It’s April, and that means my favorite holiday—Earth Day—is just around the corner! I love the annual reminder to be kind to our home planet, and I’m heartened by the efforts many are making to live more sustainably year-round.
If you live in a community that offers recycling, you probably already do a great job of separating your paper and plastic into their respective bins. While we can’t recycle our way out of the environmental mess that we’re in, every little bit does help. The more we recycle, the better we are at keeping waste out of wild places and reducing the amount of raw resources we have to use. And did you know that many of the things that aren’t accepted by most municipal recycling programs can still be recycled? Here’s a list of 16 things you can add to your recycling efforts.
1. Plastic Bags and Other Soft Plastics
I try to use my reusable bags whenever I shop, but sometimes I forget them at home and end up with a few plastic bags. It’s a big no-no to put them in the recycling bin because they can clog up the machinery and cause damage or delay, but that doesn’t mean you should just toss them in the trash. Many grocery and discount department stores have bins up at the front (near the carts) where you can return bags to be recycled. I just save mine in a bucket under the sink, and when I make my grocery runs, I drop them off for recycling.
And it’s not just grocery bags that can be recycled here: feel free to add bread bags, grape bags, produce bags, and any other #4 plastic to your plastic bag stockpile. RecycleBank has a great list of other soft plastics that can also be recycled in these bins.
2. Food Packaging
While most plastic food packaging isn’t recyclable, several companies are partnering with TerraCycle to offer free recycling of their packaging. Some of these programs require you to take your bags to specific drop off locations, but others (including Clif Bar, Barilla Pasta, Backpacker’s Pantry, Bear Naked and others) allow you to mail in your collected packaging. Some household brands like Arm & Hammer also partner with TerraCycle to offer recycling for their packaging.
3. Solo Cups
My apologies if you now have a certain annoying song stuck in your head (and no, I won’t link to it because if you managed to get this far without getting it stuck in your head, I’m not going to ruin it for you now…). But even if you can’t get rid of that particular ear worm in the next 150 years, you can at least recycle those red solo cups that are so iconic of party-making. But Jessssss, you say, those cups are #6 plastic. You can’t recycle #6 plastic in most places. And you’d be right. But thanks again to our friends at TerraCycle, not only can you collect and submit any #6 plastic cup for recycling, but doing so can also help you raise money for your favorite charity. Throw a party, save the planet, and support worthy causes? Sign me up!
4. Bottle Lids
For years, we’ve been told to remove the lids and caps on our plastic bottles before tossing them in the recycle bin, but that’s no longer necessary. Plastics Make it Possible explains that changing demands and technology have made it so that many recycling centers can and will recycle bottles with the caps left on. Just make sure you crush your bottles before putting the lids back on so that they don’t become dangerous projectiles when the bottles are crushed at the recycling plant.
5. Water Filters
When you replace your water filters or pitchers, don’t just toss them in the trash: recycle them. Both Brita and PUR offer free recycling services for their products. Brita users can recycle filters and pitchers if they’re part of the free My Brita program, which you can sign up for here. (Read more about their recycling program here.) PUR users can sign up for the PUR Brigade here.
6. Aerosol Cans
Not all communities will offer recycling for aerosol cans, but Earth911 has a great tool for finding aerosol recycling centers near you. They also have great tips for how to prepare your aerosol cans for recycling. And if your aerosol cans are old Fabreeze spray cans, you can recycle those for free through their partnership with TerraCycle.
Health and Beauty
If you wear contacts, this one’s for you. Bausch + Lomb will recycle contact lenses, opened contact blister packs, and the foil from the tops of those packs. They will accept any brand of contact, too, so even if you don’t wear B+L lenses, you can still recycle your contacts and packaging. Learn more about the B+L recycling program here.
8. Mascara Wands
This one’s a little less “recycle” and a little more “repurpose.” When you finish off a tube of mascara, don’t just throw the wand away. Those tiny bristles are great for grooming small animals at wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers. I’ve even seen them used to help clean oil off of bird feathers during oil spills. Give your wands a second life by sending them to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge’s Wands for Wildlife.
Gillette has partnered with TerraCycle to provide nationwide recycling for all brands of blades and razors, as well as their packaging. You can either mail in your razors with a TerraCycle tracking label or drop it off at a public drop-off location. Read more about the program here.
Many other things in your bathroom can be recycled, including soap, shampoo, and conditioner bottles. Double check the plastic number on the bottom before you chuck your bottles. And if it’s a plastic that your local recycling company doesn’t take, TerraCycle might come to the rescue again with their Personal Care and Beauty Recycling program.
10. Crayons and Markers
If your crayons are all broken into pieces too small for tiny hands to hold onto, consider donating them to Crazy Crayons or the Crayon Initiative, both organizations that melt the crayons down to make new ones for use in hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, and other services for at-risk kids. You can also make your own new crayons with those little bits by following this tutorial at For the Love of Art. Crayola and Dixon also offer recycling programs for their products, and our friends at TerraCycle will take Dixon, Ticonderoga, Prang, and Lyra art supplies.
If your kids have outgrown their toys—or you’ve just Marie Kondo-ed your house—you can recycle old Hasbro products through their Toy Recycling program. They’ll take any Hasbro product, including those that I didn’t know Hasbro made. That old Magic the Gathering card collection you’ve had since high school? Yeah, you can recycle those, too.
First of all, instead of upgrading your phone every time Apple sneezes, it’s much more eco-friendly to use that phone until it has reached the end of its usable life. Once that happens, you can recycle your phone. Many department and grocery stores have ecoATM machines at the front, where you can trade your phones and tablets for cash. They’ll also accept accessories like chargers, but the only payout for those is the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you do something good. Those devices are either refurbished for reuse or their material components are reclaimed. Find a kiosk near you here.
13. Electronics and Appliances
E-waste is one of the bigger pollutants on the planet, but you can help curb that by recycling your old electronics and appliances. Again, you’ll want to make sure you’ve used it until the end of its usable life, and then you can take it to Best Buy or send it in to TerraCycle. Best Buy will recycle tv and video devices, computers and tablets, cell phones, radios, appliances, ink and toner cartridges, audio devices, smart home devices, music and movies, video games, cameras, and even automobile AV and GPS units. Learn more about their recycling program here. TerraCycle will take phones, laptops, tablets, and ink jet printer cartridges. Learn more here.
When we toss batteries in with the trash, they can leach dangerous chemicals into the ground water. To help prevent this, you can recycle your rechargeable batteries at many Lowe’s and Home Depot stores. Alkaline/single-use batteries are harder to recycle, but your local Batteries Plus may recycle them for a fee.
After you’ve run the last mile your athletic shoes can handle, take them in to your local Nike store for recycling. They will accept any brand of athletic shoe, which they grind up to make sports courts, tracks, playgrounds, turf fields, and even carpet padding. And if your shoes are still in decent condition, you might even consider donating them to One World Running, which helps provide shoes to disadvantaged athletes around the world.
Textile waste is another big pollutant, but over 95% of textile worn or torn textile waste can be recycled. Furthermore, many women around the world don’t have a properly fitting bra. Ladies, if you have extra bras in your drawer, send ’em on over to The Bra Recyclers, an organization that provides gently used bras to women in need around the world. You’ll help reduce unnecessary textile waste and support (hehe) your fellow women. Go girl!
For a list of even more things you can recycle, check out this list of 19 things you can recycle from One Good Thing. Recycle Nation also has a great tool for finding recycling locations for a variety of different products.
I’d love to see how you’re recycling or repurposing things to reduce waste. Share in the comments below, over on my Facebook page, or tag your photos on social media with #jestkeptsecret.
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