Wow, You Can Recycle That?

We hear all the time about recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans, but what about some of the lesser mentioned items? In response to reader queries, we’ve assembled a list of some odd items that may have you saying, “Wow, you can recycle that?”.

Blue Jeans

Photo: Flickr/suttonhoo

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

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.

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 Blue Jeans Go Green 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.

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. TerraCycle, a social enterprise on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste, offers a solution for recycling these items with its Plastic Cards Zero Waste Box.

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 local recycling location with Earth911 Recycling Search 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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  1. Enjoyed the article very much. In the recycling Automotive Fluids section, I’ve found an additional way to recycle used motor oil: as a painting medium. I’m an artist living in Brooklyn, NY, and I began painting with used motor oil in 2005.

  2. Hello,

    Some more things to re-cycle, which I have noticed lately:
    -metal parts of used, demolished furniture. For instance leight weight pipeframes (mostly designed for outside use) for building trailers for bicycles. There is a lot parts and materials to use, steel, aluminium, plastic,…
    -above frames can be used again for original purpose by replacing the worn out textile parts with re-cycled wood. Some carpentry work is needed of course, but the result may be really excellent.
    -tires for traffic safety use or grinded for sound wall materials in road construction. After cutting them to thin plates by a bandsaw, you can made “whatever”.
    -used materials from cities, like wood from buildings, steel sheet roofs, wood from parks, nails, screws,… for making a roof to the bicycle road by voluntary forces….

  3. Pingback: I never knew I could recycle that. « Environmental Geography

  4. Great article. So many things I never knew there were ways to recycle them. This is definitely an article I’ll save as a resource and will pass it on.

  5. @Julie 10:01am

    Check the Yellow Pages for rag collectors. They might be called textile recyclers or something along those lines. Your local Salvation Army or Goodwill might be able to refer you also.

  6. Great article! left me wanting even more info. Where o where to recycle old pillows and cushions? Goodwill and other places won’t take them for hygienic reasons, even if in good shape and clean. Thanks for all you do. cheers, Vicki

  7. Someone asked about recycling items more than just blue jeans.
    Many places accept all types of clothing and household textiles, our program is a reuse program rather than recycling- meaning the clothes must be clean and wearable.
    We have church groups that distribute the clothes as well as shipping them to third world countries for those that do not have clothes to wear.

    At one time I knew of a place to send used crayons, I think it was in Colorado- is anyone familiar with this/
    I really enjoyed your article.

  8. I am interested in recycling sneakers in poor condition. I thought I had found an address to mail them to but I lost it. So there has to be at least one place out there!



  10. What about smaller appliances – like coffeemakers, irons, etc.? Anyone know where those can be sent/dropped off for recycling?
    Thanks for the excellent article!

  11. ANN,

    There are some organizations that accept used electronics for a variety of purposes. Try

    All of these put used computer equipment to good use.

    Also, I would like to recommend the book “How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist” by Nicole Bouchard Boles. It contains 330 ways to help the world for free.

  12. Wow this is indeed a wealth of insight I did not know,thanks guys!!!
    I think you guys should also review different plastic resins both the safe and harmful ones

  13. Small appliaces such as coffeemakers, non stick and any metal cookware can be recycled at your local scrap yard/ recycling center.

    I love your site this is great!

  14. Along with old clothing and pillows, you can donate old bedding, sheets, blankets, pillowcases, beadspreads, even some curtains, rugs, etc. to animal shelters, even if there are holes in them or too worn out in places and Goodwill won’t take them. If you know someone that has a hotel or motel, get them to donate their old bedding. About the tennis balls, if you don’t want to collect and send them away, donate them to a shelter. The toys your dogs or cats don’t play with anymore, that food your pet just doesn’t like, don’t throw it out, donate it! Most shelters depend on donations and all of these things are useful to them, even open bags of food and treats. Old leashes, collars and harnesses, old pet food bowls, too. If you buy sweaters for your pet and he/she outgrows it, donate it!!!

  15. SUSAN – Nike recycles old sneakers. Our store in Orlando has a drop off bin – check yours out or see their website.

    ANN – My home-county in FL considers printers, computers, TVs and monitors to be hazardous and encourages folks to drop them off at the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) drop off. They sort and send certain things off for recycling. Also, companies like Best Buy will periodically host HHW drop off at their stores for larger items (they always take cell phones, batteries and the like). BE AWARE however that electronics recycling, while on the rise, is often conducted in third world countries with little to no consideration for worker or environmental health or safety (,2933,312109,00.html ; also read up on the topic at your local library by looking for books on “toxic waste” and “recycling”).

    Everyone else – I just read a great book from my library about crafts that reuse common household “trash!” Some of these crafts include a rug made of linens or t-shirts and a handbag made of chip bags! :) Can’t remember the name though, but it was recent and when I did a search online several similar books showed up on the same topic so the info is out there…


  16. I contacted the Customer Service at Origins and this is what they had to say about their recycle program for makeup containers.
    “Yes, that is our Return to Origins Recycling Program, and you may bring all of your cosmetic empties to any Origins Location. Regrettably though, the free sample was only given for the premier of the program last April for “Earth Month”.”

