Tossing plastic bottles, aluminum cans and newspapers into the recycling bin is a great way to help out the planet. But why stop there? There are many discarded household items that are better off kept out of landfills.
Jerry Powell, editor of Resource Recycling Journal, points out that recycling technologies have come a long way, making it possible for products that have been traditionally regarded as trash, like consumer electronics, more recyclable now.
But technological progress alone doesn't cut it. Businesses and organizations are instrumental in helping spread awareness so that people can take advantage of such new recycling opportunities.
"We all know that bottles, aluminum cans and paper can be recycled," said Powell. "But at many retail stores you'll even find bins out in front where they'll recycle plastic bags."
Still, there are many things besides the usual suspects that can be recycled. Here's a list of a few items that tend to get overlooked when people look to clean house.
It's not just old shirts and jeans that can be dropped off at thrift stores and donation centers like Goodwill (www.goodwill.org) and the Salvation Army (www.salvationarmyusa.org). Clothes that are ragged, torn and unwearable are usually shipped to "rag sorters," textile recyclers that specialize in breaking down fabric into raw materials such as cotton and wool. Really worn-out clothes are taken to fiber converters where they are turned into mattress filler and pillow stuffing.
Recycling provides an opportunity to give the gift of hearing to those less fortunate. Hearing aids no longer needed or wanted can be donated to charity organizations such as Hear Now (www.sotheworldmayhear.org) and Help the Children Hear (www.helpthechildrenhear.org), a service run by the Rotary Club.
For those who wear glasses, a new prescription doesn't mean that the old pair is useless. Many retailers and large chains such as Lens Crafters and Pearl Vision work with charity programs that distribute used glasses to people in developing nations who cannot afford them. Learn more about donating eyeglasses through the Eyes for the Needy program (www.neweyesfortheneedy.org)
While those tiny pills don't take up much space, they have recently caused some big concerns. A recent investigation by The Associated Press detected drugs in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas. Drug recycling offers an alternative to hazardous disposal of drugs. States such as Oklahoma, Wyoming and Louisiana have already allowed organizations to run drug recycling programs. Participants can drop off drugs at a pharmacy or send them to a facility that ensures inspection before redistributing them to needy patients.
The barrage of new mobile phones makes finding a good reason to get rid of an old cell phone pretty easy. Retailers often give customers the option of bringing their old phones to stores where they are either recycled or refurbished for sale. If the retailer doesn't offer to take back cell phones, green programs like CollectiveGood (www.collectivegood.com) can take them off your hands.
The process by which paint is recycled is a fairly colorful one. The paint is separated into color groups and then blended or mixed to create the more popular colors that can be packaged and resold. Cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Knoxville have initiated paint recycling programs with much success. To find out more, check out Earth 101's guide to paint recycling (http://earth911.org/recycling/paint-recycling).