Did you know that recycling goes way beyond soda cans and newspapers? In fact, you can recycle almost everything (except recycling plastic is challenging because not all of it can be recycled). If you can't recycle something, you can most likely upcycle it by donating it and giving it a new home. It helps to know the best places to recycle items, how to find them, and what to do—such as cleaning and repairing—before you recycle an item.
Here's a list of what you can recycle and how to properly recycle everything in your home, whether it's tossing items into a recycle bin or giving them away for a second chance.
Why Is Recycling Important?
We recycle things for good reason. Every little bit of recycling you can do improves the environment in ways that significantly add up. The more garbage we can keep out of landfills, the less likely waste can get into our waters and devastate aquatic life. The more recycling we can do, the more we can conserve already scarce natural resources. For example, recycling paper decreases the need to cut down more forests to create new sources of paper.
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Ordinary batteries, such as regular alkaline, manganese, and carbon-zinc batteries are not typically considered hazardous waste, so you can throw them out in your regular trash. You can, and should, recycle any battery, however, because the components can be used to make many other items, especially metal products. It's highly suggested that other common single-use or rechargeable batteries, such as lithium and button batteries, be recycled. Consider these sources for battery recycling:
- Whole Foods stores allow you to drop off batteries, paper, and light bulbs into bins as part of its Green Mission Program.
- Battery Solutions will accept bulk batteries for recycling through the mail.
- Ikea stores also take batteries for recycling.
- Best Buy has many recycling options for any tech-type battery, such as camera or gaming batteries.
Before You Recycle Batteries
State laws and regulations for proper battery disposal and recycling continue to evolve. Before recycling your batteries, take a look at your state's laws by clicking on the Call2Recycle recycling laws map. For example, any type of battery is considered hazardous waste in California and needs to be properly recycled.
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Here are some ways to recycle your used books:
- Donate them on Freecycle.org.
- Contact BetterWorldBooks.com, which funds literacy initiatives worldwide, and find your local dropbox for book donations.
- Bring your books to Goodwill or another charity of your choice.
- Offer your books to a local shelter.
- Sell your books on Amazon or eBay.
- Approach your local library and ask if they are accepting donations.
- Make a "free books box" for a train or bus station (check first if it's okay to leave the box) and place books there for anyone to take and enjoy.
Before You Recycle a Book
Make sure the book is fairly clean. You must remove bookmarks or any tiny pieces of paper, and unfold any corners.
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Unusable cars are typically recycled at a junkyard where they are crushed and then sold as scrap metal, the price of which fluctuates. You could pocket anywhere from $200 to $500 for an old car, depending on the current price of the metal.
Another popular option is to donate your old car to organizations like Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity. The Make-A-Wish Foundation also accepts car donations for its Wheels for Wishes program, as do several veteran's organizations, including Vehicles for Veterans.
Before You Recycle a Car
Remove the tires and rims and clean the car, taking special care to extract anything that may have fallen into cracks and crevices. You never know how much loose change, jewelry, or other small valuables you may find. Most importantly, sweep the glove box to make sure there are no receipts with any identifying information.
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E-waste is a large category of electronics recycling, which includes computers, readers, tablets, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines, and even media such as CDs and DVDs. (Cell phones are a separate category.) For example, Apple products such as computers, iPods (still have one in a drawer somewhere?), iPads, and other products can be turned in at Apple stores for disposal and possibly even a discount on your next purchase. Here are a few other places to consider when recycling e-waste:
- GreenDisk.com takes in just about any type of e-waste, from media (including Blu-ray disks) to computer drives and small electronics to keyboards, mice, modems, routers, and much more.
- The World Computer Exchange helps youths in 53 developing countries to gain digital literacy with used computers.
- Check with your town for the local electronics collection day or if the town's recycling center accepts e-waste.
- National Center for Electronics Recycling takes old electronics.
Before You Recycle DVDs and CDs
It's hard to believe, but the recycling options for DVDs and CDs are very limited. Though they are plastic, the types and mixes of plastics from which these products are made are not very useful elsewhere. Instead of traditionally recycling them, consider donating them to second-hand shops.
