Packing materials: Styrofoam peanuts cannot be recycled in most areas, but many packaging stores (like UPS and Mail Boxes Etc.) accept them. To find a peanut reuser near you, go to loosefillpackaging.com. Some towns recycle Styrofoam packing blocks; if yours doesn’t, visit epspackaging.org to find a drop-off location, or mail them in according to the instructions on the site. Packing pillows marked “Fill-Air” can be deflated (poke a hole in them), then mailed to Ameri-Pak, Sealed Air Recycle Center, 477 South Woods Drive, Fountain Inn SC 29644. They will be recycled into things like trash bags and automotive parts.
Paint: Some cities have paint-recycling programs, in which your old paint is taken to a company that turns it into new paint. Go to earth911.org to see if a program exists in your area.
Pendaflex folders: Place these filing-cabinet workhorses in the paper bin. But first cut off the metal rods and recycle them as scrap metal.
Phone books: Many cities offer collection services. Also check yellowpages.com/recycle, or call AT&T’s phone book–recycling line at 800-953-4400.
Pizza boxes: If cheese and grease are stuck to the box, rip out the affected areas and recycle the rest as corrugated cardboard. Food residue can ruin a whole batch of paper if it is left to sit in the recycling facility and begins to decompose.
Plastic bottle caps: Toss them. “They’re made from a plastic that melts at a different rate than the bottles, and they degrade the quality of the plastic if they get mixed in,” says Kite.
Plastic wrap (used): Most communities don’t accept this for recycling because the cost of decontaminating it isn’t worth the effort.
Post-its: The sticky stuff gets filtered out, so these office standbys can usually be recycled with paper.
Prescription drugs: The Starfish Project (thestarfish-project.org) collects some unused medications (TB medicines, antifungals, antivirals) and gives them to clinics in Nigeria. The organization will send you a prepaid FedEx label, too.
Printer-ink cartridges: Seventy percent are thrown into landfills, where it will take 450 years for them to decompose. “Cartridges are like gas tanks,” says Jim Cannan, cartridge-collection manager at Recycleplace.com. “They don’t break. They just run out of ink. Making new ones is like changing motors every time you run out of gas.” Take them to Staples and get $3 off your next cartridge purchase, or mail HP-brand cartridges back to HP.
Quiche pans and other cookware: These can be put with scrap metal, and “a plastic handle isn’t a problem,” says Tom Outerbridge, manager of municipal recycling at Sims Metal Management, in New York City.
Recreational equipment: Don’t send tennis rackets to your local recycling center. “People may think we’re going to give them to Goodwill,” says Sadonna Cody, director of government affairs for the Northbay Corporation and Redwood Empire Disposal, in Santa Rosa, California, “but they’ll just be trashed.” Trade sports gear in at Play It Again Sports (playitagainsports.com), or donate it to sportsgift.org, which gives gently used equipment to needy kids around the world. Mail to Sports Gift, 32545 B Golden Lantern #478, Dana Point CA 92629. As for skis, send them to skichair.com, 4 Abbott Place, Millbury MA 01527; they’ll be turned into Adirondack-style beach chairs.
Rugs (cotton or wool): If your town’s recycling center accepts rugs, great. If not, you’re out of luck, because you can’t ship rugs directly to a fabric recycler; they need to be sent in bulk. Your best bet is to donate them to the thrift store of a charity, like the Salvation Army.
Shopping bags (paper): Even those with metal grommets and ribbon handles can usually be recycled with other paper.
Shopping bags (plastic): If your town doesn’t recycle plastic, you may be able to drop them off at your local grocery store. Safeway, for example, accepts grocery and dry-cleaning bags and turns them into plastic lumber. (To find other stores, go to plasticbagrecycling.org.) What’s more, a range of retailers, like City Hardware, have begun to use biodegradable bags made of corn. (BioBags break down in compost heaps in 10 to 45 days.)
Shower curtains and liners: Most facilities do not recycle these because they’re made of PVC. (If PVC gets in with other plastics, it can compromise the chemical makeup of the recycled material.)
Six-pack rings: See if your local school participates in the Ring Leader Recycling Program (ringleader.com); kids collect six-pack rings to be recycled into other plastic items, including plastic lumber and plastic shipping pallets.
Smoke detectors: Some towns accept those that have beeped their last beep. If yours doesn’t, try the manufacturer. First Alert takes back detectors (you pay for shipping); call 800-323-9005 for information.
Soap dispensers (pump): Most plastic ones are recyclable; toss them in with the other plastics.
