Cleaning & Organizing
30 Ways to Recycle Just About Anything
There’s no reason household cast-offs should be destined for the dump—plenty of nearby agencies are more than willing to give your old stuff from paint to cork to teddy bears a second life. Here’s how to find them.
More than 350 million ink and toner cartridges are thrown into landfills every year, according to inkcartridges.com, where it will take 450 to 1,000 years for them to decompose. “When something is tossed in the garbage and either landfilled or incinerated, the value of that material is lost forever,” Lauren Taylor, the Global VP of Communications for TerraCycle, says. “When an object is recycled, it provides a more circular solution.” Instead of letting those cartridges spend centuries in a landfill, look for recycling instructions on the cartridge’s package. HP accepts old HP-brand cartridges via mail, or you can also physically drop them off. Staples’ ink & toner recycle program, which will give you $2 off your next cartridge purchase for bringing in your used ones, is one of the great ways to reduce waste—and save money.
Options for recycling clothes abound. Donating old garments to Goodwill and The Salvation Army might be the most obvious way to clean out a cluttered closet. If you want to make a quick buck, you can always resell nicer items on eBay or at a local secondhand store, too. But, especially when you learn what actually happens to your used clothing donations, you might want to consider giving your no-longer-needed garb a second life in your own home. “Think of old clothes differently,” Taylor says. “Before you throw them away or donate them, think about options.” Your favorite, worn-out shirt or sweater become a pillow cover, or you can make a pet bed out of old blankets or flannel sheets.
Truth be told, TVs are just one of the things thrift stores don’t really want. Luckily, chain stores like Staples and Office Depot will recycle your old TVs, as well as a variety of other electronics. Better yet, Best Buy will even remove and recycle your set when it delivers a new one to your home.
Has your well-loved sofa or coffee table seen better days? You can always donate it or sell it on Craigslist or eBay. But with some elbow grease and a bit of imagination, you can also turn it into a fabulous statement piece for your home. After all, “paint and new hardware can make anything look brand new,” Taylor says.
Most wine corks are made out of bark tissue, a natural (and biodegradable!) material. That means you can safely toss them into a compost bin—or send them into Yemm & Hart, a wine cork recycling company. They’ll pay you for the corks, which they turn into floor tiles, partitions, and a variety of other products. Now those are some extraordinary uses for objects you have lying around at home!
Old paperbacks can go in the recycling bin, but you should remove any hardcovers, which are too rigid to recycle. You can also drop them off at Goodwill, or a local library, school, charity, or shelter, or consider these other thoughtful ways to donate used books. If your books are in good condition, you can even resell them on Amazon and pocket the profit.
Say goodbye to your box full of broken and stubby Crayolas. Believe it or not, you can send your cast-off crayons to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which will melt them down and create new ones. Just make sure to leave the wrappers on. Why, you ask? “When you have black, blue, and purple crayons together without wrappers, it’s hard to tell them apart,” LuAnn Foty, the program’s founder, told RealSimple.
While plastic hangers are not always accepted at city recycling centers, you can donate them to your local thrift store. Wire hangers, on the other hand, can be recycled with other household metals—as long as you remove any attached paper or cardboard first. Some dry cleaners and Laundromats will reuse them, too.
Don’t toss that tattered teddy bear; there are plenty of kids in need who would love to give him a new home. Organizations like Beanies for Baghdad and these other donation centers that will put your old stuff to good use will send gently used stuffed animals to children in war-torn nations, refugee camps, and hospitals.
Your old junker can pick up anywhere between $200 to $500 if you bring it to a landfill, which will crush it and resell the scrap metal. But if you just want to get rid of it, junkmycar.com will pick up and remove cars, trailers, motorcycles, and other heavy equipment free of charge. Before you bid adieu to your auto, though, remember to remove the tires and clean out the car, checking the glove box and other nooks and crannies for any valuables.
Paint can be toxic to the environment if left in a landfill, but it’s not doing you any good by sitting in your garage, either. Some cities offer paint-recycling programs, which will take your paint to a company that turns it into new paint. To find a program near you, go to earth911.org. Your local hardware store or paint store may take back old paint, as well.
Pots and pans
Need to free up space in your kitchen pantry or cabinets? Consider donating old pots and pans to your local secondhand store or a women’s shelter, or passing them on to a friend or family member—all of these are easy steps to having a zero-waste kitchen.
Batteries are made from hazardous metals that can cause serious damage to the environment if they are not recycled. Thankfully, batteries of all types are recyclable—and many stores will dispose of them for you. RadioShack and Office Depot accept reusable ones, and Best Buy even takes batteries from cameras and gaming consoles. Battery Solutions will accept old batteries through the mail, too.
Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs)
Like batteries and paint, CFLs should never be thrown in the trash. They contain toxic levels of mercury, which can seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater. Bringing old bulbs to CFL recycling programs located at stores like Ikea and the Home Depot, instead, is just one of the ways to go green without even noticing. You can also call your local hardware store or recycling center and ask if they offer recycling services.
Shampoo bottles—along with plastic bottles and milk jugs—are made of plastics with resin numbers 1 and 2, which means they are accepted for recycling almost everywhere. Just clean them out and toss them in with your other plastics. If you’re confused about what those recycling numbers mean in the first place, here’s what you should know.
No need to throw last night’s tinfoil in the garbage. Tinfoil is actually made of aluminum, so it can be recycled with your soda and beer cans.
Because most juice pouches are made of plastic polymer and aluminum, they unfortunately can’t be recycled. You don’t need to dump them, though, because they’re some of the bizarre things you didn’t know you could donate! For every Honest Kids, Capri Sun, and Kool-Aid Drink pouch you send to TerraCycle, the company will donate 2 cents to the charity of your choice. (They provide free shipping, too!) What’s more, your old juice pouches will get a second life as colorful purses, totes, and pencil cases, which are sold at Target and Walgreens stores throughout the U.S.
It’s best to bring re-usable bags for your weekly haul of groceries, and plastic bags really are some of the disposable products you should stop buying now. But if using a plastic bag is unavoidable, try reusing plastic bags around the house as lunch boxes, small garbage can liners, or dog waste bags. If your town doesn’t recycle plastic, you may be able to drop them off at your local grocery store, too.
Car batteries should never be sent to landfills, because they contain lead and other toxic metals that can leach into groundwater. However, you don’t have to travel far to ditch yours. Many retailers that sell car batteries, including Advance Auto Parts, Home Depot, and AutoZone, will also collect and recycle them for you.
iPods and Apple products
Get this: If you bring your old iPod or other Apple device to an Apple store, you can get credit toward your next purchase or an Apple gift card through Apple’s Trade-In Program. It’s a win-win situation—not only will your outdated iPod avoid the junkyard, but you’ll also save cash on your new gadget.
CDs and DVDs
Let’s be honest: Every music lover has a tall stack of CDs gathering dust in their basement or attic. Swapacd.com will let you trade your old discs with another music lover, or you can send them (along with DVDs) to greendisk.com for recycling. Or try these other creative (and gorgeous!) ways to recycle your old CDs.
These little pads of paper come in handy around the office, but they should never pile up in your trash can. Toss them in the paper recycling bin, instead; that sticky stuff will get filtered out in the recycling process.
Still holding on to your 2004 PC? Whether it’s out-of-date or just plain broken, that old computer can find many new homes. Charitable organizations such as cristina.org will properly dispose of all types of used technology, while nextsteprecycling.org repairs broken computers and gives them to underfunded schools, needy families, and nonprofits. Many manufacturers will also recycle used computers; visit epa.gov for a list of participating companies.
To recycle old car tires, you can usually leave them with the dealer when you buy new ones. That worn-out rubber will eventually become highway paving, doormats, hoses, or even shoe soles. Don’t miss more extraordinary uses for the junk in your garage.
Nikes and other sneakers
Once your sneakers bite the dust, consider donating them to Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program, where they will be turned into sport and playground surfaces for kids around the world. It’s easy to participate, too; simply mail your old sneakers or drop them off at a Nike store. Many other retailers, athletic clubs, and schools around the country also accept shoes for Nike’s program, so check the website for participating locations. And if your sneakers are still in good shape, organizations like oneworldrunning.com will give them to needy athletes around the world.
If your local charity shop takes clothing and furniture donations, odds are it will also take gently used sheets and towels, too—those are just some of the secrets thrift and consignment shops won’t tell you. But for more well-worn linens, drop them off at a nearby animal hospital, pet boarding facility, or veterinary office. Those tattered t-shirts will make Fido and Fluffy’s cages a little cozier during their stay.
Thanks to the rate at which we go through phones these days, many discarded cell and smartphones are piling up in landfills. Just drop your out-of-date phone off at Best Buy, and it will be properly disposed of. Before you recycle, though, make sure to wipe your phone of any personal data such as numbers, notes, etc.
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You can’t recycle plastic frames, but metal ones can safely be recycled with other scrap metal. Alternatively, organizations like neweyesfortheneedy.com will gladly take your old pairs of glasses and sunglasses for people who cannot afford them. You can also drop off no-longer-needed frames at LensCrafters, Target Optical, or other participating stores and doctors’ offices, and they will send them to onesight.org, another vision-centric charity.
If your umbrella has weathered its last storm (pun intended), simply drop the metal frame in with your other scrap metal. But make sure to remove the fabric and the handle first; they are not recyclable. Now that you know how to recycle basically everything in your home, don’t miss these 25 simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.