Writing with pen on paper

One of my favorite resources in this fascinating world of green innovation is the company TerraCycle. Simply put, founder and Princeton-dropout Tom Szaky recycles the unrecyclable. You can participate by signing up for different recycling collection programs, collecting your waste, and then shipping it back to TerraCycle. Often for free.

But this company goes way beyond paper, plastic, and metal, as evidenced by this list of the five strangest things you can ship for recycling through TerraCycle.

pens and markers
TerraCycle will recycle your worn out pens, markers and highlighters, empty mechanical pencils and, yes, even those random caps. Image: Earth911

1. Writing Instruments

You know that jar of pens on your desk? The one that has maybe three pens that work, 87 dried-out pens, and an odd assortment of caps and paperclips at the bottom? It’s time to empty it out and start collecting those worn out pens, markers and highlighters, empty mechanical pencils and, yes, even those random caps. Yup, TerraCycle will recycle your old pens, pencils, and markers.

2. Wine Corks

You already recycle your wine bottles (right?) so why not start recycling your corks, too? Select the size of TerraCycle Zero Waste Box you want and fill it with natural or synthetic beverage corks (no screw tops, foil, bottles, or aluminum champagne twists, please), and ship it back to TerraCycle using the pre-paid, pre-affixed shipping label.

3. Personal Care Accessories

Sometimes it is genuinely challenging to balance my desire to be eco-conscious with my desire for well-coiffed hair. And although I try my best to source ethical, natural, and sustainably packaged personal care products, I’m not 100 percent there yet. Enter TerraCycle! Through the Personal Care Accessories Zero Waste Box, you can recycle personal care, beauty, and styling products — from brushes and scrunchies to pedicure kits and insoles.

4. Baby Food Pouches

They’re incredibly convenient for busy parents, but, admittedly, pretty wasteful. Those fantastic little baby food pouches contribute a lot of food-packaging waste for such a little person. Through TerraCycle’s Baby Food Pouches Zero Waste Box, however, you can recycle any brand of (empty) plastic baby food pouches (please don’t send other types of pouches like drink pouches).

5. Cigarette Butts and E-Cigarettes

Yes. Seriously. I know. If you’re an environmentally conscious smoker (they do exist!) you can do your part to reduce the impact of your nicotine habit on the environment by recycling your cigarette waste, including all parts of extinguished cigarettes, cigar stubs, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper, and ash. The TerraCycle Cigarette Waste Recycling Program has really taken off and many cities have jumped on board, providing public collection receptacles to cut down on cigarette litter.

And get this: TerraCycle is changing with the times. It now offers a recycling program for electronic cigarettes.

We can now recycle pens and e-cigarettes! What a time to be alive!  Do you need to recycle items that aren’t on this list? Check out the Earth911 Recycling Search.

Feature image courtesy of Lucas

Editor’s note: Originally published on September 15, 2015, this article was updated in October 2018.

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.