Recycling More Obscure Materials

Simple instructions are given on recycling or reusing bicycles, computer floppy discs, computers, cellular telephones, eyeglasses, smoke detectors, styrofoam packing, compact discs, cameras, holiday cards, batteries, lightbulbs, household goods, drugs, sneakers and synthetic carpets.



Used wine corks can now be "upcycled", and made into other products. For a list of drop off locations visit You can also encourage your local wine retailer or resturant to join to the program.


See Village Bicycle Project.


Cell Phones, Recycling & Reuse

Tens of millions of cellular telephones are put in boxes every year, never to be used again. That's too bad. Phones are useful, valuable even if broken, and contain toxic materials.

Now you can donate your old wireless phone. Some programs send phones overseas service, or domestically to people in abusive relationships (the phones are programmed to call 911 only). Phones or phone parts (like batteries & cords) are collected. Try to collect as many parts as possible. Drop your phone or phone parts at any Sprint PCS or Staples chain store, or see see CollectiveGood or for mailing information.

Computer floppy disks & Video Tape, Reuse / Recycling

[GreenDisk Logo] Several processors now recycle computer floppy disks. Unsold software is disassembled and separated into paper, plastic and disks. The disks, with are effectively brand new, are erased, formatted, tested, labeled, and reused. GreenDisk of Redmond Washington sells reclaimed disks as GreenDisk Recycled Diskettes. Individuals and companies may also send defective disks & tapes directly to the company which will shred and recycle the plastic and metal. For more information, link to GreenDisk, Inc..

Of course disks & tapes are fully reusable. Removable labels are rare, but stacking two labels is usually OK. For the top label, select the type that does not wrap over the top of the cartridge. To clear all old data and even viruses from a floppy you just need to do a "full" or "unconditional" disk format -- Macintosh: Use initialize from the finder. Windows 3.1/DOS: From a DOS prompt type "format a: /u". Microsoft Windows: Right-click on the drive icon and select format. Select "full" format. Your disk will be checked fully for errors and work as good as new.

Computers & Technology, Reuse / Recycling

Think before you put that computer in storage! Try to donate or recycle your old computers before they become totally obsolete (the EPA estimates that 75% of computers sit in storage for several years before finally getting thrown away)! If you're waited too long you'll have to recycle, not reuse. Electronics contain lead and other chemicals, so they should not be landfilled (and some juristictions are working on banning such material from landfills).

Eyeglasses, Reuse / Recycling

[EyeGlasses] The old lenses that steer you into walls may be the perfect gift for someone in need. Chances are an optician or club in your area collects eyeglasses for reuse. Collected eyeglasses are cleaned, repaired and measured to determine the correction. Available glasses are cataloged in a computer database, and matched to people with need. Many of the glasses are sent to other countries, as laws in the USA make it difficult to re-dispense a prescription product. Another option is to have your old glasses tinted to turn them into into sunglasses.

The Lions Clubs operate the largest program, collecting glasses from thousands of opticians. Of the chain stores, LensCrafters, For-Eyes and Pearle collect glasses chain-wide. Several organizations accept eyewear by mail (use a search engine to find them). One example is:

New Eyes for the Needy 549 Millburn, PO Box 332, Short Hills, NY 07078. Accepts scrap metal frames in any condition, unbroken plastic framed glasses, non-prescription sunglasses, any precious metal scrap like broken jewelry and monetary donations. In Canada send glasses to The Low Vision Clinic, 1929 Bayview Ave., Toronto, ON M4G 3E8.

Polystyrene Packing & Peanuts, Reuse

[Foam Peanuts] Those pesky packing peanuts don't have much recycling potential, but they can be reused, which is even better. Many packing, shipping and moving stores will take used peanuts. Just pack them up in (recycled) plastic bags, and drop them off next time you are nearby. Suitable businesses can be located under "packaging" in the yellow pages. Typical chain stores include Mail Boxes Etc. and The Postal Annex. For a partial list of local collection sites, try the Plastic Loosefill Council at 1-800-828-2214 (24 Hours).

Some peanuts are not made of plastic. If you find a peanut that looks like a cheese puff, try licking it. One type of peanut is made from vegetable starch, and dissolves almost instantly in water. These taste somewhat like rice cakes, and are just as safe in a compost bin. If you buy peanuts, strongly consider switching to this type. They're better for the environment, and much much easier to get rid of.

Disposal of rigid foam blocks (such as those protecting new equipment) is problematic. The materials are very lightweight, they're made from natural gas: it is easy to end up with a net environmental loss just transporting the stuff. For most individuals recycling this material is not worth it, though future research into local small-scale reprocessing may change this. If you have large quantities of material, a list of collection sites is available from The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers.

Compact Discs (CD's), Repair/Reuse/Recycling

Damaged CD's can be repaired, and repair or reuse is definitely a better environmental option than recycling. You have some chance of repairing small numbers of obvious scratches with a mild abrasive such as toothpaste. Work only on the non-label side, with strokes radially out from the center. Professional refinishers such as AuralTech CD Refinishing will repair disks for about $3 each and guarantee the results.

If you just don't like the CD's, give or trade them at a music store or donate them to charity.

Obsolete or unrepairable CD's and cases can be recycled. Recordable CD-R's have about 20mg of gold that can be recovered, and some processors can actually remove the data layer, and reuse the plastic disc. If you are worried about proprietary data, you can cut them with a pair of heavy duty tin shears, or place them in a microwave oven with a small glass of water (for one disc, 5 seconds on medium does a fantastic job, and creates a spectacular light show)

Since CD's are not very valuable, nobody will pay you for recycling. Send pre-paid by UPS Ground, third-class mail, freight or other surface transportation to NESAR Systems, 420 Ashwood Road, Darlington, PA 16115 (724)827-8172 or Digital Audio Disk Corporation, Attention: Disc Recycling Program, 1800 Fruitridge Ave., Terre Haute, IN 47804-1788, (812) 462-8323a

Smoke Detectors, Proper Disposal

-=RADIOACTIVE!=- The most common type of smoke detector contains a small amount of Americium 241, a radioactive material. Detector companies accept returned radioactive detectors for disposal as hazardous waste. Unfortunately the companies seem to assume you'll keep the instruction booklet on hand for the entire life of the product, and don't always put good contact information on the case.

