Wow, You Can Recycle That?


A few weeks ago, Earth911 investigated some of the lesser known recyclables. Sure, they don’t receive as much media attention as some of their co-stars like the plastic bottle or the aluminum can, but your massive response to “I Didn’t Know That Was Recyclable!” proved that there is an outcry to dispose of those odd items.

From paint and batteries to wine corks and hair (really!), a little patience (and a search on can make recycling these items a little easier. The list of qualified recycling candidates was long, so we figured we would feature a few more.

Blue Jeans

You know the regular routine. When you no longer need, like or fit into your jeans, you can always donate them to a charitable resale organization like Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

Photo: Flickr/suttonhoo

Blue jeans as insulation? Even top celebs are jumping on the bandwagon (way to go Adrian Grenier!). Photo: Flickr/suttonhoo

You’ve heard it a million times, so let’s not make it a million-and-one. We’re actually talking about physically recycling your jeans. After all, some clothes are just too far worn or damaged to head to a resale shop and deserve a proper [recycling] burial.

Enter pioneering companies like Green Jeans Insulation and Bonded Logic, which manufacture insulation products from recycled denim and cotton fibers. Based in Madison, Wisc., Green Jeans Insulation accepts donated jeans from the public, which are recycled into natural fiber insulation used for interior and exterior walls and ceiling applications.

The “Cotton. From Blue to Green” campaign works with schools and retailers to collect denim for processing into UltraTouch Natural Fiber Insulation, manufactured by Bonded Logic, and is donated to help rebuild communities in need. To date, they have received more than 180,000 pieces of denim, used to insulate homes with Habitat for Humanity.

Automotive Fluids

Are you a DIYer when it comes to car care? Many of the fluids that power your car are actually recyclable once you change them out, most notably used motor oil and antifreeze.

Used motor oil can be re-refined into brand new product that can go back into your car, recycled into clean lubricant or burned as fuel. As long as the used oil hasn’t been contaminated with other fluids, most oil change service companies or auto parts stores accept used motor oil for recycling from the public.

Used antifreeze can also be recycled by filtering out contaminants such as lead, then restoring the original properties through stabilizing additives. The recycled product is not only excellent quality, but it can also be less expensive to purchase and has a smaller carbon footprint. Antifreeze should never be left out or dumped as its sweet taste can poison animals and children.

Gift Cards, Hotel Key Cards and Wallet Waste Galore

A five minute clean-out of your wallet, purse or junk drawer is likely to yield a lot of plastic, from used gift cards to old library cards. Insignificant as they may seem, those cards are typically made of a plastic resin called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is infinitely recyclable yet most often landfilled, contributing to more than 75 million pounds of PVC entering the waste stream each year.

In the past, the magnetic strips in the cards made recycling a challenge, but more companies are beginning to accept the PVC cards to convert into new ones. Cleveland-based Earthworks System accepts PVC cards for recycling from consumers and retailers via collection and mail-in programs. The PVC cards are chopped up and melted into PVC sheets which are then sold to create new cards.

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil recycling has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years as its value to the biofuel industry has increased. While it may seem natural to pour your leftover cooking oil and grease down the drain, it can actually be harmful to wildlife and the environment and damage your pipes and local sewage systems. In fact, cooking oil and kitchen grease in our plumbing is the No. 1 cause of stopped-up sewer pipes.

Commercial facilities already contribute substantial amounts of used oil to alternative fuel programs, but there are household cooking oil recycling programs as well. Make a designated waste oil container, label it and add to it each time there is leftover oil from your cooking. Then search for a recycling location on Earth911 or contact local restaurants to see if they accept the cooking oil for recycling.

Six-Pack Beverage Rings

Those plastic six-pack beverage rings have definitely received their share of criticism over the years. Like any packaging material, however, they are not meant to end up in waterways or public spaces at end of life.

Photo: Flickr/ Louis Abate

While they often get a bad rap, plastic six-pack rings are meant to be properly recycled in order to avoid contaminating the waterways and choking wildlife. Photo: Flickr/ Louis Abate

The rings are made of plastic #4 (LDPE) and can be recycled in programs that accept low-density polyethylene resin. If your curbside recycling program is limited to plastics #1 and #2, or limits the types of LDPE accepted, consider getting a group collection together and participating in the Hi-Cone Ring Leader Recycling Program.

Hi-Cone’s Ringleader program will accept the six-pack rings in large quantities for recycling through various school programs, as well as through the mail. The company has worked with more than 12,000 schools and groups to collected and recycle the used rings.

A little known fact: Six-pack plastic beverage rings are actually photodegradable. Federal law has required the rings to be 100 percent photodegradable since 1989, meaning that, over time, the sunlight will break down the plastic into tiny pieces.

