I may write about it at length in the future, but I actually spent the better part of my early teenage years helping my step-dad collect cans from the streets of New York. While it may sound gross and unsanitary to many of you, consider that we were not only doing a good public service, but it wasn’t unusual to make $20-$30 on a weekend morning.
For an 11-year-old, that was like hitting the lottery. It was one of my first lessons into how much hard work it takes to make a buck. With that in mind, I really enjoyed Michael’s guest post, and I hope you will too.
Seinfeld quickly became one of the most well-known and well liked comedies of all time. One of the greatest episodes in the sitcom was when Kramer and Newman developed a strategy to collect bottles and cans in New York and deposit them in Michigan, where the money returned was doubled (5 cents vs. 10 cents). Comically, the plan falls through, but I was left to wonder whether or not a good enough profit could be made with the right circumstances.
When you think of career choices, recycling bottles and cans probably never comes to mind and if it does, well, you’re in pretty bad shape. But at 10 cents apiece, have you ever thought about just how much money you could make in a month by having your full time job be to recycle bottles and cans? If you haven’t, no worries, that’s why I’m here.
First, let’s give you a set of circumstances so that you actually have a chance to succeed in this venture. Michigan is currently the only state in the US to offer a flat 10 cents for every bottle or can recycled. You can bet that if you live in Michigan, you are less likely to simply throw these away. Roaming the streets for unreturned items will be much more difficult in Michigan, so let’s say you live in a border state of Michigan. Indiana currently has no recycling earnings in place and we’ll assume you are two hours from the Michigan border (if we put you right on it, your bottle and can situation may not improve).
Second, because you live so far away from Michigan, you’ll need reliable transportation large enough to haul bottles and cans once a week. A Ford F150 has a nice size bed in the back and should be able to hold its fair share of cans not only in the back, but in the front as well. Assuming you fit the maximum amount on each trip, you should be able to hold around 100 bottles and cans in each garbage size bag you seal, and the F150 should have no trouble fitting 50 of those full garbage bags, for a total haul of 5,000 bottles and cans.
Doing some quick math, you realize that at 10 cents a return, 5,000 bottles and cans a week would net you a total of $500. Certainly not bad for a weeks worth of work but, let’s look at this a little bit closer. Would you be able to find that many bottles each and every week?
Working five days a week, you would need to roundup 1,000 bottles and cans every day. You’re a hard worker, so you work 10-hour days, making sure to hit the heavily foot-trafficked areas during lunch and dinner. Breaking it down even further, you would need to collect 100 bottles and cans every hour. And when you’ve found a hot spot, you could probably accomplish this feat in 5-10 minutes. Indianapolis would be a perfect spot to start this business because it’s the right distance from Michigan and is industrial enough to have enough recyclables for you to cash in on.
If you’re really good, you may need to make two trips to the recycling center per week, in which you could stand to earn $1,000 weekly. This all depends of course on how many bottles and cans you can find per day, and just how fast you are. With a big truck comes a big gas bill, and driving 4 or 8 hours a week will probably cut into your profits. Other than gas, you really won’t have any other expenses to speak of, other than a load of laundry every day.
So when you break down the numbers, Kramer and Newman were actually on to something. Unless you’re extremely efficient, you probably won’t be able to earn enough to make a living, but spending a few hours a week might turn into an extra few hundred dollars a month. When you add in the benefit to the earth of recycling everything, collecting bottles and cans could turn into a very profitable hobby.
Wojo’s note: By the way, I have no idea how you fit 50 garbage bags into the back of a pickup, but then again, I don’t own a F-150. I just move out of the way when they roll by…
Wojo’s second note: As some of the comments below have pointed out, Seinfeld’s scheme isn’t legal in Michigan. What’s more–local laws only protect your right to return a small amount of cans to any single distributor. Still, if you are motivated enough…