Chapter 6: 21 Household Items You Should Be Recycling (And Probably Aren’t)
We’ve all heard “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”Its origin traces back to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, passed by Congress in 1976. People in the US became aware of their impact on the environment and how they could change it right around this time.
Recycling is the norm nowadays, but we’re still not recycling as much as we could. Just because an item isn’t an aluminum can or a glass bottle doesn’t mean you should put it in the garbage. There are many other materials you can recycle at specialty recycling centers, through drop-off locations, or by mailing them back.
Here’s what you should be recycling:
What do you do with your old magazines once you’ve read them? Most people consider them a “one and done” type of thing, but you can also let other people enjoy them by donating them to a library. Magazines are mixed paper so they can also be recycled along with other paper materials like books and newspapers. If they are water-damaged, however, they must be thrown out instead.
- Corrugated cardboard
Almost every new package that arrives on your doorstep comes in a box made out of corrugated cardboard. Take a moment to consider that Amazon shipped more than 5 billion items were shipped through Amazon Prime in 2017. That’s a lot of wasted packaging. People threw them away for the longest time, causing a massive buildup in landfills. The US generated 29 million tons of corrugated cardboard in 1996 alone. Make sure to break down boxes and fold them for easier recycling. You can even recycle cardboard pizza boxes if they’re free of grease or food waste.
- Car batteries
You never think about a new car battery until you’re stranded on the side of the road and waiting for a jump. But don’t be tempted to throw out your old car battery — many auto retailers and service shops will recycle it. Car batteries are actually one of the most recycled products in the US, boasting a 98 percent recycling rate.
- Rechargeable batteries
Even rechargeable batteries only last so long, typically between two and seven years. Certain retailers (like Lowes and Home Depot) offer drop-offs for rechargeable batteries when they no longer hold a charge. Companies like Call2Recycle offer mail-back options as well.
- Light bulbs
Our first instinct is to throw away burned-out light bulbs. But they take forever to break down in landfills and can leak harmful chemicals as they erode. You ought to instead recycle your light bulbs by finding a drop-off center at a local retailer or recycling center.
- VHS Tapes
VHS tapes were once revolutionary, but nowadays they’re nearly useless — who even owns a VHS player anymore? Don’t throw them away — recycle them at your local e-waste station.
If you’re a wine drinker with a stash of corks you don’t need, you can recycle them instead of throwing them away . You can recycle them with companies like ReCORK. Some crafty people even repurpose them into their creative projects.
We’ve all seen mattresses discarded in local dumpsters or alleyways before. These bulky items are a chore to dispose of, but you can luckily donate them to local charities. Some cities in certain states have mattress recycling centers to make the process easier.
Crayons are a staple of anyone’s art and craft supplies. If you have kids, there’s definitely a box of crayons somewhere in your home. But what do you do when they break, or get worn down to nothing? You can actually recycle them. The company Crazy Crayons accepts your old crayons, boiling them down to create a brand new 100 percent recycled product.
What do you do when you need a new eyeglass prescription? Do you reuse the frames or update to something more stylish? Lots of people choose to spring for something new, but don’t be tempted to throw out your old pair. Organizations like the Lion’s Club will help you donate or recycle them.
- Cell phones
There are approximately 3.7 billion unique mobile users around the globe. We’re consuming data rapidly, and we’re using a number of devices to do so. Cell phones are made of many different synthetic materials — if you throw them out, it will take at least 1,000 years to biodegrade. Instead of tossing them, recycle your cell phones through a nonprofit or local retailer.
- Outdated medication
Prescription medication has a certain shelf life. What happens when you don’t need those painkillers from when you got your wisdom teeth removed? Instinct says to throw them out or flush them, then remove your info from the bottle. But instead of polluting the landfill with old prescriptions, recycle them at your local pharmacy.
- Ink cartridges
Personal printers are more affordable than they’ve ever been, but ink cartridges are still rather expensive (especially for how long they last). These cartridges contain chemical components and can’t just be thrown away. You should recycle them through your local office supply store, like Office Depot or Staples. Sometimes you can even mail them back to the manufacturer for free (like with HP). You can even refill some cartridges on your own with a refill kit.
- Old sneakers
What do you do with an old pair of shoes? If they’re in good shape, you could give them to a local thrift store or donation center. You could also recycle some of them through their manufacturer: Nike has a Reuse-A-Shoe program to recycle old shoes, for example.
The EPA estimates that 5 billion pounds of carpeting go into landfills each year. If you’re replacing your carpet, you’ll be tempted to order a Dumpster to dispose of the old one. But not so fast! You can actually recycle carpet (and the carpet pad) through specialized recyclers like Carpet America Recovery Effort.
- Holiday lights
They only see a few weeks of use per year, but holiday lights tend to burn out or break eventually. Instead of throwing them in the trash (along with the rest of your holiday garbage), ask your local waste management company where you can drop them off. You can also send your old holiday lights in the mail to specific companies like Bulbcycle, Holiday LEDs, and The LED Warehouse.
Old unused keys have no place in your home. When you move out or change the locks, there’s no reason to keep the key. But you could recycle the key instead of tossing it out. Keys get recycled in the mixed metal bin, but be sure your local recycling program accepts mixed metals. You can also mail unused keys to different organizations that melt them down for scrap metal.
The advent of streaming services has made CDs and DVDs slightly outdated. But you don’t have to throw them out or watch them collect dust on your shelves. If you want to be rid of them, just donate them to your local library. You can also recycle them at a local drop-off center or use a mail-back option. There’s no reason to put them in your recycling bin.
- Disposable razors
Disposable razors are easy to use, but they don’t belong in your regular recycling. They can be a real danger to waste removal professionals. There’s also the chance they fall out of the bin to harm others and the environment. Find your city’s scrap metal recycling center or drop-off location to recycle these razors.
When bristles wear out and we switch to a new toothbrush, most of us throw the old one away. But there are a number of materials in toothbrushes that can be repurposed. Although you can’t throw them directly into your recycling bin, there are companies that will let you mail them back.
- Toothpaste tubes
You’ve reached the end of the tube, so now what? Before you throw that toothpaste away, consider the materials the tube consists of. If it’s aluminum, it gets recycled. If it’s made of plastic, you can mail it to a program like Colgate Oral Care Brigade.
At the end of the day, you can recycle a lot more than just your standard glass jars, plastic bottles, and newspapers. Some of it takes more effort than simply dumping things into the recycling bin, but the long-term benefit to the environment is well worth it.
Donating is also an option. Most donation centers and non-profits will help you find a new home for items in good condition. We work with our team of charity partners to donate items like household furniture, appliances, and mattresses. We sort these items directly in the truck, which allows us to drop-off donations on our route to the next job.
Our company is meticulous about donating and recycling the junk we collect. The more we can practice both, the more items we can keep out of landfills. It’s one way that we remind our customers of the value of reducing, reusing, and recycling.