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What to Recycle? List of 11 Recyclable Household Items & Materials

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Did you know that the average person in the United States generates around 4.5 pounds of waste every single day? Multiply that by around 300 million, and you can see why garbage has become a serious problem in this country. This is just one reason why recycling is so important.

Recycling not only saves valuable space in our landfills, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And when we recycle, we also have to use fewer resources like water and energy to turn that item into another usable item. Recycling is good for us, the planet, and it can also save you money. If your waste management company charges you monthly based on how much garbage you throw away, you will save money by recycling.

Finding a Recycling Center

You can recycle almost all of your garbage. Some experts estimate that 90% of the items going in a landfill could be recycled, if only we had the resources in all areas, and made the effort. If you live near an urban center, there is probably a recycling program available in your area. Even without curbside pickup service, a recycling drop-off facility may be close by.

If you want to find a local recycling program in your area, visit Earth911.com. This site has a searchable database that allows you to find recycling facilities by zip code. The small town where I live in Michigan has a curbside recycling program, but they don’t accept Styrofoam. Since Styrofoam takes millions of years to decompose, I did not want to throw any in the garbage.

I did a quick search on Earth911.com and found a recycling center less than a mile away from my house. I didn’t even know it was there! All I had to do was join the non-profit center, pay the yearly membership fee of $25 for unlimited drop offs, and drop off my recycling. Now, I use the drop-off center in addition to my city’s curbside recycling program.

Before you start throwing garbage in your recycle bins, check with your local recycling service to see what they recycle. This varies from service to service, and you can usually find a list of recyclable items on the company’s website. In addition, the recycling service website likely includes details about how to separate recyclables for curbside pick-up. A list of common household items you can recycle is below.

Recyclable Household Items and Materials

1. Junk Mail and Cards
You can recycle most of the mail that comes into your home. Make it easy by placing a small recycling bin next to the door you use to retrieve your mail. This helps you remember to recycle junk mail as you walk back inside. Recycle the empty envelopes that remain once you’ve opened your mail, including envelopes with plastic windows. Even better, make the effort to go paperless at home.

Look for oversized recycling bins located outside of some schools and churches. Many organizations put these bins outside their buildings to raise money. Parents drop off their paper recycling, and the school sells the paper to a recycling facility. The paper gets recycled, and the school or church receives some badly needed funds. Most of these recycling bins are dumpsters painted bright yellow or green. Once you know to look out for them, they’re hard to miss.

2. Books
Donate or sell any books that you no longer read. You can also recycle books that have been destroyed. Keep in mind that outdated books can still have a new life on eBay or Etsy. “Outdated” often means “vintage,” to savvy book collectors.

3. Shredded Paper

man shredding paper

Most curbside recycling programs accept shredded paper; just make sure you put it in a paper bag, so that it can be recycled properly and doesn’t blow all over the place. Also, some recycling services do not recycle cross-cut shredded paper that is cut too small to make new paper.

If you compost, you can add shredded paper to your compost pile. I do vermicomposting at my house, which means I compost food scraps using worms. I put shredded paper into my vermicompost bins; the worms break it down in just a few short weeks, and in return I get rich, nutritious and free compost for my home garden. Vermicomposting reduces food waste, so if you toss a lot of food out each week, you might want to consider this recycling option.

4. Ink Cartridges
Most printer ink cartridges contain toxic materials that should not go in the trash. Major business supply stores, including Staples and Best Buy, will take your old ink cartridges for recycling. You can also receive a discount off the purchase of a new ink cartridge when you bring your old cartridge to some office supply stores.

5. Disposable Plates and Cups
If you throw a party, make sure your guests don’t toss their disposables in the trash. Recycle these items instead. Most plastic cups and plates can go in the recycle bin, and you can compost paper plates. You can also shred them, and put them underneath your mulch, around the base of your plants and flowers. Paper plates break down after several weeks, and help retain moisture and provide nutrients for your plants.

6. CD and DVD Cases
A couple of years ago I condensed my CDs and DVDs. I burned digital copies of my CDs, and put my DVDs into fabric CD collection cases. This saved a lot of space in my house. Once I finished the project, I was left with several CD and DVD cases. The good news? I recycled all of them. I can recycle CD and DVD cases using my curbside service.

If your recycling program doesn’t accept the CD and DVD plastic cases, check Earth911.com. Type in “CD case” into the database search box, and enter your zip code to find a nearby facility that recycles CD and DVD cases. You can also recycle CDs and DVDs free of charge at Best Buy. All Best Buy stores have a recycling center near the front doors and accept electronic waste as well.

7. Cardboard
You can recycle cardboard boxes, including cereal boxes, pizza boxes, cracker boxes, and any other type of paper packaging. Not recycling these items causes a negative environmental impact.

8. Household Batteries

man putting used batteries into recycling box at home

The toxic materials in batteries greatly contribute to pollution, especially when they break down in our landfills. Recycling household batteries is easy. Many libraries and post offices collect household batteries for recycling.

9. CFL Bulbs
Did you know that compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs contain a tiny bit of mercury? Because of this, you cannot dispose of CFL bulbs in your curbside recycling or in the trash. You can, however, drop off CFL bulbs for safe disposal at any Home Depot or IKEA. You can also safely dispose of these types of items at a hazardous waste facility. Your recycling service’s website should include details about where to find local hazardous waste facilities.

10. Old TVs
Most American households have three TVs. Most of the time, as these TVs age, they get replaced, and the old TV ends up in the garbage. TVs contain harmful chemicals and ingredients. In fact, Mother Nature Network reports that old analog TVs could contain up to eight pounds of lead and other heavy metals.

Best Buy recycles appliances, including TVs. If you have a TV smaller than 32 inches, this service is free when the TV is dropped off at a Best Buy store. For larger TVs and other appliances, Best Buy charges a flat fee of $100 to pick up one or two appliances. Before dropping off your TV, contact the Best Buy store to receive specific instructions about recycling your television. You can also search Earth911.com to find facilities in your area that recycle televisions.

Avoid shady recyclers. These people park semi trucks on busy streets, and post “Recycle Your Electronics Here” signs. They sell your electronics to recycling companies, who ship the electronics to third world countries for dismantling and disposal. This is not a responsible way to recycle your electronics. For more information on how to safely recycle your electronics, see our article on Electronic Waste Recycling and Disposal.

11. Power Cords
Do you have a drawer full of old chargers and power cords? Most people do, because we regularly upgrade our cameras and cell phones. Like any electronic device, these items should never be thrown away. Search Earth911.com to find recycling centers in your area that accept computer components and power cords.

Final Word

Recycling doesn’t have to be a challenging chore. In fact, I’ve turned it into a game. I try to see how much I can whittle away from my family’s garbage each week. By recycling and composting much of my family’s waste, I only have one plastic bag of garbage to dispose of each week.

If you find it difficult to recycle, turn recycling into a game. Pit yourself against your neighbors, to see who can throw out the least amount of trash. Seeing recycle bins full to the brim with recyclables is a wonderful sight.

Are you actively recycling your trash? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve been faced with?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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