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17 Things You Thought You Couldn't Recycle

Sometimes recycling isn't just about taking something old, grinding it down into small particles, and creating something new.  Sometimes it is about repurposing, redistributing, and relinquishing items which we once held dear and for which we had great use.  Here's a list items that can be recycled, reused, and reinvented to yield a benefit to the planet and those in need.


Each year, millions of pairs of athletic shoes find their final resting place in landfills across the globe.  These sneakers contain valuable materials that could be re-used.  In 1990, blending creative imagination, some ingenious engineering and a persistent pursuit of the principles of sustainability, Nike created the Reuse-A-Shoe program.  Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program collects worn-out athletic shoes of any brand from special drop-off sites at Nike stores as well as special recycling programs and events nationwide and turns old athletic shoes into playground and athletic flooring.  Since 1990, Nike’s program has recycled more than 21 million pairs of athletic shoes to create more than 265 sport surfaces providing safe playgrounds for kids as part of their Let Me Play global community investment program.  For drop off sites in your area or to find out more about Nike’s recycling programs,visit

Rechargeable Batteries:

recycle boxThe Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) collects used rechargeable batteries at over 50,000 Call2Recycle® drop-off locations nationwide.  Started 1994, the RBRC has been committed to educating people about rechargeable battery and cell phone recycling.  By providing convenient drop-off sites across the U.S. and Canada, they have, to date, collected and recycled more than 42 million pounds of rechargeable batteries.  Retailers can enroll in the Call2Recycle program at  Consumers can keep rechargeable batteries from entering the solid waste stream in their community by finding local drop-off sites. Visit or call 1-877-2-RECYCLE to find out more.

Christmas Trees:

treeIf you’ve purchased a potted Christmas tree from your local nursery or garden center, replanting it on your property or donating it to your local parks department, school, friend, or neighbor is sure to bring years of continued enjoyment.  If you’ve purchased a cut tree, how about treecycling this year?  Recycling live Christmas trees after the holiday can have many benefits to your local community.  According to, real Christmas trees can be re-purposed into many eco-friendly options.  They can be turned into mulch and used in gardening and landscaping or chipped and used on hiking trails, paths and walkways. Christmas trees can also been used for erosion control, soil stabilization and shoreline maintenance. When used in this manner, the trees not only stabilize the soil, but also provide habitats for fish, birds, amphibians and mammals. In some areas, community groups, like the Boy Scouts, will come pick up the trees curbside for a small donation and take them to the nearest recycling center for you.  Find out about treecycling in your area click here:

BONUS:  Send your old Christmas lights to, they’ll recycle them for you and give you a coupon for 15% off the purchase of new, energy-efficient LED lights. WIN-WIN!

Holiday Greeting Cards: 

When the holidays are over, why not turn some of those beautiful greeting cards into gift tags for next year?  Start by separating the front of the prettiest holiday cards from the back.  Trim the edges of the front, following the design of the card, to create a festive gift tag.  If the design leaves no room for writing “TO:” and “FROM:” use the back for your message.  What a great way to save money and reuse beautiful holiday cards.  

Cell phones:

The national Call To Protect program enables people to retire their wireless phones in a manner that will help the environment and provide phones, with matching airtime, to domestic violence agencies. In addition, the funds generated through Call To Protect collections and other wireless industry programs have provided grants totaling over $10,000,000 to national organizations leading the campaign to end domestic violence.  To donate or request more info:


tire swingAccording to the EPA, you may be able to return surplus tires to either a tire retailer or a local recycling facility. Be sure to confirm that the facility accepts tires for recycling and check for quantity and size limitations. Some local municipalities will also periodically conduct "tire amnesty days" when local citizens can bring a limited number of tires to a drop-off site free of charge.  Curious about new uses for old tires?   The EPA website suggests that scrap tires may be cut, punched, and stamped into various rubber products after removal of the steel bead.  Products include floor mats, belts, gaskets, shoe soles, highway crash barriers, and boat bumpers on marine docks.  Or, for an afternoon of good old-fashioned fun, how about installing a tree swing in the backyard?  For more information and specific requirements and regulations for your area, contact your local solid waste management agency.


