They make their money through sales of recyclable materials to processors.

They may get paid by local governments to offer collection services, but there is no "private donations" to for-profit companies. They don't just recycle because it's good for the environment, they do it because they make money off of it. You shouldn't throw recyclables away just because it's bad for the environment, you shouldn't do it because you are robbing your community of money and jobs by burying a valuable product.

  1. To make money with beverage containers, whenever a customer purchases a beverage container (say a can of coke), they will have to pay a 5 cent deposit -- which they will get back once they return it to a recycling depot -- AND, they will have to pay a 1-3 cent environmental fee. This environmental fee will not be collected back by the consumer once the beverage container is returned, but instead, is given by the Recycling Steward (such as Encorp in BC) that is in direct connection with the Beverage Container Manufacture (such as Coca-Cola) to the Recycling Depot as a "Handling Fee".
  2. For scrap metals, this is realatively straight forward as we pay the customer who brings in these items by weight, type of metal, and quality of metal based on market price of that raw material.
  3. For all forms of TV, Computer Electronics and Appliances (e-waste if you will), the customer does not get any money for dropping these items off. Instead, the customer has to pay environmental fees when they purchase new TVs, Computer Electronics and Appliances (ranging from $5 to $30-40), and that in turn goes to the recycling depot such as Regional Recycling through the local facilities that is in direct connection with the affiliated electronic manufacture (Samsung for instance).

The money for bottle bills comes from the state or city that has it, at least here in the US.

So if you sell your bottles to a recycler, they report how much they take in to the state and the state reimburses them the deposits the company paid you. The company then gets to sell the actual plastic for profit, to cover their labor and capital costs.

One of the biggest misconceptions about recycling is that it is a profitable industry on its own.

This varies, but if you are a collection and recycling company, there is no way to make enough to cover the collection and processing costs of recycling just from the sale of recyclables alone. In general, the industry is heavily subsidized, either through charging garbage rates that are way above cost to cover thr recycling or through municipal subsidies.

So they make their money in two ways:

  1. Charging to accept the waste. They are then paid by the government to accept the waste.
  2. Recovering and selling commodities. They aim to only send ~5% of what we receive back to land fill. The rest is on sold as a commodity which is another form of revenue. One that many do not recognize.

I read that the recycling markets are slow right now, so some many of these companies. Many of them, probably--are stockpiling materials and will sell them off when the markets turn around.