I have a large, shameful pile of junk in my basement that has been growing out of control for three years. I try not to look at it when I pass it, because when I do, I inevitably feel that flush of guilt: “Why haven’t I recycled this stuff already?” But for many items, from packing peanuts to old scraps of carpet, it’s not as easy as putting them in a curbside bin. Sometimes it seems like an awful lot of effort just to find out whether something can be recycled at all, let alone how or where.
But don’t give in and toss those questionable items in the trash! You might be surprised at some of the things that can actually be recycled. Turn wine corks into flooring, trade in energy-sucking holiday lights for LED strands, and transform your old sneakers into a tennis court—sometimes it’s as easy as simply dropping them in the mail.
1. Wine Corks
If you can’t bear to throw away wine corks and tuck them away in a drawer for some craft project that will never materialize, here’s a tip: send them to Yemm & Hart Green Materials. They’ve started an experimental wine cork-recycling program that processes the old bottle stoppers into lovely, environmentally friendly cork floor and wall tiles. Eventually, they hope to actually pay people for their corks, but for now, do it out of the kindness of your heart. Check out these five other creative reuses for old wine corks.
2. Books, DVDs, and CDs
Most people don’t toss their used books, DVDs and CDs in the trash, but buying new consumes unnecessary resources (and a lot of cash), so why not trade your old ones for something that’s new to you? Swaptree.com is a cool Web site that allows you to essentially keep a constantly fresh, rotating selection of reading material, movies, and music for zero dollars. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Just sign up, list your unwanted stuff, and choose the items you’d like to receive. Then, you simply complete the swap through the mail. Easy!
They’ve been through a lot, from dog poop at the park to downpours on the trail. It wouldn’t exactly be charitable to donate your grimy, rough-looking trainers, but a landfill isn’t the answer, either. Nike is happy to take your rubber-soled shoes—no matter who made them—and recycle them into new athletic surfaces like basketball courts and running tracks. Find your nearest dropoff location at the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe website.
4. Foam Packing Peanuts
Nobody with eco-minded tendencies likes receiving a package full of polystyrene packing peanuts. They’re made from petroleum, and aside from that, they’re just plain annoying and hard to get rid of. Instead of sending them back out to be somebody else’s problem, give them to people who actually want them: EPS recyclers. Polystyrene packing peanuts and molded foam cushioning can either be dropped off at a local location if you have one or sent in the mail.
Whether it was ripped out of a flooded room or just saw more than its fair share of pet stains and baby vomit, old carpet can be pretty gross. Unfortunately, getting rid of unwanted carpet isn’t always easy, but if you’re lucky, you might just have a carpet reclamation company in your area. Check out the map at CarpetRecovery—you could be able to give that shaggy rug new life as composite lumber, roofing shingles, railroad ties, or automotive parts.
6. Holiday Lights
You want the green cred—and lower utility bills—of LED holiday lights, but just can’t justify buying new ones yet. That’s cool, use what you have, but when those old strands give up the ghost, send them off to HolidayLEDs to be recycled and you’ll get more than just do-gooder satisfaction. They’ll gift you with a 15-percent-off coupon for anything on their site, so you can get the twinkly LED lights of your dreams.
Maybe you’ve grown out of purple polka dots (figuratively) or grown out of your old size (literally) but either way, don’t toss that bra. Most of us take a selection of clean undergarments for granted, but there are plenty of people in need. Bosom Buddy Recycling will take your old bras and give them to deserving women around the country including women’s shelters, transitional housing, and breast cancer-survivor support groups.
8. Prescription Medication
Our water has a drug problem, and as a result, we’re all taking in way more medication than we bargained for. Drinking water in many major metropolitan areas is contaminated with all kinds of pharmaceuticals—from antibiotics to antidepressants—and it’s not just the result of them passing through our bodies. Instead of flushing your prescription meds down the toilet, donate drugs that are still usable. Not every state has a recycling/redistribution program or allows patients to donate directly, but it’s worth a shot. Check with your state.