How To Recycle Almost Anything

Sure you can sell some unwanted stuff online, or even give it away, but here are a few ideas for getting rid of junk nobody wants without adding it to a landfill.

November 9, 2017
recycling bins
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If your house is anything like mine, it gains a little weight over the holidays: a few new items of clothing, some electronics, more books and magazines, and extra holiday trimmings. So much new stuff comes into my house around the holidays that by the New Year, I'm ready to put my home on a diet and give myself some breathing room, which can really lower stress and anxiety levels.

Yet, often, our motivation to clear the decks gets blocked by a significant obstacle: What am I going to do with this stuff? We all have items that are too functional to just throw out, and decluttering your home shouldn't mean sending perfectly good household items to a landfill. That dilemma makes it all too easy to put off the purge. Follow this recycling advice so you can move forward and send your unwanted stuff somewhere to be reused, not trashed.

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holiday lights
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Holiday Lights

After holidays you should, of course recycle your tree. But what about the lights, which may still be dangling on your porch or, perhaps, sitting in a box at the bottom of the attic steps? Functional light strings, ornaments, garlands, and other seasonal items you no longer want seem to move fast on sites like Craigslist and FreeCycle, so start there. When light strings start to fray and wires become exposed, it's time to think about replacing them with energy-efficient LED lights. Send your old strings to Holiday Led for free recycling and a 15 percent off coupon, which you can use to take advantage of post-holiday prices on festive lighting.

Related: The Truth About Recycling In America

old red converse sneakers
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Clothes, Shoes, And Old Fraying Towels

New or nearly new stuff can be sold via a consignment store or donated to a specialized charity (a number of them provide business clothes to people looking for work, or prom dresses to girls who would otherwise not get to go, for example). But clothing that is unwearable is a bit more of a challenge. Many thrift stores sell clothing they can't put on the racks to textile recyclers, and use the money to support their charitable efforts. Call ahead before sending them your old T-shirts or fabric scraps, though; if they don't sell to recyclers, the store may have to pay to send unusable items to the landfill. Any old clothes should be washed before you send them over; one pair of dirty underwear or a damp, mildewy towel can ruin an entire bin of otherwise recyclable clothes. (Check out these 4 surprising ways to recycle your underwear.) Cut up and reuse old, soft cotton T-shirts as cleaning rags, or call a local mechanic to see if he might take some off your hands. Local animal shelters are often grateful for donations of bed linens softened by age or old towels that can be reused as bedding in cages. 

Repair shoes that still have some life in them—do a search, you may be surprised to find that there's a repair place near you. Or donate them to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that sends shoes to impoverished areas where they'll be put to good use; currently, they're collecting donations, particularly heavy-duty work boots, for the earthquake victims in Haiti. Nike recycles worn-out athletic shoes, grinding them up to make playgrounds, running tracks, basketball flooring, and tennis courts. Many running stores are official collection centers.

Got loads of old towels? Consider turning them into DIY dog toys like this:

old aluminum pan
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Small Appliances And Metal Items

If something still works, by all means, give it away! Otherwise, just about any appliance, household tool, or yard-care item that is made mostly of metal can be sold to a scrap-metal dealer; to find one, look under "scrap metal" in the yellow pages. (You will need to get a certified appliance dealer to remove the coolant from refrigerators, freezers, and air-conditioning units, who will then provide you with a certificate to that effect, before you can sell them to a recycler.) Stockpile that old folding beach chair, the aluminum saucepan with the terminally loose handle that you've had since college, your metal toaster, and all those old cables for equipment you no longer have (they're all full of valuable copper). Then plan a trip to the scrap-metal dealer once you have a trunk-load.

You may also be able to put some parts of your discardable items to work. Old cooking pots can become planters, an old kitchen spoon that rusts too easily might make a dandy gardening tool, and warped cookie sheets make a good rest for muddy winter boots. (Speaking of boots, here's how to rid them of winter salt stains.) Some washers and dryers have easily removable flat side-panel sections that make great dry-erase boards, and anything with a long, straight handle is a potential plant stake. Take a fresh look at your unwanted appliances, and you may be surprised at what you can come up with.

Related: 8 Kitchen Items You Should Always Buy At The Thrift Store

old computer and keyboard for recycling
Image Source/ Getty

Modern electronic equipment gets outdated and is nonrepairable all too soon, but please don't send it to a landfill where the toxic metals it contains could leach into the water table. Donate it to a nonprofit that can't afford new equipment, or to an agency that can use even nonworking computers for job-training purposes; find computer-recycling information at

Local municipal governments usually organize special electronics-recycling days for residents, when you can dump old TVs, computers, and printers. But if you can't wait to get rid of old computer junk—even floppy disks, cassette tapes, old disk drives, and just about any other remnant of the computer Stone Age—send it to GreenDisk. The company will recycle any type of disk or cassette (audio, video, computer, or game), any type of computer equipment, or any type of rechargeable battery at a charge of about $7 plus postage for up to 20 pounds of stuff. They also make sure the equipment is recycled properly in the U.S. and not in some far-off developing country. You may be able to recycle some of this stuff through your workplace, too. 

Related: Can Plastic Bottle Caps Be Recycled? The Answer May Surprise You.