Solutions for Hard-to-Recycle Items

You’re committed to curbside recycling. Now how do you tackle the tough stuff? Check out these solutions for seven hard-to-recycle items. 

1. Appliances - Most appliances can be tricky to dispose of. Refrigerators and freezers in particular are required by law to be properly recycled due to their hazardous components. 

Best Steps: If you’re replacing an old refrigerator, first check with your local utility. Just by getting rid of an inefficient but functioning model, you may qualify for a rebate and free removal. If your refrigerator doesn’t work, contact your local waste management facility to have it picked up, usually for a fee. Another option: When you buy a new refrigerator or other appliance, some retailers will haul away your old one and send it to a recycling facility. 

2. Tires – Piles of tires can pose problems from excessive landfill consumption to mosquito breeding grounds. 

Best Steps: Ask about recycling when you replace your old tires. Regulations in all but two states (Delaware and Alaska) keep scrap tires out of the landfill, so it’s common for retailers to contract with recyclers. They’ll turn tires into rubber crumbs that become new products such as outdoor surfacing. If you have a tire at home, contact your local waste management service. Be prepared to take it to a disposal facility and pay a fee. 

3. Electronics - Unwanted TVs, computers, and other common electronics (known as E-waste) are perhaps today’s biggest concern because of the increasing volume and limitations. Metal and glass pieces can be removed, but what’s left piles up in landfills and leeches toxins into the ground. 

Best Steps: Now required in some states, some manufacturers and retailers have mail-in or drop-off programs for their own products. The best course for a newer computer is to donate it for refurbishing. 

4. Mattresses - With only a few mattress recycling facilities in the U.S., this is one of the more problematic categories. Springs are recyclable, but there’s not a big market for the other components. The store where you purchase your new mattress may offer to take your old one, but it could still go to the landfill. 

Best Steps: You may be able to donate your old mattress to a shelter, but probably not a charity that handles resale, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. Consider giving it one last shot at being used through reecycle.org — an online exchange that offers a variety of items, all for free. 

5. Carpet - The mix of materials in carpet makes it difficult and costly to separate in the recycling process, but the desire to address the problem is evident. More than 243 million pounds of carpet were recycled last year, according to the Carpet America Recovery Effort or CARE. 

Best Steps: Currently, carpet recycling is handled commercially, so ask your local retailer if your old carpet will be recycled when your new flooring is installed. 

6. Toilets – Water-guzzling toilets threaten the environment even after they’ve been replaced with new efficient models when they’re sent to the landfill. 

Best Steps: Though available only in limited areas, independent recyclers salvage old toilets for their replacement parts (such as lids) and crush the leftovers. Porcelain chips can be used for road paving; they’ve also found their way into composite countertops. Eventually, toilet recycling is sure to become widespread; for now, check with your local waste management division for disposal procedures. 

7. Shoes- One old pair of athletic shoes may be the least of your recycling worries. But if you could help keep millions of pairs out of the landfill, wouldn’t it be worth the effort? 

Best Steps: Donate wearable shoes of any kind to a local charity or to an organization such as soles4souls.org. Take worn-out athletic shoes (any brand) to a Nike store or one of its other collection sites. Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program is responsible for recycling the rubber, foam, and fabric from more than 23 million pairs of shoes into various types of surfacing, such as playground material. 

Label lessons for new purchases
When you buy carpet made from plastic bottles or doormats made from tires, you’re helping “close the loop” on waste. Look for labels that indicate a product contains recycled content. Post-consumer content (materials that otherwise would have been thrown away) is thought to be greener than preconsumer content, which refers to waste collected during manufacturing. Products labeled recyclable have the most meaning when they’re necessary purchases or have a short life span. For example, it’s more important to be able to recycle a glass food jar than a vase. 

(c) 2009, Better Homes and Gardens.

 

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