Greening Spring Cleaning, Part II

Part II: Recycle it!

Last week, we started cleaning out our garages and discovered that many of the items we no longer wanted could find a new home other than at a landfill. Unfortunately, certain things are impossible to place. But don’t run for the garbage bins yet; first, check to see if you can recycle.

More and more items are becoming accepted at general recycling facilities, and new avenues are opening up for previously ‘non-recyclable’ stuff. you’d be amazed what you don’t need to put out in the trash!

The Easy Stuff: Paper, Cardboard, and Metal

Paper – Most paper can now be recycled together: newspaper, magazines, direct mail, flyers. But don’t stop at reading material! Brown paper bags are recyclable with mixed paper, and cardboard is also recyclable (although in many cases separately, depending on the local recycling centre’s policy).

Cans – Both your aluminum (soft drink) cans and your steel (soup, beans, canned vegetables, etc.) cans are easily recycled and widely accepted at most centres. They are separate materials, though, and should be recycled separately unless your facility says otherwise. don’t forget that aerosol cans, like shave gel containers, are also steel cans. But check with your facility first, as some won’t accept them.

Aluminum foil – Inquire about whether you can include your used aluminum foil with the soda cans; different facilities have different policies.

Scrap metal – Scrap metal of all types may be welcomed by scrap metal dealers and recyclers, and they’ll usually pay. See your local yellow pages for listings.

The Confusing Stuff: Plastics

Are plastics recyclable, or not? Generally, yes. Almost all are recyclable, but in differing degrees: some types are easily recycled, but for others the process is so complicated that very few facilities will accept them.

How to tell which is which? If you check the bottom of most plastic containers, you’ll see a number, usually enclosed in a triangle. That number is the code for the process required to recycle that type of plastic, and is key to determining whether you can recycle the item locally.

#1 and #2 plastics – These plastics, which include water bottles (#1) and milk or juice jugs (#2) are the most widely accepted.

#3 plastics – Most of these may be more difficult to recycle, but plastic grocery bags, also a #3 plastic, are often collected at your local supermarket.

#4 plastics – Some supermarkets also accept #4 plastic bags, like trash bags.

#5 plastics – These plastics, which include yogurt containers, are very hard to place, but things are slowly changing. Massachusetts-based company Preserve Products accepts #5 plastics and recycles them into toothbrushes and other household items. Currently, there are limited drop-off spots, but they will also accept the items by mail. See the Preserve Products website for more information.

#6 plastics – These plastics, usually Styrofoam-based, are accepted by many facilities. First, call your local shipping stores; many will reuse your old packing peanuts. (Or, you can hang onto them and reuse them yourself the next time you need to ship a package!) Otherwise, see EPS Packaging to find a drop-off location near you, or for information on their mail-in program.

#7 plastics – This category contains miscellaneous plastics that don’t fit in the preceding categories. Usually, It’s difficult to find collection spots for #7’s, although some, like DVDs, are recyclable (see Computer and Electronics, below).

Want more information? Website The Daily Green describes the seven categories of plastics and explains what they can be recycled into.

The Modern Stuff: Batteries and “Technotrash”

Batteries – Good news: your rechargeable batteries are now recyclable! Many retailers, like Radio Shack, Best Buy, and Canadian Tire have drop-off containers. Visit Environment Health and Safety Online to run a search based on your zip or postal code. If you’re trying to dispose of a car battery, call your local auto repair shop, as many accept them.

Computer and Electronic Equipment – Have old computer equipment that’s no longer working? It may be recyclable. First, check with the manufacturer, as many already have recycling programs in place. For example, Epson Canada’s program allows you to ship certain items to them free of charge, and they’ll handle separating the parts and sending them on to recycling facilities. Visit the Epson Recycle Program for details. Dell has a similar program.

If you’re buying a replacement computer or printer, check to see if the store has recycling incentives. For example, is currently offering a rebate of $50 off certain new printers when you bring in your old one to be recycled. See the Staples website for more information.

What about all the small computer accessories, such as cables, old diskettes, or hard drives? For a small fee, GreenDisk accepts these, and other items, including CDs or DVDs, videotapes, computer chips or boards, PDAs, digital cameras, and more. Visit GreenDisk to find out how to recycle your “technotrash.” Bonus: they’ll wipe any content and send a certificate guaranteeing that your personal information has been removed.

Cell phones – At the rate North Americans go through cell phones, they deserve their own category! If you live near a Pizza Pizza store, you may be in luck: a current promotion, “Cells for Slices,” offers a free slice of pizza for every cell phone you bring in. See the Pizza Pizza website for more information.

Alternatively, look for charitable organizations seeking cell phone donations, or look online. For example, non-profit organization Cell Phones for Soldiers (in Canada, resells your donations and uses the proceeds to purchase calling cards for military personnel stationed overseas.

Have a cause of your own? Visit Project KOPEG for information on starting your own fundraiser.

The Weird Stuff: Things I Had No Idea Were Recyclable!

Motor oil – Do you change your own motor oil? You might be surprised to know that dirty oil is actually recyclable. Check Earth 911 for instructions on how to collect the oil, and call around to find a collection centre; most car care centres or auto shops will take care of it.

Light bulbs – Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) contain mercury and shouldn’t be sent to the landfill, so recycling is a doubly wise choice. IKEA stores collect and recycle CFLs for free, as do many Home Depot stores. Or, check Lamp Recycle (US and Canada) or Recycle a Bulb (US only) to find alternative facilities near you.

Sneakers – Can you believe it? Sneakers can now be recycled! Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program (with the catchy slogan “Worn Out. Play on.”) will collect your old sneakers at specified drop-off locations (or you can mail them in) and recycle them into play surfaces. See Reuse a Shoe for more information.

An alternative: donate them to One World Running, an initiative that provides used sneakers to Third World athletes. If the shoes aren’t in acceptable condition, they’ll send them on to Nike to be recycled. See One World Running for details.

Clothing – There’s hope for those outdated, unwanted clothes: many fabrics are recyclable. Although facilities accepting them are less common, many do exist. Ask your local Goodwill to put you in touch with a rag dealer (read: textile recycler), do a search within your local community listings, or check the US Textile Recycling Directory or Canadian Textile Recycling Directory. don’t forget to check with manufacturers as well: some, like Patagonia, have collection and recycling programs in place. See Patagonia for a list of items they’re accepting and drop-off locations.

Tyvek envelopes – Unlike most mail, Tyvek envelopes, those plastic-coated mailers, can’t be tossed into the mixed paper bin, but don’t throw them in the trash yet. Visit Recycle Tyvek to find out more about a program allowing you to recycle Tyvek material for a small fee.

Phew! That’s some serious recycling! And It’s only a small sampling of the different programs available.

When in doubt, start clicking; the Internet is a great resource. To check what your local facilities will accept, visit Earth 911 for US information or Waste Reduction Week Canada for links to Canadian province-specific recycling resources. You’ll be amazed at what can be recycled!

As I researched this article series, I quickly realized that the majority of junk cluttering my garage didn’t need to go to the landfill. Through a combination of reusing and recycling, I’ve been able to sell, give away, or recycle most if not all of what could have ended up in the trash. Even better, armed with this new knowledge, I’m now more careful about my day-to-day decisions. Earth Week’s nearly over, but environmental consciousness is a lifelong legacy.

Now back to that garage!