While big strides have been made in reducing, reusing, and recycling waste, the fact of the matter is that we could be doing more. The most common recycled goods, such as paper, plastics, and cardboard, represent only a fraction of the recyclable waste we produce. Here are 10 things that can also be recycled that you may have never realized before.
“Techno-trash”

As technology continuously evolves, you may be left behind with outdated products such as VHS tapes, game cartridges, digital cameras, MP3 players, cords, cables, cassettes, or even VCRs and computer monitors. These out-dated tech products can all be recycled by a company called GreenDisk (www.greendisk.com). For $30, GreenDisk will mail you a cardboard box that you can fill with up to 70 pounds of any of the above to be recycled, with shipping and recycling fees covered.

Athletic shoes

If your shoes are too worn out to donate to charities such as Goodwill, don’t fret. Through Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program (www.nikereuseashoe.com), Nike will recycle any brand of athletic shoe. The company recycles the shoes to make surfaces for basketball courts, tennis courts, running tracks, and playgrounds. You can drop off your old sneakers at any Niketown store or Nike Factory store, or by you can send them by mail if there is not a store close to you. So far, almost 20 million athletic shoes worldwide have been recycled by the Reuse-A-Shoe program.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

Many hardware and home improvement stores accept your old CFLs for recycling. IKEA is well-known for accepting and recycling these bulbs. If there is not an IKEA nearby, LampRecycle.org lists businesses and organizations that will recycle CFLs.

Foam Packaging

We’ve all received a package with hundreds of lightweight “peanuts” designed to protect the contents of the package, only to find that we don’t quite know what to do with them once the package is opened. The “peanuts” are made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) and actually contain 25 to 100 percent recyclable material. The Plastic Loose Fill Council (www.loosefillpackaging.com) has a “Peanut Hotline” (800-828-2214) that you can call to find recycling centers nearby to discard your “peanuts.”

Handheld Devices

When you upgrade to a new phone, don’t just simply throw your old one away – these small devices are full of toxics. Instead take your old cell phones, pagers, and PDAs to any Staples store in the country. Staples is partnered with the nonprofit CollectiveGood, which, when possible, collects and refurbishes old phones to be used in developing countries. If the phones cannot be refurbished, they will be broken down and the metals separated for reuse or proper disposal.

Potato chip bags

The next time you “accidentally” finish off an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting, think twice before throwing the empty bag away. The foil packaging that is used to wrap up junk food can often be recycled at Terracycle.net.

Old Medicines

Your medicine cabinet may quickly fill to maximum capacity if you don’t make a point to clear out your expired medicines often enough. Rather than flushing the medicine down the toilet or throwing them away, check and see if you can recycle the medicine first. The following states have enacted drug recycling programs, including: AK, CO, IL, KS, MA, MN, NE, NM, NY, OK, PA, SC, and WV.

Wine corks

Next time you pop open a bottle of wine, hang on to the cork. Yemm & Hart (www.yemmhart.com) produces recycled building materials and can turn used corks into floor and wall tiles.

Mattresses

Just because mattresses are often not accepted by recycle centers or charities like Goodwill doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to reuse the mattress. If the mattress is still in usable condition, try using the Freecycle Network to find your old mattress a new home. Freecycle Network is an internet community that allows people to offer their unwanted items for free. You can also give away your mattress for free by posting an advertisement on Craigslist for people in your area.

Soiled glass and plastic

People are often unsure if they can recycle their glass and plastic items even if they are slightly soiled (a lime slice stuck at the bottom of a beer bottle or the last bits of jelly in the jar, for instance). Usually the recycling plant is able to remove most contaminants, so simply place the items in your regular recycling instead of throwing them away. Just know that the cleaner your recyclables are the less energy it takes to process them.

Next time you’re throwing something away, consider whether or not that item could potentially be recycled. With a little bit of research, you may be surprised by all of the items that can be recycled that you didn’t know about.
Written by Bryan Schiele