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Lights and Bulbs
How and where to recycle lights largely depends on the type of light or bulb. Incandescent and LED bulbs can be thrown away in the trash, and not every recycling center takes them. Other types of bulbs may be considered hazardous due to traces of mercury within the bulb and must be carefully handled and recycled. Check with these sources for recycling solutions for your lights and bulbs
- Local or city recycling programs
- Earth 911
- Recycle Nation
- HolidayLEDS.com's holiday lights trade-in program
Before You Recycle Lights
If you need to recycle CFLs, fluorescent bulbs, or other bulbs that may contain mercury, check the EPA's site to see whether or not your state allows them to be put into the landfill. If you plan to take bulbs to a store for recycling that the EPA recommends, check first directly with the store to see if they are still taking bulbs and lights for recycling.
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Cell phones and smartphones are quickly becoming a huge source of trash in the U.S. Some organizations help you to recycle your cell phones locally and without much travel or effort on your part. You'll also find many places that offer you money to buy back your cell phones and smartphones, but sometimes it can be more of a hassle and the payout isn't worth the time. Here are places to put old cell and smartphones to good use:
- Best Buy will accept used cell phones.
- Bring your unusable phone to a Verizon store participating in the HopeLine program. Verizon Wireless donates wireless phones and airtime to domestic abuse victims, including those who attend Camp Hope, a mentoring program for children affected by domestic abuse.
- SmartPhoneRecycling.com takes bulk cell phones (from 10 and up).
Before You Recycle a Phone
Whether you mail or bring a phone to a store in person to recycle, you must protect your personal data that may be on the item by backing it up and cleaning your phone to wipe off any personal data, such as contacts, passwords, and notes. You need to remove any data you may have on an iCloud account if you're recycling an Apple phone or device. Do whatever you need to do to clean your phone or device, including erasing all content and settings, ensuring you did security wipes, and then doing a factory data reset.
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Millions of tons of clothing and other textiles end up in landfills every year. To do your part, there are countless ways to recycle clothing, from donating to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and other charities to adding them into donation bins around your town. Here are a few other places to consider recycling or donating your clothing:
- American Red Cross partners with GreenDrop to take your clothes and use the profits from reselling them to continue providing emergency services worldwide.
- Dress for Success is a good place to donate quality business clothing for women in need; they have drop-off locations across the U.S.
- Souls4Souls is where you can recycle your shoes. Use Zappos for Good's site to easily donate your shoes to Souls4Souls; they also take clothing.
Before You Recycle Clothes
Be sure to only donate clean, gently-used clothing that is still wearable. Make sure zippers are working and all the buttons are still attached.
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While you can DIY furniture and improve it, or re-purpose it (like re-purposing an old set of kitchen cabinets to hold tools and sporting equipment in your garage), there are ways to recycle furniture. Donate it, sell it (use Craigslist, eBay, or a garage sale), or you can truly recycle furniture. The best way to do this is to call your local town hall and see which days are designated for oversized trash pick-up. Put it out on the curb the prior evening to give people who may want your furniture some time to pick it up before the trash collectors come your way.
Before You Recycle Furniture
Besides making sure the furniture is fairly clean and any fabric is not ripped or fraying. Empty the drawers of personal items. Remove cushions and pillows of upholstered pieces to check for change, crumbs, and papers.
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Glasses and Eyewear
There are a billion or more people around the world who have vision problems but who don't have access to vision care services or eyewear. You can help even a tiny fraction of people by recycling your eyeglasses. If you have eyewear with frames and lenses that are not broken, they can be donated to help others who need vision care. If your eyewear is broken, you can recycle them as you would other plastic items. You can donate eyewear in good shape to the following places:
- Lions Club Eyeglass Recycling Centers
- OneSight, which works with Lenscrafters
- Pearlvision, which has its ABSee program, offers corrective eyewear to children in need
- VSP Global's Eyes of Hope program
Before You Recycle Eyewear
Contact your local eyewear retailer to make sure they are accepting donations. Clean the eyeglasses as best as possible. The eyewear will be refurbished, as well.
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Ink Printer Cartridges
Both inkjet and laser printer cartridges come with recycling instructions in the package. Many office product stores, such as Staples, will accept used cartridges for recycling as well.
