Here's how to keep more items out of landfills—while earning rewards for your good deeds through recycling programs that give you cash back.

By Karen Wytmans
May 07, 2021
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Sure, we know how to recycle aluminum cans and cardboard boxes by tossing those items into convenient recycle bins. And if you're thrifty, you may already routinely bring your bottles and cans to a recycling center or back to the store to receive the redemption value. But many other products, including clothing and electronics, can also find a second life through take-back programs—and earn you cash rewards in the process.

recycling-for-money
Credit: Getty Images

As manufacturers strive to create sustainable and earth-friendly products, they are beefing up their take-back and recycling programs. To incentivize us as consumers to take advantage of these programs, many companies now offer cash back or other rewards when you participate.

Ahead, steps for how to keep more items out of landfills—while earning rewards for your good deeds through these programs.  

Clothing 

The United States is awash in used clothes. The EPA estimates that over 11.3 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills in 2018. Donation facilities are overloaded with used apparel, making it challenging to find effective ways to recycle and reuse old clothing. To make matters worse, when we throw our old garments in the landfill, they can take hundreds of years to decompose—all while releasing harmful greenhouse gases.

The good news is just how many companies now offer cash back or take-back programs to reduce the volume of clothing entering the waste stream, in hopes of addressing this crisis. Here are a few ways to give a new life to your old threads. 

Denim

Got a pair of too-tight skinny jeans that you can guarantee will never make a comeback? Time to trade them in for some cash. Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green program has developed a creative solution to recycling blue jeans. The program accepts any brand or condition of old denim and uses the material to make housing insulation for communities in need around the country.

According to the brand website, 548 tons of waste have been diverted from landfills thanks to this program. The best part? The program partners with many department stores to offer cash back or rewards in exchange for your bell-bottoms. You can earn $20 off a new pair of Madewell jeans, $20 off a new pair of Industry Standard denim, or 20 percent off any Levi's item.  

Outerwear

Patagonia is one of the leaders in sustainable product and clothing design. The brand's Worn Wear program will take back Patagonia clothing in good condition and give you credit toward future purchases. Use the How Much Is My Gear Worth calculator to determine your trade-in price and earn anywhere from $10 to $100 per item. You can also save a little cash and help the environment by purchasing used gear or repairing your loved Patagonia items through the Worn Wear program.  

Any clothing

The North Face brand is known for its rugged outdoor gear, and keeping in line with its environmental mission, it also has a comprehensive clothing take-back program called Clothes the Loop. You can drop off your unwanted clothing and footwear at any North Face retail or outlet store; the brand accepts any clothing brand in any condition, and you can earn $10 off your purchase of $100 or more at The North Face.

According to the brand's website, over 95,000 pounds of clothing has been recycled through this program. The North Face also partners with Soles4Souls to provide sustainable jobs and relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing to fight poverty and protect the planet by keeping items out of landfills. Clothes the Loop is also available internationally in Germany and Canada.

Electronics 

According to the EPA, in 2018, only about 30 percent of consumer electronics were recycled. To ensure that a more significant percentage of post-consumer electronics is recovered this year, many electronics superstores are helping to incentivize more recycling.

Staples

Staples will recycle many of your old electronics for free, but if you want to earn some cash back, you can receive $2 in rewards points for every ink or toner cartridge that you return by signing up for the Staples rewards program

Office Depot

Office Depot offers a Tech Tradeup program; bring in any electronic device, and they will inspect it and give you an offer paid in Office Depot gift cards. You can also earn rewards for recycling your ink and toner cartridges ($2 back in rewards for each cartridge).  

Best Buy

Best Buy's Trade-In and Trade Up program is a comprehensive electronics buy-back program. Using the Best Buy trade-in estimator, you can find out before you go to the store what your old appliances are worth. The company accepts everything from cell phones to tablets and e-readers to laptops—even cameras, video games, and smartwatches. Whatever you are seeking to scrap, Best Buy can help. 

Just find your product in the brand's list, select the condition, and you will immediately receive an estimated trade-in value. Then, take your item to a Best Buy store or mail it in to receive an eGift Card. Best Buy also recycles a wide variety of products for free and will give $2 in rewards for ink and toner cartridges. 

Apple

Apple's Trade-In program allows you to trade in virtually any Apple device, including iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, as well as some mobile Android devices. You can earn hundreds of dollars in credit toward a future Apple purchase—and if your device isn't eligible, Apple will recycle it for free.

How to shop smarter (and greener)

Of course, our purchasing decisions also have an impact on the environment. To make it easier for your spring cleaning next year, when you decide which products to purchase, keep an eye out for the Cradle to Cradle Certification. This seal ensures that companies plan to recycle or reuse the product when it has reached the end of its useful life.

There are plenty of options for recycling and earning rewards or cash back for your unused possessions, so do the Earth and yourself a favor by taking advantage of some of these programs. A little effort can have a positive impact on the planet—and help you save a little cash on the side.