How to Recycle Just About Anything
There's no reason for your household castoffs to be destined for the dump. Here's how to recycle almost anything, from paint to wine corks to teddy bears.
You can pretty much recycle anything—seriously!
Looking for the ultimate guide to help you recycle anything and everything in your home? You’ve come to the right place. Turns out, you can recycle way more than newspapers and plastic water bottles, and plenty of organizations are willing to give your old stuff a second life. With this one list, you’ll find out how to recycle everything you own, from paint to wine corks to bubble wrap and beyond. Aside from recycling, you can reduce waste by learning what upcycling is and putting other sustainable living tips into practice.
Why is recycling important?
By recycling an item instead of throwing it away, you can minimize your carbon footprint, combat climate change, and reduce wasteful consumption. Recycling also conserves energy and natural resources while avoiding pollution caused by landfills.
“When something is tossed in the garbage and either landfilled or incinerated, the value of that material is lost forever,” says Lauren Taylor, the global vice president of communications for TerraCycle. “When an object is recycled, it provides a more circular solution.”
Once you know how to recycle anything, check out our list of the best recycling bins to start recycling at home.
What makes something recyclable?
Materials are recyclable if they can be collected, sorted, processed, and ultimately manufactured into another item, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example, the EPA lists common household items like newspapers, plastic and glass containers, and steel cans as recyclable—but the list of products that can be recycled goes way beyond that.
Even if an item isn’t recyclable in the traditional sense of the word, you may still be able to give it a second life. If you know where to sell old stuff or donate to charity, you can pass items along to others. Or you can be an upcycling hero and turn it into something new.
No need to throw last night’s tinfoil in the garbage. It’s made of aluminum, so it can be tossed into the recycling bin with your soda and beer cans. Just clean off any food waste and other residue, like sauce or juices, before recycling. Here’s why you should never crush aluminum cans before recycling them.
Thanks to the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program, your old ovens, refrigerators, and even air-conditioning units won’t end up in a landfill. Recycling household appliances lowers greenhouse gas emissions that harm the environment, according to the EPA. You can find participating agencies and organizations that will collect and dispose of your old appliances on the EPA’s website.
If you need to know how to recycle batteries, here’s some good news: Many stores will dispose of all types of batteries 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. In addition, many retailers that sell car batteries, including Advance Auto Parts, Home Depot, and AutoZone, will collect them for recycling. Speaking of batteries, find out why you never see B batteries next.
Beauty product packaging is particularly tricky to recycle. Luckily, TerraCycle’s free recycling program is the answer to all your questions, including how to recycle old beauty products, how to recycle empty beauty products, and where to recycle beauty product containers. Just bring product packaging for any beauty or skin care brand to a collection point inside your local Nordstrom store, and TerraCycle will take care of the rest.
Is paper recyclable if it’s glued to a spine and enclosed by two covers? You bet. In other words, your old paperbacks can go in the recycling bin. Don’t forget to remove any hard covers, which are too rigid to recycle. You can also consider other thoughtful ways to donate used books or, if they are in good condition, resell them on Amazon and pocket the profit.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever finished popping everyone’s favorite packing material then raced to Google to ask, “Is bubble wrap recyclable?” We have too. And believe it or not, you can recycle bubble wrap along with other single-use plastics. So the next time you’re dropping off plastic grocery bags at a designated recycling bin, bring your old bubble wrap along too.
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. But once you learn what actually happens to your used clothing donations, you’ll probably want to consider learning how to upcycle clothes to give your no-longer-needed garb a second life in your own home. Your favorite worn-out shirt or sweater can become a pillow cover, or you can make a pet bed out of old blankets or flannel sheets.
Got foreign or discontinued coins gathering dust in your drawers? By sending your old currency to Poverty Child, you can guarantee it will go to a good cause: helping needy children around the world. To recycle quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, and other current coins, bring them to a bank and exchange them for cash.
Whether your old PC is out of date or just plain broken, charitable organizations such as the National Cristina Foundation will properly dispose of it for you. Meanwhile, NextStep Recycling repairs broken computers and gives them to underfunded schools, families in need, and nonprofits. Many manufacturers will also recycle used computers; visit the EPA’s website for a list of participating companies.
Say goodbye to your box full of broken and stubby Crayolas. You can send your cast-off crayons to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which will melt them down and create new ones. FYI, the program recommends leaving the wrappers on to help the employees sort the colors correctly.
