Real Simple Recycling A to Z

PIZZA BOXES. If cheese and grease are stuck to the box, rip out the affected areas and recycle the rest as corrugated cardboard. Food residue can ruin a whole batch of paper if it is left to sit in the recycling facility and begins to decompose.

PLASTIC BOTTLE CAPS. Toss them. "They're made from a plastic that melts at a different rate than the bottles, and they degrade the quality of the plastic if they get mixed in," says Sarah Kite, recycling manager of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, in Johnston, R.I.

PLASTIC WRAP (USED). Most communities don't accept this for recycling because the cost of decontaminating it isn't worth the effort.

POST-ITS. The sticky stuff gets filtered out, so these office standbys can usually be recycled with paper.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. The Starfish Project collects some unused medications (TB medicines, antifungals, antivirals) and gives them to clinics in Nigeria. They'll send you a prepaid FedEx label, too.

PRINTER-INK CARTRIDGES. Seventy percent are thrown into landfills, where it will take 450 years for them to decompose. "Cartridges are like gas tanks," says Jim Cannan, cartridge-collection manager at RecyclePlace.com. "They don't break. They just run out of ink. Making new ones is like changing motors every time you run out of gas." Take them to Staples and get $3 off your next cartridge purchase, or mail HP-brand cartridges back to HP.

QUICHE PANS AND OTHER COOKWARE. These can be put with scrap metal, and "a plastic handle isn't a problem," says Tom Outerbridge, manager of municipal recycling at Sims Metal Management, in New York City.

RECREATIONAL EQUIPMENT. Don't send tennis rackets to your local recycling center. "People may think we're going to give them to Goodwill," says Sadonna Cody, director of government affairs for the Northbay Corporation and Redwood Empire Disposal, in Santa Rosa, Calif., "but they'll just be trashed."

Trade sports gear in at Play It Again Sports or donate it to www.sportsgift.org, which gives gently used equipment to needy kids around the world. Mail to Sports Gift, 32545 B Golden Lantern #478, Dana Point CA 92629. As for skis, send them to Skichair.com, 4 Abbott Place, Millbury MA 01527, where they'll be turned into Adirondack-style beach chairs.

RUGS (COTTON OR WOOL). If your town's recycling center accepts rugs, great. If not, you're out of luck, because you can't ship rugs directly to a fabric recycler; they need to be sent in bulk. Your best bet is to donate them to the thrift store of a charity, like the Salvation Army.

SHOPPING BAGS (PAPER). Even those with metal grommets and ribbon handles can usually be recycled with other paper.

SHOPPING BAGS (PLASTIC). "Americans recycled 812 million pounds of bags in 2006, up 24 percent from 2005," says Keith Christman, senior director of packaging at the American Chemistry Council Plastics Division, which represents plastic manufacturers. If your town doesn't recycle plastic, you may be able to drop them off at your local grocery store. Safeway, for example, accepts grocery and dry-cleaning bags and turns them into plastic lumber.

To find other stores, go to www.plasticbagrecycling.org. What's more, a range of retailers, like City Hardware, have begun to use biodegradable bags made of corn. BioBags break down in compost heaps in 10 to 45 days.

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