5 Surprising Things You Can Recycle

by heather

Most of us can reel off a recycle list in our sleep: #1 and #2 plastics (if you’re super lucky, your community will take up to #6), glass, newspaper.

But, we could be recycling much, much more than we do.

According to the Environmental Literacy Council, in 2006 Americans generated more than 250 million tons of trash. That’s a lot of garbage, and you can bet that a lot of that could be recycled.

How does recycling pay off? Well, look at these statistics from the city of Clearwater, Florida’s government page (all statistics are well sourced on their site):

  • Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees, 6,953 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space and 4,077 Kilowatt hours of energy.
  • The average American uses 650 pounds of paper every year.
  • Americans go through 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough electricity to run a TV for three hours.

So, we know that recycling is good.

But what do we do with the other stuff? You know, shoes that have worn out. Broken appliances. Green glass. Packing peanuts.

Never fear. I have a handy-dandy list that offers up some surprising things that can be recycled, and where to take them.

1. Recycle Old Shoes

They’re the ones that are too worn to wear, but too nasty to send to Goodwill. So, what do you do with them?

Well, Nike has created a Reuse A Shoe program. Basically they take your old shoes (and yes, they take any kind of shoe, it doesn’t have to be Nike) and they rip them to shreds. They sort the pieces into three groups: foam, rubber, and fabric. Then, those pieces get new life as a track, basketball court, or playground.

They have 300 drop-off locations around the world, and their site allows you to search for the location nearest you. If it’s too far, you can also mail them to their recycle center. Click here for the address.

To date, they’ve collected over 21 million shoes. Go Nike!

2. Recycle Old Appliances

Raise your hand if you still have an old VCR languishing in your garage. That Apple IIe that came out in the mid-’80s might still be out there as well (if you’ve got one of those, you’d be better off selling it for a mint on eBay…)

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), every American household owns 24 electronic appliances. And every time we replace one of them we’re left with the conundrum: what do we do with the old one?

Sadly, most of the time it’s pitched. But our appliances and electronics can, in most cases, be recycled. If you know where to go.

If you have a steel-based appliance, then check out the Steel Recycling Institute. They have a searchable database that will point you to your nearest steel recycling center.

You can also visit Earth911.com. They have an excellent, searchable database that will allow you to find local centers in your area that take appliances. The search box will be at the top of the main page.

Most people don’t know that many major retailers will help you recycle in your electronics as well. Staples has a pretty comprehensive recycling program. They charge $10 for each large piece of equipment, but they take computers, monitors, fax machines, and printers, as well as smaller items like ink cartridges and cell phones. Click here to find out more information about their program.

Other retailers that participate in appliance and electronics recycling include Best Buy, Office Depot, and Wal-Mart, so check with your local stores to see what they’ll take, and what they charge (if anything).

If you’d like more information on recycling old appliances and electronics, click here to go to the EPA e-cycling page. This page has tons of excellent information, and a list of places you can recycle your appliances.

If you want a list of truly reputable recyclers (as in, these people will not ship your electronics to Africa to be buried in a landfill), then check out the Basel Action Network (BAN).

3. Recycle CFL Bulbs

Many people don’t know that CFL bulbs contain mercury. I had no idea until a few months ago! This makes recycling them even more important.

You can bring your CFL bulbs into any Home Depot for recycling. You can also check out this page on the EPA Hazardous Waste site for more information. There’s some great information there, as well as a link for more resources.

4. Recycle Wine Corks

I know, it’s amazing, but Yemm and Hart Green Materials take wine corks and turn them into, you guessed it, cork flooring. They don’t take the plastic corks, only the real ones. If you live in Madison, WI you can drop them off, but the rest of us must mail them in. Click here for the address.

5. Recycle Christmas Lights

I’ve got three bundles of lights in my garage. I was hauling them out yesterday; they worked fine when I packed them up last year, but a gnome must have snuck in and unscrewed some of the twinkle lights because now they don’t work. Don’t you hate that?

Surprisingly, you can recycle your holiday Christmas lights. Yay!

First off, check out HolidayLEDs.com. This site accepts mailed-in boxes of lights. Apart from your shipping costs, it’s a free service. They recommend banding together with family members, friends, and neighbors and shipping them all in one big box. This will reduce shipping costs, and create a smaller carbon footprint.

ChristmasLightSource.com also offers free holiday light recycling, and they use the proceeds to buy toys for the Toys for Tots charity. This is also a mail-in program, unless you live in Ft. Worth, TX.

Last Word

I’m probably going to publish a Part 2 to this. Why? Because there’s tons more surprising things we can recycle. In fact, I couldn’t believe some of the stuff I found while researching this article.

The next article will include exercise videos (no, I’m not kidding), eyeglasses, and toothbrushes, to name a few. Until then!

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Heather Shell November 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm

What great information! It’s always good to see sources such as these getting our message out there and encouraging people to think green.

I noticed the author referenced the City of Clearwater’s government Web site, which linked to the Recycling Division. As the PR representative for the City of Clearwater’s Public Works departments, I can tell you that we worked to develop a Web site dedicated to the city’s green initiative.

I invite you to check it out: http://www.MyClearwater.com/Green.


Gena Davis November 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm

What other things can actully recycle?Adn also what is a heather shell?

Gena Davis November 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm

And what are cfl bulbs?

Cyndi S. February 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Thank you for the great facts. I will spread the word of this site as I think it makes people think before the act.

Monica Lee October 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

How do I recycle umbrellas and a wooden weaved basket? I live at Flushing, NY. I tried to google it and I got nothing. Please kindly help me on this matter.

Thank you very much for your assistance.

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