Surprising Ways to Recycle Everyday Items
Avoid the landfill by giving new life to electronics, shoes, eyeglasses and more
Many items that we all use can be turned back into raw materials. We don’t have to consume additional natural resources to create new products. We don’t have to fill the landfills with everything we don’t need or use anymore.
If you’ve recently updated your kitchen, you probably have a few working appliances—like a toaster, microwave or refrigerator––to spare. If they’re less than eight years old (some must be less than five years old),(some must be less than five years old), Habitat for Humanity may accept them in their ReStores, which sell used items and surplus building materials to fund the construction of Habitat homes. If it’s time to retire a nonworking appliance, call your city or county recycling coordinator to ask about bulk waste pickup, or check Recycle-Steel.org to find a nearby steel recycling center. They can get about 67 pounds of scrap steel from a full-size refrigerator,” which can go toward making everything from guard rails to appliances.
You can send reading glasses, prescription glasses (they also accept pairs of prescription lenses without the frames) and regular or prescription sunglasses to New Eyes for the Needy, which supplies them to international charitable organizations for people who can’t afford glasses. The organization accepts pairs in good condition via drop-off or mail (the cost of shipping is tax-deductible). Or take reading glasses, prescription glasses, and regular and prescription sunglasses that are still in one piece to a Lions Clubs International community drop-off box, found at libraries, optometry offices, banks and more. Donated glasses are then distributed within developing countries. Log on to LionsClubs.org to find your nearest club (call for drop-off locations) or to donate by mail.
When your kids upgrade to a new gaming system, send their old video games and working hand held devices, like the Gameboy, PSP or Nintendo DS, via U.S. mail to GamesforHeroes.com, which ships them to troops deployed overseas. For other types of consumer electronics, some retail stores such as Best Buy will let you drop them off for recycling, no matter where you originally purchased them. Though small fees may apply for some items, such as $10 for 32” TVs, you might receive a gift card in return. Staples also accept drop-offs of smaller electronics, like PDAs or digital cameras, for free. The company will take care of the recycling to turn your old electronics into everything from playground equipment to furniture. You can also log on to DigitalTips.org to find additional places to recycle your digital goods—if there’s a cause you care about the site will help you find a way to contribute; for example, donating cell phones to CollectiveGood helps the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention, while donating flash drives to Inveneo will help people in remote and underserved communities.
Excited about your new smartphone? Don’t let your old device go to waste: Recycled phones yield valuable raw materials such as gold, plastic and copper. Send any make or model—in any condition—to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which sells donated phones to a recycler, then uses the proceeds to purchase calling cards for troops stationed far away from loved ones. Log on to CellPhonesforSoldiers.com to print a free shipping label (or use your own postage to help the charity even more). You can also head to GoWirelessGoGreen.org for a list of additional wireless recycling programs. CITA-The Wireless Association, the nonprofit organization behind the site, advocates for eco-friendly standards in corporations; check out their list of corporate recycle programs to see if a company you’re affiliated with participates.
When your printer cartridges have run dry, resist the urge to toss them in the trash. Instead, drop them off for free at Best Buy or Staples, where you can receive a $2 Staples Rewards credit to use toward a new cartridge. Many printer manufacturers, such as Brother and Hewlett Packard, also take back used cartridges for free in order to reclaim the plastic; look inside the cartridge box or check the printer company’s website for prepaid mailing labels.
You already know that you can donate athletic shoes in good condition to local charitable organizations, but if they’re totally trashed (think worn out soles, holes or ripped cushioning), you can drop them off at Nike and Converse stores nationwide (find one here) or download a mailing label to ship to the company’s recycling facility. The company processes athletic shoes (dress shoes, sandals, flip-flops, or shoes with metal parts or cleats not accepted) into raw materials, then turns them into everything from running tracks to playground surfaces. More than 1.5 million pairs are collected annually.
How many garbage can liners do you really need? While paper bags can be recycled with other paper products such as newspapers, plastic bags tend to pile up. Log on to PlasticBagRecycling.org to find out where you can recycle plastic bags in your area. Or pay attention the next time you go shopping—many grocery and retail stores now have bins near the entrance for plastic bag collection. If you really want to cut down on the number of shopping bags in landfills, tote your own reuseable bags to the store; BAGGU makes collapsible and roomy sacks in a rainbow of fun colors and patterns.
When your pantyhose, knee highs and tights have seen better days, don’t toss them in the trash to end up in a landfill for hundreds of years. Instead, send nylon-based hosiery, which most brands are, back to No Nonsense to be melted down and eventually turned into products such as anchor ropes for boats, plastic park benches and playground equipment. Keep a shoebox in your closet to collect stretched out or ripped hose; once it’s full go to NoNonsense.com to print out a shipping label, then box up any brand in any condition (just make sure they’re clean and dry). Typically, a few dozen cost just a few bucks to send back.