Americans generate a huge amount of waste. It may be cheaper to send discarded items to a landfill, but the reality is that landfills are filling up fast and the costs of the entire lifecycle of a product must be considered. Recycling can’t offset a culture of overconsumption, but it can slow the tide of refuse headed to the dump. According to the EPA, only 6.4% of waste was being recycled in 1960. Fast forward to 2013 and that number swelled to 34.3%. Let’s continue to do our part by broadening our efforts to include items you may not have realized are recyclable.
Aerosol cans. Most aerosol cans can be recycled with municipal recycling once the can is empty and the plastic cap and nozzle have been removed. How easy is that?
Aluminum foil and soda cans. As metal scrapping has grown in popularity, so have metal collection sites willing to pay you cash for your earth-friendly efforts. Aluminum cans can be collected and donated, or traded in for cash by the pound.
Batteries. Each state sets battery recycling terms, so start local to keep down costs. For more information on Call2Recycle’s new 2017 All Battery fee-based recycling program, accepting alkaline and rechargeable batteries, visit www.call2recycle.org. The organization offers collection kits so consumers can manage the battery’s end-of-life.
Bras. The Bra Recyclers takes gently used bras, including prosthesis and mastectomy bras, and provides them to women in need. “If it doesn’t fit, recycle it,” they say! Simply wash the item, submit a recycling form at www.brarecycling.com, label your package with the mailing label they send via email, and pop it in the mail. Or, you may be in luck with a local drop-off site in your area.
Brita water filter cartridges. The filters, packaging, bottles, and pitchers can be recycled through a partnership with www.terracycle.com, while simultaneously offering fundraising opportunities for participants. Simply ship the materials per the directions on the site and TerraCycle will reward participants with 50 TerraCycle points per pound of materials (toward charitable gifts or not-for-profit schools). TerraCycle upcycles or recycles the materials into new products.
Carpet (nylon fiber). Right now, carpet recycling is new and the network of uses is just being developed. If you’re getting new carpet, talk to your representative about the possibility of recycling the old carpet. According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort, it costs between five and 25 cents per pound of carpet to recycle. It is not free, but it defrays the cost of development of new uses, such as composite lumber, decking, roofing shingles, and automotive parts. Since 2002, they estimate 500 million pounds of carpet have been diverted from landfills and recovered.
Cell phones. When we upgrade our cell phone or other smart devices, they still may be usable. After deleting personal information, they may be donated (to be used here and abroad) or recycled for the many components. Go to www.gowireless.org for specifics on CTIA members’ consumer recycling programs. Any age or condition is welcome.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs. Recycling CFL bulbs is important because it reuses the glass and prevents the release of mercury into our environment — some areas even require it by law. Call your local municipal recycling center to find out.
Cosmetics packaging. Many cosmetics companies will accept used packaging from their products. Simply contact your favorite brand and ask. Origins (www.origins.com) will recycle your empties from any brand of cosmetics, plus they use the materials in future packaging.
Crayons. The stubs of crayons left behind by clients’ children can be recycled into new hand-crafted crayons at www.crazycrayons.com.
Eyeglasses and sunglasses. Help others while keeping glasses and sunglasses out of the landfill. OneSight (www.onesight.org) recycles the glasses into raw materials, then uses the funds to support their clinics where they offer 100% new eyewear to people in need. This allows them to fill the exact prescription needed, which cannot always be done when dispensing previously prescribed lenses.
Furniture. No matter how odd or use-specific furniture is, there is someone out there who wants it. Before shipping it to the landfill, consider listing it on your local Freecycle site (www.freecycle.org) or call and see if your local beauty school can use it.
Hair clippings. If you have stylists in the salon cutting hair, clippings can be donated to the Clean Wave Program (www.matteroftrust.org/297/clean-wave-program). Clippings and other waste fibers are turned into mats used in efforts to clean up oil spills and booms to protect storm drains.
Holiday cards. Cards are still a big part of expressing joy, sympathy, well-wishes, or holiday greetings, and those cards can enjoy a second life in the Recycled Card Program at the St. Jude’s Ranch. They accept all-occasion cards, except for Hallmark, Disney, or American brands. Check the website at www.stjudesranch.org for specific mailing instructions. For more than 30 years, they have been teaching entrepreneurship skills through the program.
Holiday lights. You can donate old strings of holiday lights for recycling at www.holidayleds.com/christmas-light-recycling-program.aspx and get rewarded with a 15% off coupon for energy efficient LED lights. This keeps PVC, glass, and copper wire out of landfills.
Keurig coffee cups and plastics. Preserve Products turns Keurig (Vue, K-Mug, and K-Carafe) pods stamped with #5 into useful products such as toothbrushes, kitchenware, totes, and tabletop items. Check out www.preserveproducts.com for mailing instructions.
Keys. Approximately 50 keys make a pound, and at www.keyforhope.org donated keys provide funds for food pantries. Spreading the word via Facebook, they help organizers set up key drives. Contact them to find out how to get their key kit.
Mirrors. While mirrors contain chemicals that make them difficult to recycle, they can still be reused. Consider offering your unwanted mirror on your local www.freecycle.org site.
Packing peanuts. Call the Peanut Hotline at (800) 828-2214 or visit www.loosefillpackaging.com to find a collection site near you. Loose fill polystyrene packaging, commonly known as packing peanuts, contains between 25% and 100% recycled content and over 30% is reused. Those are serious gains since loose fill was introduced after WWII.
Printer ink cartridges. Most national chain office supplies such as Staples and Office Depot/OfficeMax will reward customers who recycle printer ink cartridges. What could be better than recycling and getting a cash discount on future ink supplies? Check out the website of your favorite store.
Sneakers. Running shoes in reasonably good shape can be reused by donating them to www.oneworldrunning.com, where they are sorted, washed, and distributed to those in need.
Shoes of any brand that are past their prime can be donated to the Nike Reuse-a-shoe program, where they are recycled into NikeGrind court surfaces or Flyknit products. Visit www.nike.com for drop off locations or ask at your nearest store.
Technotrash. GreenDisk (www.greendisk.com) will dispose of all of the spent supplies and obsolete accessories related to your computer, such as CDs, hard drives, rechargeable batteries, and zip disks. The company not only helps streamline recycling, but it also helps protect consumer privacy at the same time by erasing all data on the media submitted. There is a charge for services.
Wine corks. ReCork (www.recork.org) recycles the corks from wine bottles and turns them into cool products such as traction pads for surfboards and yoga blocks. They provide prepaid shipping labels for minimum shipments of 15 pounds and even provide a cool collection box to encourage clients to drop off their corks.
> Green Circle Salons certifies participating salons and provides support as they recycle much of the salon’s waste. Founder Shane Price claims to help salons cut their carbon footprint by 95%. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to get Green Circle certified.
> Waste management company g2 revolution makes it easy for salons to recycle everything from metal manicure tools to aluminum tubes and brushes. That’s in addition to all plastics, glass, aluminum, etc. With prices that start as low as $36.95 (including a return label), they will send a salon recycling box that is even suitable for client areas. To learn more, go to www.g2rev.com
> Not sure how to recycle something? The website www.earth911.com has a database of over 350 materials and 100,000 listings, searchable by zip code.