Think Outside the Bin: What to Do With Hard-to-Recycle Items

Carpet_optIf you’re reading this, chances are you are well aware of where to recycle the more common household consumer goods, such as paper, bottles, and cans. In my last blog entry, we explored how to recycle hazardous materials. For this second installment, we’re going to take a look at some rather uncommonly recycled items. Some of these items are so difficult to recycle that there are few businesses in the nation that have stepped up to the challenge. (Click on the underlined hyperlinks to be directed to these resources).

Since many of these items cannot be recycled in your state and need to be mailed to the recycler, diehard recyclers may be faced with the moral dilemma of whether it’s worth the expense and resulting carbon emissions to ship an item off for recycling. Rather than delve into complex algorithms to solve this dilemma, I recommend reserving items like bras, medals, and trophies for recycling drives or bulk shipping. However, if you’re looking to replace a broken vacuum cleaner or worn out yoga mat, then some recyclers will offer you a discount on a new one. For you Clark Griswolds out there, you can upgrade your old incandescent Christmas lights for a discount on energy-saving LED lights.

Sometimes recycling doesn’t just help the environment and your pocketbook. Just as thrift stores provide the opportunity for items to be reused while benefitting others, eyeglasses can be donated through most eyeglass retailers and through your local Lions Club for people in need. Similarly, if you’re in the mood for a new hairdo, your ponytail can be donated to a child with long-term or permanent medical hair loss. A great program for schools and community groups to raise funds while recycling difficult items such as chip bags and drink pouches is TerraCycle. They take these items and either recycle or upcycle them into new products that can be purchased at many large retailers. Terracycle has even incorporated their unique approach to recycling into their office design:

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For contractors updating buildings utilizing green building principles, there is a growing number of outlets for these materials. There is even a large network of ceiling tile and mercury-containing thermostat recyclers. And when those dungarees have seen their last job site, they can be recycled into building insulation.

While I’m sure there are some items I missed, the variety of consumer goods that can be recycled is amazing. After all, even sex toys can be recycled. So the next time you’re throwing something into the trash, take a moment to ponder what its next life could be. Who knows, your idea may spur a new business that has others shipping their goods to your state for recycling.

by Alan Gurganus, Recycling Director for the Alabama Environmental Council

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