child glassesNew Eyes For The Needy purchases new eyeglasses for poor children and adults in the United States and recycles donated glasses for distribution to indigent people in developing nations worldwide. Over 4,400 social service agencies and 3,500 optical dispensers partner with New Eyes For The Needy to provide eyeglasses and sunglasses to less fortunate Americans.  Since 1932, they have brought improved vision and hope for a better future to more than 7,000,000 people in the U.S. and around the world.  Eyeglasses in good condition are also sent to medical missions and international charitable organizations for distribution to the poor in developing nations.  New Eyes for the Needy is a non-profit, non-sectarian volunteer organization.

Lions Clubs International is a network of 1.3 million men and women in over 200 countries and geographic areas who work together to answer the needs that challenge communities around the world. Known for their honorable work to end preventable blindness, Lions participate in a variety of projects important to their communities. Through their Lions Recycle For Sight program they have helped to conserve sight by providing usable eyeglasses to children and adults throughout the world. According to the Lions, “donated eyeglasses can help millions to experience corrected vision for the first time, enabling them to read, attend school, gain employment and take care of their families”.  The donated glasses are collected and then shipped to a regional Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center where they will be cleaned, categorized by prescription and prepared for distribution by Lions and other groups.  Eyeglass recycling is one of the Lions' most popular activities. Although the program was officially adopted by the association in 1994, Lions have been collecting glasses for more than 80 years.  Find out more at or contact your local Lions Club.

Computers & Electronics: 

Thousands of computers are taken out of service every year when consumers opt for new and improved models.  Many of these are still perfectly usable and could be passed along to nonprofit organizations, schools, and used by people with disabilities.  If you have a working computer that you would like to donate, please visit  This website is designed to provide a way for computer donors to locate and connect with local groups seeking computers.

Earlier this fall, RadioShack announced the launch of The RadioShack Online Trade-In Program which allows customers to exchange used, portable electronics for a RadioShack gift card.  Customers can visit the RadioShack Trade-In Program site to ascertain their product’s trade-in value.  If the value is acceptable, customers can mail their electronics (using prepaid shipping labels provided by RadioShack) and will receive a gift card within 10 to 14 days.  Check with your local RadioShack retailer or visit the RadioShack website for terms and conditions of this offer.

Many computer retailers like Apple, DELL, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, SONY offer recycling and trade-in programs as well.  Many programs are free and some offer trade-in incentives toward the purchase of a new computer.  The programs vary by company.  To review the details of a company’s recycling program you can visit the website of the manufacturer or you can visit for a summary of some of the most popular recycling programs offered by the biggest manufacturers. offers a convenient, comprehensive set of services to help individuals and organizations reduce the expense and the environmental impact associated with obsolete technology. Specialized, convenient recycling programs are available for virtually all forms of techno trash.  Check for details and related fees at

Formal Dresses & Gowns:

formal Created in 2002, Operation Fairy Dust provides NYC high school girls in need with a formal dress for their senior prom. This gives them the ability to attend their prom with confidence, translating into an increased level of self-esteem. The prom is one of the largest social events of a teenager's high school years. This rite of passage is expensive, and although most teens hope to attend the event, they are often unable to meet the costs to participate. Operation Fairy Dust (OFD) helps these young women by offering them dresses, cosmetics, and accessories which have been donated to the group.  If you have a bridesmaid dress or formal dress hanging your closet, why not help make a young girls dream come true?  Operation Fairy Dust assists girl within New York City. To find out more about the NYC based group or to find a similar “sister program” in your area, visit

Gently Worn Business Attire: 

Dress for Success Worldwide is an international non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women located in 85 cities across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands and New Zealand. Their mission is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.  Since 1997, Dress for Success has served almost 450,000 women around the world. Each year they reach more than 40,000 women in their international network.  The professional clothing, employment retention programs and ongoing support that they provide symbolize their faith in every woman's ability to be self-sufficient and successful in her career. Find out how to donate at:

Towels:puppy towel 

Clean used towels and washable baby blankets can find great new uses at local animal shelters and rescues.  Many shelters welcome the donations putting them to use as bedding, comforting an animal in the medical department, or for drying a rescue animal after a bath.  Contact your local shelter to see if they are accepting donations.


