they protect your hands from the sharp edges of the metals.
Eye protection keeps you protected in case debris springs up when you’re taking metals apart.
Besides the protective clothing, you need long sleeve shirts and pants to cover your arms and legs.
Secure Your Loads
You need ropes, bungees, and chains to hold down your loads during transportation. This ensures your scrap doesn’t slip off and you protects other drivers on the road.
When everything is secure when you are loading the truck, you will have an easy time during transportation.
Other Scrapping Equipment
In some cases, you might need other equipment like ladders and even harnesses to prevent a fall. Still, for most side hustlers, scrap metal that’s already on the ground level is a great place to start.
For heavy loads, it might make sense to bring a friend to help you move the material.
Your phone and a first aid kit are also smart to keep on hand.
How to Maximize Your Scrap Metal Earnings
If you want to make more money from scrapping metal, focus on high quality metals such as copper, brass, aluminum, lead, silver, and gold. These are either precious such as gold and silver, or heavy such as lead.
Collecting aluminum cans can be easy, but you need hundreds before you’ll see any significant amount of money.
Other ways to maximize your earnings from scrap metal recycling include:
Repairing and Reselling
If you have the tools and the skills to repair appliances, you can repair scrap appliances and resell them. One Side Hustle Show guest made a full-time living doing this.
Separate Different Metals
As you find scrap metal, separate it into ferrous and non-ferrous metals and sell them separately. Coach Dom recommended keeping a simple 5-gallon bucket for higher-priced metals like copper and brass.
Naturally, you also want to separate precious metals — it would be awful to sell gold at steel prices.
Maintain the Condition of Metals
Some scrappers say the condition of the metals doesn’t really matter, but most scrapyards will pay less for rusty materials.
Rust affects the quality of other metals in the yard, and rust can reappear even after the metal melts and is molded into something else. To prevent rust, keep your scraps in a dry place before you transport them to the scrapyard.
Sell to a Scrapyard with Equipment
Selling to a scrapyard that has enough equipment allows you to get an accurate offer for your scrap metal. An advanced scrapyard with scales, magnets, and granulators will better assess your scraps to make a better offer.
For instance, copper is more valuable than steel and aluminum, but some scrapyards will categorize it as aluminum for lack of a granulator.
Weigh Your Scraps Before Taking them to the Scrapyard
It’s better to drive into the scrapyard knowing what you have, the rates (call in advance and ask how much they offer), and the total the yard might give you.
Don’t set yourself up for an unwelcome surprise!
Own the Scrapyard?
Instead of going around the neighborhood sourcing for scrap metal, you can own a scrapyard where scrappers bring you scrap metals and you pay them. This comes in handy if there’s no recycling center in the neighborhood.
Once you collect the metals, you can then haul them to the nearest recycling center. Although you’ll make less per pound, you will have more scrap metal to sell without hustling for it and potentially end up making more money.
Where to Sell Scrap Metal
Local scrap yards buy scrap metal in bulk quantities and then sell the metal to large recycling entities. These yards tend to pay less than recyclers (below).
Local Recycling Centers
You can search for metal recyclers near where you live. Different recyclers offer different rates per pound so it is important to compare prices from different recyclers to ensure you are getting the best offer.
Once you bring in the scrap metal, the recycling center pays you according to their rules. Some recycling centers pay you immediately after weighing (usually in cash), while others pay you after a few days.
Craigslist and Facebook
If you decide to repair and resell appliances instead of taking them apart, Craigslist and Facebook can be a great place to sell. Advertise your reconditioned appliances on these sites (and any other that allows free classifieds) and coordinate with buyers.
How Much is Scrap Metal Worth?
The price of scrap metals is dependent on the type of metal you have and where you live. Rates range from $0.05 a pound to over $2.00 per pound.
Keep in mind that prices fluctuate over time and can even vary among different buyers in town. Make sure to call ahead and confirm the rates.
One cool resource to keep a high-level monitor on scrap metal prices is the iScrapApp:
Most buyers offer different prices for ferrous metals from autos and that from appliances. Most buyers will give between $65 and $115 for every ton of auto metal. Some offer more for a ton of farm equipment metal.
For appliances, you might get between $0.10 and $0.15 cents per pound.
Non-ferrous metals will fetch you more per pound than ferrous metals. For example:
- Aluminum cans – between $0.20 and $0.35 cents per pound. (You might be better off redeeming through your state can deposit program if, applicable.)
- Bare copper wire – around $2.00 per pound.
- Brass – around $1.00 per pound.
Although non-ferrous metals will bring you more money, it’s tough to collect as much as you would with ferrous metals.
Scrap metal is clearly a volume game. Based on these prices, you need to collect a lot of metal to get any significant amount of money.
To earn his $400+ per month, Coach Dom was collecting several tons of metal.
Do You Need a License to Scrap Metal?
You might need a license in some states or countries to sell scrap metal. In Los Angeles, California, for instance, you need a license either as an individual or a business to sell scrap metals.
Licensing scrappers is a way of ensuring you’re not selling stolen metals such as copper wires. Before you get started, make sure to check your local and state laws to find out if you need a license.
Alternatives to the Scrap Metal Side Hustle
While you can certainly make money scrapping metal, until you have a reliable “supplier” network, sourcing new scrap metal can be a challenge. On top of that, it can be physically demanding work.
So what else could you do to make $400-1000 or more a month? Here are a few options.
Buy Low, Sell High
Flipping items for a profit has a similar “treasure hunt” type of feel to scrap metal, but across a wider array of products. You may not always get your inventory for free, but you can start with whatever initial investment you’re comfortable with, and scale from there.
Over the years on Side Hustle Nation, we’ve featured side hustlers flipping all sorts of products, including:
If you want to learn more, my friends Rob and Melissa have a cool free training on how to get started.
Driving for Dollars
Hunting for scrap metal and dropping it off will probably put some miles on your vehicle. Another reliable way to get paid to drive is through several popular delivery apps:
- Postmates – Ride, drive, or walk to make local deliveries in your town and earn up to $25 an hour doing so. Here’s our full Postmates driver review for more.
- DoorDash – Make up to $25 an hour as a food delivery driver for DoorDash. Here’s our full DoorDash driver review.
- Instacart – Get paid to shop for and deliver other people’s groceries. Enjoy weekly payouts and a flexible schedule. Check out our full Instacart Shopper review here, with insights from a side hustler earning an extra $450-500 a week.
- Shipt – Earn up to $22 an hour delivering groceries and household essentials to nearby Shipt members.
(Though because of fuel costs I wouldn’t do this in the truck you were planning to use for scrapping!)
Mobile Notary Service
Several Side Hustle Nation readers have reported great success ($1500 a month and up!) becoming loan signing agents.
Check the link above to learn more about how this side hustle works and why it might just be “the best kept secret in real estate.”
Scrap Metal for Money: Conclusion
Like most side hustles, scrap metal has a learning curve and some opportunity costs. To make the most of it, like Coach Dom said, it comes down to relationships.
Your relationships and reputation in your local community can turn into a consistent source of profitable scrap metal to sell.
Have you made money with scrap metal? Let me know in the comments below!
Excavator and copper wire images courtesy of Depositphotos.