Someone gave me an old copy of Real Simple magazine for a long plane ride, and the best thing inside was this article that details how to recycle pretty much anything. I thought I was a good recycler until I read this article — there is so much more we can all be doing! Below are my favorites, but the full article lists much much more.
Aerosol cans: These can usually be recycled with other cans, as long as you pull off the plastic cap and empty the canister completely.
Antiperspirant and deodorant sticks: Many brands have a dial on the bottom that is made of a plastic polymer different from that used for the container, so your center might not be able to recycle the whole thing (look on the bottom to find out). Tom’s of Maine makes a deodorant stick composed solely of plastic No. 5.
Backpacks: The American Birding Association accepts donated backpacks, which its scientists use while tracking neotropical birds (americanbirding.org).
Batteries: Recycling batteries keeps hazardous metals out of landfills. Many stores, like RadioShack and Office Depot, accept reusable ones, as does the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (rbrc.org/call2recycle). Car batteries contain lead and can’t go in landfills, because toxic metals can leach into groundwater, but almost any retailer selling them will also collect and recycle them.
Books: “Hard covers are too rigid to recycle, so we ask people to remove them and recycle just the pages,” says Sarah Kite, recycling manager of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, in Johnston. In many areas, paperbacks can be tossed in with other paper.
Cell phones: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 20 percent of cell phones are recycled each year, and most people don’t know where to recycle them. The Wireless Foundation refurbishes old phones to give to domestic-violence survivor calltoprotect.org. For information on other cell-phone charities, log on to recyclewirelessphones.com. In some states, like California and New York, retailers must accept and recycle old cell phones at no charge.
Computers: You can return used computers to their manufacturers for recycling (check mygreenelectronics.com for a list of vendors) or donate them to a charitable organization (log on to sharetechnology.org or cristina.org). Nextsteprecycling.org repairs your broken computers and gives them to underfunded schools, needy families, and nonprofits.
DVDs, CDs, and jewel cases: You can send your old cd’s with their cases to greendisk.com for recycling.
Empty metal cans (cleaning products): Cut off the metal ends of cans containing powdered cleansers, such as Ajax and Bon Ami, and put them in with other household metals. (Use care when cutting them.) Recycle the tubes as you would any other cardboard.
Hangers (plastic): These are not widely accepted at recycling centers, because there aren’t enough of them coming through to make it worthwhile. However, some cities, such as Los Angeles, are equipped to recycle them. You might consider donating them to a thrift store.
Hangers (wire): Some dry cleaners and laundromats will reuse them. Otherwise, they can be recycled with other household metals. But be sure to remove any attached paper or cardboard first.
Holiday cards: After they’ve lined your mantel for two months, you could throw them into the recycling bin, or you could give them a whole new life. St. Jude’s Ranch for Children (stjudesranch.org), a nonprofit home for abused and neglected youths, runs a holiday-card reuse program in which the kids cut off the front covers, glue them onto new cards, and sell the result―earning them money and confidence.
Ipods: Bring in an old iPod to an Apple store and get 10 percent off a new one. Your out-of-date iPod will be broken down and properly disposed of. The catch? The discount is valid only that day, so be prepared to buy your new iPod.
Mattresses and box springs: Mattresses are made of recyclable materials, such as wire, paper, and cloth, but not all cities accept them for recycling. (Go to earth911.org to find out if yours does.)
O is for Office Envelopes
Envelopes with plastic windows: Recycle them with regular office paper. The filters will sieve out the plastic, and they’ll even take out the glue strip on the envelope flaps.
FedEx: Paper FedEx envelopes can be recycled, and there’s no need to pull off the plastic sleeve. FedEx Paks made of Tyvek are also recyclable (see below).
Goldenrod: Those ubiquitous mustard-colored envelopes are not recyclable, because goldenrod paper (as well as dark or fluorescent paper) is saturated with hard-to-remove dyes. “It’s what we call ‘designing for the dump,’ not the environment,” says Matsch.
Jiffy Paks: Many Jiffy envelopes―even the paper-padded ones filled with that material resembling dryer lint―are recyclable with other mixed papers, like cereal boxes. The exception: Goldenrod-colored envelopes must be tossed.
Padded envelopes with bubble wrap: These can’t be recycled. The best thing you can do is reuse them.
Tyvek: DuPont, the maker of Tyvek, takes these envelopes back and recycles them into plastic lumber. Turn one envelope inside out and stuff others inside it. Mail them to Tyvek Recycle, Attention: Shirley B. Wright, 2400 Elliham Avenue #A, Richmond VA 23237. If you have large quantities (200 to 500), call 866-338-9835 to order a free pouch.
Pizza boxes: If cheese and grease are stuck to the box, rip out the affected areas and recycle the rest as corrugated cardboard. Food residue can ruin a whole batch of paper if it is left to sit in the recycling facility and begins to decompose.
Post-its: The sticky stuff gets filtered out, so these office standbys can usually be recycled with paper.
Printer-ink cartridges: Seventy percent are thrown into landfills, where it will take 450 years for them to decompose. “Cartridges are like gas tanks,” says Jim Cannan, cartridge-collection manager at Recycleplace.com. “They don’t break. They just run out of ink. Making new ones is like changing motors every time you run out of gas.” Take them to Staples and get $3 off your next cartridge purchase, or mail HP-brand cartridges back to HP.
Takeout-food containers: Most are not recyclable. Paper ones (like Chinese-food containers) aren’t accepted because remnants can contaminate the paper bale at the mill. Plastic versions (like those at the salad bar) are a no-go too.
Tinfoil: It’s aluminum, not tin. So rinse it off, wad it up, and toss it in with the beer and soda cans.
Tissue boxes with plastic dispensers: The plastic portion will be filtered out during the recycling process, so you can usually recycle tissue boxes with cardboard.
Umbrellas: If it’s a broken metal one, drop the metal skeleton in with scrap metal (remove the fabric and the handle first). Plastic ones aren’t accepted.
Wine corks: To turn them into flooring and wall tiles, send them to Wine Cork Recycling, Yemm & Hart Ltd., 610 South Chamber Drive, Fredericktown MO 63645. Or put them in a compost bin. “They’re natural,” says Matsch, “so they’re biodegradable.” Plastic corks can’t be composted or recycled.
Xmas lights: Ship your old lights to holidayleds.com, Attention: Recycling Program, 120 W. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1403, Jackson MI 49201. The company will send you a coupon for 10 percent off its LED lights, which use 80 percent less energy and last 10 years or more. And they’re safer, too. LEDs don’t generate much heat, whereas incandescents give off heat, which can cause a dry Christmas tree to catch fire.