Packing Peanuts:

The Plastic Loose Fill Council (PLFC) was founded in 1991 to develop, promote and implement the original use and subsequent recovery, reuse and recycling of polystyrene loose fill, commonly known as "packing peanuts."  The Peanut Hotline, 800-828-2214 and, is the national reuse program for plastic packing peanuts. Consumers can drop off their leftover plastic packing peanuts at Peanut Hotline collection sites. There are over 1,500 collection sites in the US.  You can search for a drop-off site in your area at

Videotapes & CDs:

Videotapes and CDs can make a great donation to senior centers, assisted living facilities, and homes for people with special needs.  Some schools and libraries may also accept donations.  Please call ahead and check with the individual facility before dropping a bag on their doorstep.  You can also find out about recycling VHS and CDs at



The home improvement project is over and you have some leftover paint.  While many of us will store the can in the garage for the anticipated touch up in a few years, it is more likely that the paint will not retain its quality and become unusable.  Instead, why not record the paint manufacturer and color identification number in a safe place and donate your unused paint?  Here are a few ideas for what you can do with your remaining paint.  Donate it to our local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, offer it to your high school’s drama department where it can be put to great use creating a stunning new set for the Spring musical, or check with your place of worship to see if there is a family in your community who might want to use it for a quick and inexpensive room makeover.  Empty steel paint cans are recyclable.  To recycle steel paint cans, they must be empty and all paint contents dried.  If you have a stack of old paint cans in the garage already, contact your local recycling coordinator for details on how best to handle this item for disposal.


The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) is an industry association that promotes and sustains the recycling of all steel products. The SRI educates the solid waste industry, government, business and ultimately the consumer about the benefits of steel's infinite recycling cycle. According to their website, “recycling steel saves energy and natural resources.  In a year, the steel industry saves the equivalent energy to electrically power about 18 million households for a year”.  If you are replacing a working appliance due to a design renovation, look to local charities that might find a match for your item.  Non-working washing machines, water heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, and dryers can all be recycled.  The Steel Alliance and the Steel Recycling Institute have teamed up to bring you the first searchable online database specifically designed to help us find locations that will recycle steel cans and appliances.  The easy-to-navigate database contains over 30,000 steel recycling locations, searchable by state and zip code.


garbage cans

Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a joint industry-government effort to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going to landfills. CARE, which is funded and administered by the carpet industry, was established as a result of a Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU), a national agreement signed by members of the carpet industry, representatives of government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, and non-governmental organizations.
The CARE website offers a great deal of information about the recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet.  While some of it is quite technical, they offer sufficient answers to some very general questions, including what can I do with my used carpet (the site offers a map of carpet recovery centers across the country with contact information) and what products are made from recycled carpet (recycled content backing, composite lumber for decks, roofing shingles, railroad ties, automotive parts, and stepping stones).

Sports Equipment:

Has your son outgrown last year’s football gear?  Are you using your exercise equipment as a place to line-dry your favorite jeans?  Has your daughter decided she would rather play basketball this year instead of soccer?  Want to trade-up those golf clubs?  At Play It Again Sports® you can buy, sell and trade gently used sport equipment and gear.  Each franchise store is independently owned, to find a location, sell or trade equipment, visit

As we prepare for the new year, let’s all try to do just a little more to make the world a better place.  Whether it means being a little kinder to our neighbors or a little gentler to our planet.   Happy Holidays!

Looking for last minute holiday gifts? Click here to view last month's green gift guide.