Makeup Containers

If you’re anything like said author, you have makeup in drawers and cabinets that you haven’t touched since the crimping iron was a regular part of your morning routine. OK, bit of an exaggeration there, but the truth is that many of us keep makeup around long after its expiration date has come and gone. (Check out our “360: Cosmetics” to find the average shelf life is for your makeup products.)

Cosmetic and toiletry bottles, tubes and containers are commonly made of plastic #5, which is not a common material collected for recycling.

Origins was the pioneer nationwide cosmetic company to offer consumer cosmetic packaging recycling, regardless of brand. Empty cosmetic tubes, bottles, lipstick covers, jars and caps can be brought to an Origins retail store or department store counter nationwide for recycling or energy recovery. As an added bonus, customers will receive a free sample of an Origins skincare product for bringing in their empty containers.

MAC cosmetics accepts its packaging back for recycling either in-store or online, and you receive a free MAC lipstick with the return of six containers.

Snack Wrappers, Drink Pouches and Chip Bags Galore

Any idea what material candy wrappers, drink pouches and chip bags are made of? If you answered “no,” you’re not alone as this is a common question we get asked a lot. This confusion is usually what makes these wrappers and bags so difficult to recycle. These items tend to be made of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful plastics and other materials difficult and expensive. In other words, most recyclers don’t want to touch the stuff!

But upcycling company TerraCycle has made a name of creatively reusing these snack wrappers, drink pouches, candy wrappers and chip bags. The company turns them into school supplies, bags, toys, pet products, household cleaner bottles and even materials for your garden.

Consumers can make some extra cash by sending in their “trash” to Terracycle. Drop it off at one of the thousands of participating locations or join a brigade to raise money for a school or nonprofit organization.

Sports Items

Similar to clothing, we all know the drill. There is always an organization or school out there that is eager to accept your unwanted sports items. But what about those old tennis balls that have simply lost their bounce? Or those running shoes you know wouldn’t make it past the sorting area of your local thrift store?

Photo: Flickr/TCL8TO7

Let Fido have those tennis balls with the teeth holes or slobber on them as they are usually not accepted for recycling if not in better condition. Photo: Flickr/TCL8TO7

Tennis Balls: Rebounces accepts old tennis balls for recycling and refurbishing. The company will even e-mail you a prepaid shipping label to cover your expenses. Those brightly colored tennis balls should still be of reasonable quality, and you should wait until you’ve saved up a large amount.

Golf Balls: According to Arizona-based Dixon Golf, more than 300 million golf balls are discarded in the U.S. each year. That’s enough golf balls to make a solid line from Los Angeles to London! You can bring in golf balls to a Dixon Golf retail location or mail them in for recycling. Added bonus: Recycling Dixon brand golf balls will earn you a $1 towards a new ball (or 50 cents for other brands).

Ski Equipment: When your skis or snowboards just aren’t cutting (or carving) it anymore, consider recycling them instead of tossing them. Vermont-based Green Mountain Ski Furniture will recycle those old skis and snowboards and turn them into furniture and art. If you happen to live in Vermont, they’ll even pick up your old equipment for you!

Colorado Ski & Golf aims to keep obsolete ski equipment out of the landfills by accepting skis, snowboards, bindings, boots and poles for recycling or refurbishing. Also, newer organizations like Montana-based Ski Recycling and Promotion (SKRAP) are growing in popularity as sustainability and landfill diversion awareness grows in the industry.

Appliances…Recycle Them While They’re Hot

In case you haven’t heard, Cash for Appliances is the next government-funded program offering cash incentives for green improvements. If you trade-up your dishwasher, refrigerator or clothes washer, know that the old one is recyclable. In many cases, power companies offer free pick-up of your old appliances and provide you a cash rebate in return.

Appliances are largely comprised of steel, which is the most commonly recycled material in North America, according to the Steel Recycling Institute. In the recycling process, the appliances are shredded and the metal is removed for reprocessing. In some cases, the plastic components are turned into new material, but they can also be used as landfill cover.

The key challenge with appliances is the presence of Freon, which is DuPont’s trade name for the gas that cools appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators. For appliances that contain Freon, there can be a fee to properly remove it.


Keys, keys and more keys. We have keys for our front door, our cars, filing cabinets and more. And most of us are guilty of throwing them in a junk drawer or tossing them in a box in the garage when we move or change locks. Keys For Kindness is a small, family-run program designed to raise money through metal key recycling for the Multiple Sclerosis society. Though the shipping expenditure is on your own dime, we’re sure the good karma will be worthwhile.

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