Feeling that itch to declutter the house? Whether you’ve made a resolution to master your mess of a home this year or whether it’s time for that annual purge, the question will eventually come up: What on earth do you do with all that clutter? Well, for starters, you can recycle it!
The average household has the potential to keep 800 pounds or more of recyclables out of the landfill every year, according to Elizabeth Schussler of the nonprofit Recycling Partnership. Unfortunately, Schussler says, “Nearly all curbside recycling programs are set up to only accept paper, boxes, bottles, cans, and cartons.”
What about all those other items piling up in your closets and basement? To help you do your part for the planet Earth, we’ve asked the experts to share the surprising home items that can be recycled rather than hauled out to the curb.
1. Pet fur
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? The same stuff that makes pet owners feel that they’re spending their days sweeping and vacuuming is recyclable—just send it to Matter of Trust, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, which will use the fur to make booms that are placed in the ocean during oil spills to protect beaches from the oil. They even accept human hair. (Although if you have large amounts of that lying around your home, chances are you face bigger problems than recycling.)
This might be more expected: Once they’re done powering the TV remote or the smoke detector, billions of batteries end up in landfills, according to statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s not just bad for the environment. It’s sometimes illegal. Federal law bans the disposal of nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) and lead (Pb) batteries in your regular trash. So Schussler suggests turning to the folks at Call2Recycle. It runs the nation’s largest battery recycling program, and has drop-off locations around the country, including most Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.
Whether it’s a dead string of holiday lights or a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb that’s no longer powering your bedside lamp, you can skip past the garbage can and head to Home Depot for free recycling. You can also take your CFL bulbs to most Lowe’s stores for recycling—convenient if you’ve already got some batteries to drop off.
4. Plant pots and trays
If you stock up on annuals every year (or even just once in a while), you’ve probably got a few plastic pots or trays hiding in your shed or garage. They may be recyclable in your curbside delivery—depending on your hauler’s rules. But this is another item you can take to Lowe’s and Home Depot, which both accept plastic planting supplies in store garden centers for recycling.
If your old Nike sneakers have seen better days, box them up and send them to Nike (or better yet, find a store near you to make an in-person delivery). The company will take worn sneakers and melt them down to create new products. While this athletic company won’t accept other brands, North Face will take any footwear of any brand—plus any used clothing, regardless of condition—and give you a $10-off coupon toward a $100 purchase.
Well-loved jeans can be recycled at home—turned into rags for cleaning or sliced down to a pair of cut-offs—but if you just want those jeans gone, you’ve got options. Jean manufacturer Madewell accepts any brand of denim, which can be recycled and made into housing insulation. Plus, it will give you a $20-off voucher for making the trip.
Heading out to buy a brand-new TV or laptop? “Of all the waste, electronic waste is the big one,” says Patrick Fenlon, owner of Bin There Dump That in Thunder Bay, ON, in Canada. “Electronics aren’t really meant for landfills.” The solution? Ask the store what their policy is on taking back old electronics right when you buy the new one. Many retailers will take the old item back for free. Others, like Apple, even offer credits for some take-back items that are good for a purchase in their store.
They’re tiny, but there are a ton of them: Scientists at Arizona State University revealed in 2018 that billions of contact lenses are being flushed down the drain every year … and ending up in our oceans. The solution? Recycle your contacts! The Bausch & Lomb company will take not only the contacts themselves but the blister packs you get them in. They’ll even cover the shipping.
Tearing up old carpet creates a giant mess, but the folks at the Carpet America Recovery Effort will turn that mess into fibers or plastic pellets that can be used to create brand-new carpet. Find a carpet reclamation facility near you.
Clear out your craft center and help put a smile on the faces of kids who could really use a pick-me-up. California nonprofit The Crayon Initiative takes donated crayons, melts them down to create new ones, then donates the brand-new art supplies to children’s hospitals across the nation.
11. CDs and DVDs
Downloadable music and streaming movies have left us with plenty of useless discs lying around the house. Don’t toss them! The CD Recycling Center of America will break down old compact discs, DVDs, and even Blu-Rays, to create a plastic used by the automotive and building materials industries.
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