At Blue Jeans Go Green, your old denim jeans will be turned into new products, like housing insulation, cushions for pet beds, or material for sustainable product shipping and packaging. Avoid fast fashion for your next wardrobe refresh and consider getting your jeans and other clothes from one of these eco-friendly brands instead.
DVDs and CDs
Let’s be honest: Most movie and music lovers own stacks of DVDs and CDs they haven’t touched in years. Companies like GreenDisk accept DVDs and CDs for recycling. Or you can trade your old CDs with another music fan through SwapaCD.
You can’t recycle plastic frames, but go ahead and toss your metal ones in with other scrap metal. Alternatively, organizations like New Eyes will gladly take your old pairs of glasses and sunglasses, then gift them to people who cannot afford eyewear of their own. You can also drop off unneeded frames at LensCrafters, Target Optical, or other participating stores and doctors’ offices, and they will send them to OneSight, another vision-centric charity. And when it’s time to buy a new pair, consider cool eyeglasses made from upcycled denim.
Has your well-loved sofa or coffee table seen better days? You can always donate 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. Need convincing that one man’s trash can be someone else’s treasure? Consider that one nonprofit upcycles hotel soap into fresh soap bars.
Odds are, you already put glass items like wine bottles and jam jars in your recycling bin. But can you recycle glass household items, like food and beverage storage containers? That would be a yes. In fact, glass is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet, according to the EPA. Simply leave the containers in the recycling bin with your other recyclable glass.
Toting reusable grocery bags for your weekly food haul is a more eco-friendly option, but if using a plastic grocery bag is unavoidable, you can take action to minimize the environmental damage. Many grocery stores collect plastic bags for recycling. Just look for a drop-off bin located in the entry of your nearby grocer.
Wire hangers 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. Plastic hangers, on the other hand, aren’t always accepted at city recycling centers, but you can donate them to your local thrift store. Once you drop them off, learn the fascinating story of what really happens to recycled plastic.
Instead of letting those cartridges spend centuries in a landfill, look for recycling instructions on the package. HP accepts old HP-brand cartridges via mail, or you can physically drop them off at your local Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, or Walmart. And the Staples ink and toner recycling program will give you $2 off your next cartridge purchase if you bring in your used ones.
iPods and iPads
Apple announces new products on the regular, which means you’ll be due for an upgrade at some point. As for your old devices, are they recyclable? You bet. You can recycle anything purchased from Apple, including iPods, iPhones, and iPads, through Apple’s Trade-In Program. Bring your old Apple device to the nearest Apple store and receive credit toward your next purchase or an Apple gift card in return.
Unfortunately, because most juice pouches are made of plastic polymer, they can’t be recycled. But don’t toss them in the trash just yet. You probably didn’t know it, but you can donate them. For every Honest Kids, Capri Sun, and Kool-Aid drink pouch you send to TerraCycle’s recycling program, the company will donate two cents to the charity of your choice. (The organization provides free shipping too!) From there, TerraCycle will turn your old juice pouches into colorful purses, totes, and pencil cases, which are sold at Target and Walgreens stores nationwide.
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 pass them on to a friend or family member. Then go green in your kitchen by learning how to grow food sustainably at home, how to save water, and how to shop sustainably for fish and seafood.
Like batteries, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) should never be thrown in the trash. They contain toxic levels of mercury, which can seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater. Instead, bring old bulbs to CFL recycling programs located at stores like Ikea and the Home Depot, or call your local hardware store or recycling center and ask if they offer recycling services.
Give gently used sheets and towels to your local charity shop. For more well-worn linens, make a donation to a nearby animal hospital, pet boarding facility, or veterinary office, where they’ll be used as bedding and toys for pets.
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While you can toss your masks in the trash as a last resort, more climate-conscious people might be asking, “Can you recycle masks?” Most recycling centers do not collect masks through normal curbside recycling services, but you can arrange for a company like TerraCycle or VIDA to receive your disposable masks and other PPE by mail. Then learn about the future of recycling and the innovations we can expect in the years ahead.
Want to learn how to recycle Nespresso pods? The company’s recycling program offers several ways for customers to recycle used capsules, such as by bringing them to a Nespresso collection location, dropping them off at the nearest Nespresso or partner store, or sending a Nespresso recycling bag in the mail.
Sticky notes can be thrown in the recycling bin with paper goods. What’s more, you can send binders, ballpoint pens, markers, mechanical pencils, highlighters, and their caps to TerraCycle with the office supply Zero Waste Box, where they will be broken down and recycled.