  17. I forgot to mention, Origins accepts all cosmetic empties at their location…including empty shampoo/conditioner bottles, face wash bottles, body wash containers, ect.

  18. The above post make a good point. I’d like to add to Jo’s post that Origins accepts all brands in their recycling program. Origins accepts everything from empty lipstick tubes to empty shampoo bottles. MAC only accepts MAC cosmetic containers in order to receive the free lipstick.

  19. What about the plastic salad containers, clamshells and such? I frequently buy Earthbound Farms organic salads, their plastic shells are from recycled plastic, yet I have found the recycler in Lakeside California does not take these, nor old LemiShine automatic dishwasher detergent bottles, etc.

  20. I’m fortunate to live near an Amish community that will take clothing that can no longer be used/fixed and make quilts. What about solar salt bags, dog food bags (such as Pedigree) and cat litter bags? All are made of plastic. I have been re-using them before discarding them. Does anyone know of any organization that recycles them?

  21. Pingback: bottles recycling – Latest bottles recycling news – Suddenly Frugal Blog » Blog Archive » Recycling and Reusing …

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  23. Great article, Lori, and great further ideas from readers! This one’s a keeper! Who knew? I knew about the blue jeans-as-insulation, as well as recycling cooking oil for fuel, and recycling used motor oil, but a lot of the other things, I had no idea! (Tennis balls can lose their bounce? Interesting!)

    Julie, before the days of recycling, when we had bed linens, clothes, etc., that were to shabby to be used/worn anymore, we’d just tear ’em up and make dust rags out of ’em.

    My local library collects used electronics batteries, CDs, and aluminum pull tabs for recycling. The pull tabs raise money for disabled veterans.

    With the plastic six-pack rings, if they’re not accepted for recycling in your area, at the very least, cut the rings before discarding so that if a critter does happen to get its head caught in one, it can easily extricate itself. I had no idea, though, that those rings are “photodegradable.” That’s good to know!

    Excellent idea about the pet products, Linda! Shelters are always looking for donations.

    No one mentioned used printer ink cartridges, but your local post office should have postage-paid envelopes, (mine does), you can use to send used cartridges to a recycling center in Tennessee.

    For those who haven’t yet gotten into the habit of using reusable shopping bags, don’t forget to recycle your plastic shopping bags.

    Tamara, for the crafty types among us, the “household trash-into-crafts” idea is a good one. I can remember, (I THINK it was in the ’70s), when a popular craft was to make cute, decorative piggy banks out of empty plastic Clorox bottles. In the ’60s, we made necklaces out of gum wrappers.

    I just wish household hazardous waste day was more than once a year in my area, but after seeing a news report (NOT on Fox News) about where some of that electronic waste goes (to Third World countries), I’m hesitant. Sure, you can ASK where it goes, but sometimes the recyclers are just as clueless as you are in that regard.

  24. Hi,

    This is a good article with lots of options. I like including the mail options for items that are generate in too small a quantity for municipal programs to handle.

    In Madison we have a program for what we call rigid plastics. Old garbage cans, plastic totes and toys. It has proved very popular. Our drop off sites also ahve collection set ups for sthletic shoes, cooking oil, plastic bags, e-waste, waste oil, and oil filters.

    Keep uo the good work.

  25. Pingback: Beyond the Blue Bins: Recycling For Homeowners | HomeIntel

  26. There is a recycling organization, Planet Aid, Inc., that collects clean used clothing and footwear for recycling……..Their website,, has their 2008 Annual Report, which reports, on page 17, the collection of 102 million pounds of used clothing! “Recycling these items instead of producing new clothing saved 74 billion gallons of water, 31 million pounds of fertilizer, and 21 million pounds of pesticides. In addition, 367 million pounds of greenhouse gases were kept out of the atmosphere!”
    And this before we discuss the savings of landfill space, and the other benefits of the program!
    Nothing more to be said to support recycling! Check out…………………..

  27. Wow! I never thought that there’s actually a company which will recycle my old tennis balls. It’s a shame that I can’t give them out though, as I’m not from the US. Otherwise, great article! :)

  28. Pingback: Country Meadow » Blog Archive » Eco News: You Can Recycle That!

  29. Great list of resources for recycling. I know that vinyl binders are big issue with regards to landfills because they can’t be recycled. It’s great to see products like ReBinder on the market that have addressed the issue of being able to recycle your old binders. No vinyl in ReBinders and the cover can be easily removed and recycled. Check them out:

  30. Ever since I took an ecology class in junior high I’ve recycled and reused. It takes effort, but if I don’t recycle my plastic yogurt cup or the plastic tray in a frozen dinner, I feel I’m doing an injustice to Earth. It’s just takes a send to save it to recycle rather than toss it in the trash. I’m always looking for more items to recycle. My idea is for my recycle bag to be larger than my trash bag.

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