06/05/2014 11:32 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

The Trash Business: Turning Crap Into Cash

There exists a growing segment of revenue worldwide that comes entirely from other people's garbage. Literally and figuratively. Trash is a certainty in life and there are limited options for getting rid of it. The non-hazardous solid waste industry generates $50 billion in annual revenues doing just that. It's an industry that grows slowly and produces mountains of cash for its operators. It's also an old industry going through big changes.

Americans get rid of 47.4 million computers, 27.2 million televisions, and 141 million mobile devices annually, according to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. Only a quarter of all those devices are collected for recycling.

Services like, eBay, and other classified sites have sprung up due to the large demand in the cell phone aftermarket. Sites like basically give cash to consumers in exchange for their older or unwanted devices and there's money to be had with 44 percent of them still keeping old smartphones in a drawer for safe keeping.

It's pretty legit money too, as of today consumers can get up to $230 for an iPhone 5, and $240 for an iPad 4th generation. But that's a small dent in the overall amount of garbage humans are churning out that can be reclaimed or reused.

Fossil brands recently commission artist Luke Haynes to create their 30th Anniversary quilt due to his Americana themes. Haynes uses recycled clothing (usually stuff from the Goodwill) or reclaimed/recoiled mill ends for his work.

It's not necessarily a good thing when an industry is displayed on national 'reality' TV, but it also serves to prove there's a healthy interest in it. On the reality TV show Hardcore Pawn, the Gold family wheel and deal with colorful customers, manage temperamental employees, and squabble with each other -- all in the name of making a buck from other people's trash or treasure in one of the most troubled cities in America.

Marty Metro started buying used cardboard boxes in his neighborhood and reselling them. Now he's buying used boxes from U.S. manufacturers and selling them as an eco-friendly option to businesses/consumers. They're also getting close to their goal of saving a million trees (currently just over 700,000 trees).

Believe it or not, the junk car industry is one of the more cut throat 'crap to cash' businesses because of the generally high value of steel in general. Add to that the fact that many spare car parts get sold on auction for more than the entire car is worth (example: the 2.24 liter engine for a '98 Toyota Camry). Peter Greenblum, the CEO of junk car removal service Messy Motors estimates that his operation alone processes up to 1,000 cars per week all over the U.S.

Why did any of these people start doing this? It came from a place of necessity. We all love eBay, Craigslist, salvage stores, even if we don't admit it to our rich neighbors. There's an abundance of perfectly good material in the world.