It’s as big of a mystery as whether styrofoam is recyclable, but we’re here to set the record straight: You can recycle oil, including used motor oil. To find a motor oil recycling center near you, use Earth911’s online search tool, or try the American Petroleum Institute’s RecycleOil.org.
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 old paint to a company that will turn it into new paint. To find a program near you, search at Earth911. Your local hardware store or paint store may take back old paint as well.
The next time you upgrade your phone, drop your old one off at Best Buy, and it will be properly disposed of. If you use an iPhone, you can use Apple’s Trade-In Program to receive store credit or a gift card. Before you recycle, though, make sure to do a factory reset on your iPhone or Android phone to erase your personal information.
Milk jugs, along with shampoo bottles and other plastic goods, are made of materials with resin numbers one and two, which means they are accepted for recycling almost everywhere. Can you recycle oil bottles too? Home chefs will be happy to learn that bottles of cooking oil are totally recyclable. Just clean them out and toss them in with your other plastics.
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Q-tips are biodegradable, so just place them in a compost bin with your food scraps after using them. As compost, they become food for microorganisms and bacteria, and they eventually turn into the soil you can use to grow organic food. It sure beats sending them to a landfill.
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Your old, rusty razors may be disposable, but fortunately, they are recyclable too. In partnership with Gillette, TerraCycle will recycle donated razors, handles, heads, and even plastic packaging from any brand. Sign up for the program on TerraCycle’s website, print a free mailing label, and send your old razors in for recycling. Yep, it’s that easy.
Once your sneakers bite the dust, consider donating them to Nike’s Move to Zero program, where they will be turned into sport and playground surfaces for kids around the world. If your shoes are still in good shape, send them to One World Running, which will donate them to needy athletes worldwide.
Not sure where to donate all the stuffies your kids have outgrown? Look no further than Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (SAFE). It will send gently used stuffed animals—as well as blankets, books, children’s clothes, and baby items—to children in traumatic or emotional situations in your area.
If you’re looking for where to recycle tires, we have some good news: You can usually leave them with the car dealer when you buy new ones. Recycled tires are frequently turned into highway paving, doormats, hoses, or even soles for shoes.
For toy recycling, consider organizations that collect toy donations for children in need, including Project Smile, Project Night Night, and Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. Another option: Send Fisher-Price, Barbie, Matchbox, and Mega toys back to Mattel with the company’s PlayBack program. Just send back your old toys (free of charge), and Mattel will reuse the materials for new toys.
Chain stores like Staples and Office Depot recycle 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 umbrella weathered its last storm? Simply drop the metal frame in the recycling bin with your other metal recyclables. But make sure to remove the fabric and the handle first; they are not accepted by local curbside recycling services. Then check out our list of the top sustainable clothing brands—you’ll want to bookmark it for your next shopping spree.
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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, Junk My Car will pick up and remove cars, trailers, motorcycles, and other heavy equipment free of charge.
Most wine corks are made of bark tissue, a natural (and biodegradable!) material. That means you can safely toss them into a compost bin. Or send them to ReCork, a wine cork recycling company. Drop off a small collection of corks at one of ReCork’s nationwide collection partner locations, and send large shipments of corks to ReCork directly. The company will turn the corks into eco-friendly products, like Sole shoes and flip-flops.
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Xbox and other gaming consoles
Once you set up your new Xbox, sell your old one—or any other gaming consoles—to sites like DeCluttr and BuyBackWorld to make some money and help the environment at the same time. You can also find trade-in programs through major electronics stores, such as Best Buy and GameStop.
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Manduka’s LiveOn recycling program will give your gently used yoga mats a new home or turn them into new materials, like carpet padding, track surfaces, and shoe soles. To participate, just pack up your old mat (regardless of brand) in the same box in which you received your new Manduka yoga mat and send it back. Then learn what it means to travel sustainably.
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To recycle used zip-close bags, check out resources like RecycleNation and Plastic Film Recycling. All you have to do is enter your zip code in the search tool, and these sites will find the nearest recycling center for single-use plastic bags. Make sure to rinse out any residue from the old contents before recycling them.
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Now you can recycle anything
Now that you know how to recycle anything in your home, you can do your part to minimize the use of fossil fuels and help the planet. Still feeling climate anxiety? There are plenty more sustainability tips out there to help you live a greener lifestyle. Consider investing in eco-friendly products, such as reusable straws, reusable water bottles, and green cleaning products. Those simple swaps make a big environmental difference.
- Lauren Taylor, global vice president of communications at TerraCycle
- Environmental Protection Agency: “Recycling Basics”