The EPA estimates that 75% of waste in the US is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it.
That’s because most of us just don’t realize how much we can recycle. For most of my life I have dutifully recycled cardboard boxes and aluminum cans and deemed myself a “recycler”. Patting myself on the back for a job well done. Until recently, I never considered whether there were other things that I could be recycling that I wasn’t.
Along my journey to reduce waste, I’ve learned a lot about what you can and can’t recycle. Here are some of the most unexpected items that I realized that you actually CAN recycle (pretty easily too).
With ever-changing prescriptions, consumers tend to buy new glasses every 2.2 years. This results in an estimated 4 million pairs of eyeglasses going to landfill every year.
Lions Club is an organization that cleans, sorts, and distributes donated glasses to low-income people in need. While not every pair of glasses donated to the organization gets reused (2.3 million of its 6.3 million specs receive a new owner), the group also partners with recycling companies that reuse the plastic and metal in the glasses.
Considering that cigarette butts are the most commonly found form of ocean litter, I’m sure that none of my fellow tree huggers smoke. But for those who pick up litter they find or know someone who does smoke, it’s useful to know that many cigarette products can be recycled.
TerraCycle takes the materials in cigarette butts and other tobacco waste products and turns them into plastic. This plastic is then used to make a variety of industrial products, such as plastic pallets. They also compost any remaining tobacco.
You can ship your cigarette butts to the company or order a cigarette waste receptacle designed to encourage cigarette waste recycling in your community or business location.
Unless you wear dentures yourself, you may not realize just how wasteful they are. On average, people replace their dentures every three years. A company in Japan saw the opportunity to extract the valuable resources in old dentures, rather than letting them go to waste.
The dentures are separated from their metal clasps, and the metal is then recycled. Then they sell the metal to refineries and donate the earnings to UNICEF.
A growing number of landfills refuse to accept mattresses because they are bulky, hard to crush and can jam machinery. Still, an estimated 20 million mattresses are hauled to landfills every year, while less than 1% are recycled.
There are a lot of options for recycling and repurposing mattresses. Like Bye Bye Mattress, which helps you find mattress recycling facilities in your area and works to educate mattress manufacturers about recycling.
It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to produce 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil. Compare that to only one gallon of recycled oil to produce the same 2.5 quarts. Recycling oil has a massive impact on the environment.
If you get your oil changed at a mechanic, check to make sure that they recycle their oil.
If you change your own oil, Advanced Auto Parts provides free oil recycling at most store locations.
When changing and recycling your own oil, it’s important to handle the oil properly. According to the EPA, used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water. Make sure to catch every drop and use a sealed container made of a suitable material. Pro tip: keep the container that the oil came in and use that to store your used oil.
Traditional crayons are made from paraffin wax, which can take hundreds of years to breakdown. Roughly between 45,000 and 75,000 pounds of crayons are discarded into landfills every year.
But if you’ve ever watched one of those life hack videos where someone melts crayons into liquid to create art then you can probably imagine how easy it is to convert broken crayon pieces to brand new crayons.
Crazy Crayons is a company that does just that. They take unused, broken crayons and turns them into brand new crayons!
Running is fairly low-waste hobby and one that I partake in on most nice days. However, running does require frequent shoe replacement. Since most shoe donation programs will only accept lightly used shoes, the best thing to do with your old running shoes is to recycle them.
Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program breaks down old running shoes and uses the materials to create new shoes and other Nike products. You can mail your shoes in, or drop them off at a Reuse-a-Shoe collection, which can be found at most Nike retail stores.
In the US, the rules and regulations around recycling unused prescription drugs varies by state. However, many states have passed laws allowing non-expired prescription drugs to be recycled.
This one will require a little more effort on your end. Since the policies vary depending on where you live, you will have to do a little research to determine if and where you can recycle your prescription drugs. But it’s something I recommend considering, especially since keeping unused prescriptions around the house is not such a great idea.
The thought of sparkling Christmas lights being carted off to a landfill just doesn’t seem right, but very few recycling centers have the capabilities of recycling the materials from Christmas light sets.
A charity called the Christmas Light Recycling Program takes old Christmas lights (including broken ones), recycles them and uses the money to buy books and toys for less advantaged children. All the toys and books are then donated to the Toys for Tots Foundation to be distributed.
No judgement here if you’re hitting the bottle hard, but wine corks can accumulate quickly for those (like myself) who enjoy a little wine from time to time.
If you thought that recreating DIY Pinterest projects was the only option for repurposing wine corks, think again. Wine corks can be sent off for recycling.
ReCORK is a company that accepts used corks at their drop-off facilities and through the mail. They grind the corks down and manufacture new products out of them.
The EPA estimates that 11 million tons of shingles are disposed each year. Most of them are made out of asphalt, which is why more than two dozen states recycle them into pavement. For every ton of shingles recycled, we save one barrel of oil.
Shinglerecycling.org can help you locate a facility near you that accepts roof shingles for recycling.
Switching from bottled water to Brita is solid choice when cutting down your waste. But did you know you can take it a step further and recycle your water filter?
The outer casing of most water filters is made of polypropylene plastic, which is not widely recycled. Preserve Products is a company that recycles this plastic and turns it into toothbrushes. You can mail in your used filters or drop them off at Preserve Gimme 5 bins at participating Whole Foods stores.
Donating bras where you donate your other used clothing feels a little uncomfortable. But there are companies that specifically focus on bra recycling and redistributing.
The Bra Recyclers distributes gently used and new bras to organizations serving homeless or domestic violence victims all over the world. Drop off locations can be found in the US, Canada, and in Puerto Rico. You can also mail in your cleaned bras or hold your own bra collection event.
Maybe your parents saved all your childhood awards and trophies just to eventually hand them onto you when you moved into your own place, or maybe you have kids of your own who have trophies that are taking up space in your home. Regardless, most of us would agree that participation trophies just don’t really make the cut of childhood momentos worth saving.
Along with many thrift stores, there are companies who will accept old trophies for recycling. The best-known of these include Total Awards and Lamb Awards. These programs break unwanted awards down for parts, rebuilding new trophies and plaques with whichever parts are usable and recycling the rest.
Comment below any items that you know are recyclable that you think most people don’t know about!