Before You Recycle an Ink Printer Cartridge
Put the cartridge back in its original casing. If not possible, put it in a plastic bag so residual ink doesn't leak.
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If you're upgrading your kitchen appliances, but they are still in good working order, you can give them away on Freecycle.org, Goodwill, or Habitat for Humanity. Kitchen appliances can also usually be recycled at your local municipal recycling center, but call first to see if they have room to accept them.
It's also a good idea to check out the EPA's RAD program (RAD stands for "Responsible Appliance Disposal"). By eliminating kitchen appliances the right way, it will reduce emissions from certain appliances that are released into the air and into the soil when they are left to rot in a landfill, for example. The EPA provides a map of the U.S. where you can click on your state to find RAD partners that will help you dispose of appliances.
Before You Recycle an Appliance
If you are donating appliances in good working order, make sure you have all of the attachments, cords, and manuals together in one bag or box before you donate.
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Plastics, Cardboard, Glass, and Aluminum
You probably already recycle these materials at home. Look for the recycling symbols on packages to determine what and how these items can be recycled. Check with your local trash collection agency to get a recycling bin delivered to your home. The recycling schedule is usually every other week or once a month.
Before You Recycle These Materials
Clean food off everything. Remove caps and labels from plastic bottles as they are usually not recyclable.
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Paper should be recycled through your town or city's recycling program. Use a separate bin to collect paper products for recycling. For sensitive paper such as credit card statements or anything that might have personal information on it, shred it first. Check with your bank or credit union as they often offer special shredding days.
Before You Recycle Paper
Unfortunately, some paper-based items like wrapping paper can't be recycled unless it's noted that they can. This is due to the coating on some paper. Look for wrapping paper marked as "recycled" or "recyclable" when you buy it.
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It's best to use reusable shopping bags when at the grocery or department store. However, sometimes a plastic bag is the only option. In that case, reuse those plastic bags around the house for lunch boxes in a pinch, small garbage can liners, doggy waste holders, to carry returns to a store, or to bring cans and bottles to recycling, for example.
If you're overrun with excess plastic bags at home, take them to the grocery store. Most stores have a box where you can drop extra plastic bags for recycling.
Before You Recycle Plastic Bags
Recycle plastic bags that are clean and dry. Don't recycle dirty or wet bags. Bags with food or other residues should not be recycled, either. If you aren't sure if your plastic bags are good enough to bring to the store to be recycled, simply throw them out in the garbage.
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Tires are not biodegradable, and since millions are discarded each year, they take up significant space in landfills. So it's a good idea to upcycle them and repurpose them as garden containers or tire swings. Tires in good shape can be sold online through Craigslist, for example. But you can also easily recycle them. By handing them over to the right recyclers, the old tires can be put to good use by making new products, such as asphalt for roads, mulch, or playground surfaces. Here's where to take them:
- Local service stations or tire shops (there might be a small handling fee if you are not replacing tires) will take old tires when you buy new ones from them.
- Your local town dump may have a tire recycling program.
- Junk collectors, such as 1800gotjunk.com, will take old tires for a fee.
Before You Recycle Tires
Though it can be frustrating to find a place to dispose of old tires, whatever you do, you should not put them in a dumpster. Tires may also be flammable, which is another reason to keep them out of your regular trash.
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Used Motor Oil
Check your local ordinances as most places require you to recycle used motor oil in certain ways so it doesn't contaminate the drinking water supply. If you take your car in for an oil change, oil disposal is part of the service.
- Local and chain auto parts stores, such as AutoZone, will usually accept used motor oil and may even offer you a discount on your next purchase.
- Check with your local town to see if there's a recycling day where used motor oil is accepted.
- Check if your state has a list of places to take your oil. For example, California has a searchable tool that helps you find used oil-certified collection centers.
Before Your Recycle Motor Oil
Because motor oil is typically considered hazardous waste and is so difficult to recycle, it's illegal to dispose of it incorrectly. As tempting as it is, don't try to dump it in your backyard, for example. If you are caught, you could face serious fines and be held responsible for clean-up costs. Though the EPA suggests ways to responsibly dispose of used motor oil, your state may have very strict regulations on recycling the sticky substance.
Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It? Columbia University's Climate School.