9 Things You Probably Didn't Know You Could Recycle
How to keep bras, Crocs, Nikes, pantyhose and more out of landfills
Now that you’ve mastered the blue recycling bins and dutifully dispose of your plastics and paper the responsible way, why not up your recycling game? There are so many other items that end up in the dump that we could be recycling. In 2012, the average American generated nearly 1,600 pounds of waste a year, for a grand total of 251 million tons in the U.S. Though we recycled or composted about 34 percent of that, we could do a lot better.
Here are nine easily recyclable items.
1. Athletic shoes
About 30 million Americans are occasional or regular runners, and those pavement-pounders go through tons of running shoes. Add to that the sneakers, basketball shoes, soccer and baseball cleats that kids wear out or grow out of every few months, and you’re talking mountains of shoes filling the dumps.
Nike, which benefits from our sneaker obsessions, wanted to help make a dent in the problem. The company created the Reuse-A-Shoe program. It collects any brand of used athletic shoes, takes them apart and uses the materials to make track surfaces, interlocking gym floor tiles, playground surfaces and cushion for outdoor basketball courts and fields. So far, Reuse-A-Shoe has collected more than 28 million pairs of shoes for recycling. Every Nike store has a Reuse-A-Shoe bin, where you can drop off your old sneakers (locate stores here).
Though there’s no way to mail them in, making it less practical, why not keep a bag of old sneakers in the garage or attic and grab them the next time you’re off to the mall.
2. Brita water filters
Water filter pitchers are a great way to get cleaner water, without filling the landfill with disposable water bottles. But you can make your drinking habit more environmentally conscious by recycling those carbon water filters. The company Preserve now recycles Brita plastic pitcher filter casings, using the plastic for their toothbrushes, as well as cups and cutting boards. The activated carbon within the filters is regenerated for alternative uses or converted into energy. Just bring your filters to your local Whole Foods, which has collection bins.
Those bras that just don’t fit right? Rather than relegate these misfits to the back of your lingerie drawer or toss them in the trash, consider The Bra Recyclers. Started by a textile recycling company in Arizona, they accept gently used bras and then donate them to women's shelters and underserved populations to help teenage girls and women gain self-sufficiency. Their recycled bras are distributed through more than 70 organizations throughout the U.S and in Africa.
Look through your lingerie drawer for bras you no longer wear (like your nursing bras). Just make sure they’re in “gently used” condition and washed. Then go to the site's location finder to get the nearest location drop-off or mailing address.
4. Compact fluorescent light bulbs
Now that incandescent bulbs are almost fully phased out, more people are using compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). But because CFLs contain mercury, they shouldn’t be thrown out in the trash. Mercury is toxic and could harm the garbage collectors and also the environment. Recycling CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs also allows the reuse of the glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights.
Some states and local municipalities may require that you recycle CFLs and other mercury-containing light bulbs. Check with your local waste removal company and your town. In addition, Ikea, Home Depot and Lowes provide free CFL recycling programs. Seal them in a plastic bag first. Check search.earth911.com for stores near you that accept CFL bulbs.
If you have kids, you probably have a nice collection of used crayons. How about recycling those old broken, worn down or simply rejected crayons so they don’t end up in the landfills? According to the National Crayon Recycle Program, 60 tons of crayons are made every day. That leads to a hefty amount of wax in our landfills. Ship your old crayons (at your expense) to Crayon, and they’ll turn them into new ones. Organizations, such as public schools, can then purchase the crayons for cheap. To date, they’ve collected over 102,000 pounds of unwanted crayons from schools, restaurants and individuals across the country.
You may have moved on from your Crocs phase or updated for a new pair. The Croc Company launched a “re-use” program with the goal of finding new owners for their shoes and preventing them from clogging up landfills or the back of your closet. The program, called Crocs Cares, takes your gently used Crocs, cleans them, spiffs them up, and sends them to people in need in impoverished countries. Send your Crocs to Soles4Souls, 315 Airport Road, Roanoke, AL 36274.
7. Plastic dry-cleaning bags, bread bags, produce bags, sandwich bags
Some town recycling programs collect plastic bags but many don’t. If yours doesn’t, you have some options other than tossing them in the garbage (and feeling guilty). Many supermarkets and big box stores like Target have plastic bag recycling bins and nearly all types of plastic bags and wraps are welcome. You can go to www.plasticfilmrecycling.org and enter your zip code to find a drop off near you.
How many pairs of pantyhose and tights do you go through a month? Multiply that by millions of U.S. women. All those tossed hose are not good for landfills. According to No Nonsense, a leading pantyhose brand, the nylon/spandex blend can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. So the company has a solution: They’re happy to recycle your old hose if you foot the shipping bill. Recycled pantyhose and tights can be turned into running tracks, park benches, vehicle insulation, playground equipment and toys.
They’ll accept all brands and they recommend getting one of those flat rate boxes from the postal service and waiting until it’s filled up. Click here to learn more about the program and to print out a mailing address.
Don’t toss that old eyeliner, lipstick or other cosmetics packaging into the trash. You may be able to recycle them instead. Origins takes back all tubes, bottles, containers and jars, regardless of brands. You can drop them off at any Origins store or department store Origins counter. Other cosmetic companies have their own programs, like MAC Cosmetics, rewards you with free lipstick if you turn in six used MAC containers. Aveda also recycles their own product packaging and containers.