Stereos and VCRs: Visit earth911.org for a list of recyclers, retail stores, and manufacturers near you that accept electronics. Small companies are popping up to handle electronic waste (or e-waste) as well: Greencitizen.com in San Francisco will pull apart your electronics and recycle them at a cost ranging from nothing to 50 cents a pound. And the 10 nationwide locations of freegeek.org offer a similar service.
Takeout-food containers: Most are not recyclable. Paper ones (like Chinese-food containers) aren’t accepted because remnants can contaminate the paper bale at the mill. Plastic versions (like those at the salad bar) are a no-go too.
Tinfoil: It’s aluminum, not tin. So rinse it off, wad it up, and toss it in with the beer and soda cans.
Tires: You can often leave old tires with the dealer when you buy new ones (just check that they’ll be recycled). Worn-out tires can be reused as highway paving, doormats, hoses, shoe soles, and more.
Tissue boxes with plastic dispensers: The plastic portion will be filtered out during the recycling process, so you can usually recycle tissue boxes with cardboard.
Toothbrushes: They’re not recyclable, but if you buy certain brands, you can save on waste. Eco-Dent’s Terradent models and Radius Source’s toothbrushes have replaceable heads; once the bristles have worn out, snap on a new one.
Toothpaste tubes: Even with all that sticky paste inside, you can recycle aluminum tubes (put them with the aluminum cans), but not plastic ones.
TVs: Best Buy will remove and recycle a set when it delivers a new one. Or bring old ones to Office Depot to be recycled. Got a Sony TV? Take it to a drop-off center listed at sony.com/recycle.
Umbrellas: If it’s a broken metal one, drop the metal skeleton in with scrap metal (remove the fabric and the handle first). Plastic ones aren’t accepted.
Used clothing: Some towns recycle clothing into seat stuffing, upholstery, or insulation. Also consider donating clothing to animal boarders and shelters, where it can be turned into pet bedding.
Utensils (plastic): “There is no program in the country recycling plastic flatware as far as I know,” says Matsch. “The package might even say ‘recyclable,’ but that doesn’t mean much.”
Videotapes, cassettes, and floppy disks: These aren’t accepted. “Videotapes are a nightmare,” says Outerbridge. “They get tangled and caught on everything.” Instead, send tapes to the ACT (actrecycling.org) facility in Columbia, Missouri, which employs disabled people to clean, erase, and resell videotapes. You can also send videotapes, cassettes, and floppy disks to greendisk.com; recycling 20 pounds or less costs $6.95, plus shipping.
Wheelchairs: Go to lifenets.org/wheelchair, which acts as a matchmaker, uniting wheelchairs with those who need them.
Wine corks: To turn them into flooring and wall tiles, send them to Wine Cork Recycling, Yemm & Hart Ltd., 610 South Chamber Drive, Fredericktown MO 63645. Or put them in a compost bin. “They’re natural,” says Matsch, “so they’re biodegradable.” Plastic corks can’t be composted or recycled.
Wipes and sponges: These can’t be recycled. But sea sponges and natural sponges made from vegetable cellulose are biodegradable and can be tossed into a compost heap.
Writing implements: You can’t recycle pens, pencils, and markers, but you can donate usable ones to schools that are short on these supplies. At iloveschools.com, teachers from around the United States specify their wish lists. And there’s always the option of buying refillable pencils and biodegradable pens made of corn (like those at grassrootsstore.com) so that less waste winds up in the landfill.
Xmas lights: Ship your old lights to holidayleds.com, Attention: Recycling Program, 120 W. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1403, Jackson MI 49201. The company will send you a coupon for 10 percent off its LED lights, which use 80 percent less energy and last 10 years or more. And they’re safer, too. LEDs don’t generate much heat, whereas incandescents give off heat, which can cause a dry Christmas tree to catch fire.
Yogurt cups: Many towns don’t recycle these because they’re made of a plastic that can’t be processed with other plastics. But Stonyfield Farm has launched a program that turns its cups into toothbrushes, razors, and other products. Mail to Stonyfield Farm, 10 Burton Drive, Londonderry NH 03053. Or you can join TerraCycle’s Yogurt Brigade (terracycle.net) to recycle Stonyfield containers and raise money for your favorite charity. For every cup collected, Stonyfield will donate 2 cents or 5 cents, depending on the cup size.
Zippered plastic bags: Venues that recycle plastic bags will also accept these items, as long as they are clean, dry, and the zip part has been snipped off (it’s a different type of plastic).