Thursday, March 10, 2011

Selling Scrap: Frugal, or Just Plain Cheap?

When I was little, I had this thing about selling aluminum cans.  My Dad and I would walk our neighborhood armed with a bag and a magnet to collect discarded cans.  (Note to my younger readers:  1) This was during an era when "out the car window" was a perfectly acceptable method for disposing of trash, and 2) It was also when some beverage cans were part or all steel, so the magnet told us which were aluminum because it wouldn't attach to an aluminum can.)  At least we didn't go so far as to pick up the pop tops.  (Another note to my younger readers:  Cans used to come with pop tops that removed and were discarded separately.  You can Google that if you want to find out exactly what Jimmy Buffett stepped on when he blew out his flip-flop.)

Anyway, once I had a bag full of cans, Mom would drive me to the aluminum collection point.  As I remember, this was only available periodically at rotating collection points, like the firehouse one month and somewhere else another.  My days as scrap metal entrepreneur ended one day when the rotating collection point was difficult to find, and, after a morning of driving around town, I became car sick.  Let's just say that Mom did a little environmental impact calculation of her own and vetoed the project.

Anyway, Mr. FC&G and I have recently started collecting our own scrap aluminum, which is mostly pop cans.  And while the most economical thing to do is to just avoid soda entirely, we thought this was a good way to recoup some of our costs on this junk food luxury.

And the answer is:  I'm divided.  After several months, we had $21 of aluminum, most of it from cans, but part from some industrial scrap aluminum that Mr. FC&G also sold.  As it turns out, the cans net the most per pound (78 cents, at this writing) because they are a known composition and grade, but they don't weigh up very fast.  It is only a marginally practical endeavor because the scrap dealer is located on the way to work for Mr. FC&G (so no extra transportation costs), and because he is still selling off industrial scrap.  I think once the industrial stuff is gone, saving cans may not be a great use of our time. 

The Analysis

Fast:  Throwing cans in a bin is easy, but you do have to factor in time to crush them and sell them.  I estimate that therefore we probably made $5-7 an hour on this one.

Cheap:  Cheap, or cheapskate?  While I still love the idea of making money from something I would otherwise "donate" to my curbside trash/recycling service, this has to be a low priority project.  Anything else is not an efficient use of time.

Good:  Then again, I do really like the $21 in my farmer's market jar, which is a jar of cash that we keep for farmer's market trips.  There is nothing worse than seeing an array of seasonal berries and local, cage-free chicken meat and realizing you have $10 in your wallet.  At least I will turn something unhealthy (pop) into something very healthy. 
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