Detectors have a limited life span, usually specified at ten years. Testing your detector with actual smoke is the only way to be sure it will work when needed. The vast majority of smoke detectors are made by First Alert Corporation. Send old detectors to First Alert, Radioactive Waste Disposal, 780 McClure Rd, Aurora, IL 60504-2495, 1-800-323-9005. Others are made by a Canadian firm called American Sensors, dial 1-800-387-4219 for information. The companies sell detectors under many different brand names, and can dispose of any of them. Send detectors by surface mail or UPS Ground so they don't end up in an airplane.

For replacement detectors, see smoke detector choices.

Disposable single use cameras, Recycling

Recent studies have show that, despite the recycling claims on the boxes, less than half of disposable cameras are ever actually recycled. Enough cameras have been tossed to circle the planet, stacked end-to-end. Local film developers often have little or no incentive to return the camera bodies to the manufacturers, and not all parts of the cameras are recyclable. Kodak has started to minimally reimburse developers for the costs of sorting, storing and shipping, but processors are still faced with a bewildering variety of types, brands, and procedures for dealing with them.

Inexpensive fully-automatic 35mm cameras can be purchased for about $20 if you look carefully. These cameras will give better results and cost less to use than the disposables. If you must use a disposable camera, be sure to take it to a developer that explicitly promises to recycle the remains.

Holiday Cards, Reuse

Since the mid 1970's Saint Jude's Ranch, a non-profit youth home, has operated a holiday card reuse program. The ranch provides counseling and opportunities for troubled youth. The kids operate a business taking used greeting cards, neatly cutting off the front covers, gluing on new back covers, and selling the result. The kids earn money, experience and a sense of purpose.

You can send either entire cards, or cards with the backs cut off. Send bundles of cards via UPS ground or the "library rate" rate at the post office. St. Jude's Ranch Card Recycling, 100 St. Jude Street, Boulder City, NV 89005.

Batteries (dry-cell, rechargeable, automotive, button, lead-acid)

Battery technology is becoming increasingly important with the rise of portable computing, remote data monitoring and electric vehicle research. Unfortunately batteries contain metals, acids and other compounds that can be bad when released into the environment. Here's how to recycle the most common battery types:

Alkaline & Carbon-Zinc ("Heavy Duty") batteries, Disposal

In Germany it seems that every supermarket has a collection bin for batteries. In the USA there fewer options. The experts recommend individuals place these with normal household trash, unless your trash is incinerated or you are restricted by local regulations. Some communities collect batteries as part of a recycling program, but the batteries generally end up in a hazardous waste landfill. Several reclamation companies are now processing these batteries, so the situation may improve soon.

Rechargeable batteries provide the only alternative. Ni-Cd batteries may be recharged many times, but have much less capacity than alkalines. Rayovac sells a line of reusable alkaline batteries called "Renewal", which have a large fraction of the capacity of a regular alkaline, but only last for 25 or so charges. Do not send any type of dry cell battery to facilities designed to recycle other rechargeables.

Nickel-Cadmium batteries, Recycling

Nicad rechargeable batteries can be recycled, and it is important to do so because of the toxic metal cadmium contained in the batteries. See the companion guide to common materials for the details on Ni-Cads.

Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), Recycling
Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Recycling

All should be recycled

Button Cell Batteries, Recycling / Proper Disposal

Most small, round "button cell" type batteries contain mercury, silver, cadmium, lithium or other heavy metals as their main component. These materials leak in landfills, can enter the water table, and are even worse when incinerated. Button Cells are increasingly targeted for recycling because of the value of recoverable materials, the hazard to the environment, and the small size and easy handling relative to other battery types.

Many shops that replace watch and hearing aid batteries will accept your batteries for recycling at no charge. Check with a jeweler, watchmaker, or volume retailer like Pay-less, Radio Shack or K-Mart. If you have your watch batteries replaced, be sure to ask if the battery will be recycled.

Stores & repair shops can sell dead batteries to Mercury Refining, LLC.

Medicines (Perscription or Non-Perscription)

Unwanted or expired medicines are a hazard a home and a hazard when disposed of. Never flush medicines: medicines have powerful effects on people, and on animals also. Inquire locally for drug "take back" dropoff locations or collection days, or visit the U.S. Department of Justice National Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative.

Automotive batteries, Recycling

Automotive batteries contain lead. Lead is both toxic and valuable; in the US over 95% of all automotive batteries are recovered and recycled. Virtually any place that sells batteries will take them back, most state laws require it. Unfortunately many batteries are sent to overseas smelters with poor environmental and worker health records (See "The Myth of Automobile Battery Recycling", by Madeleine Cobbing). Ask where your battery will be sent. Recycler EXIDE has a better than average reputation. Consumers or businesses can call 1-800-289-4627 for recycling options.

Non-automotive lead-based batteries (Gel Cells, SLA, etc), Recycling

Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used in industrial equipment, emergency lighting, and alarm systems. The same recycling process applies as with automotive batteries, but not all retailers will understand this. An automotive store may accept the batteries, you can try a security dealer, The Battery Council International at (312) 664-6610, or your local waste agency.


If you can avoid having batteries to dispose of that's even better. There is a new class of battery that offers better peformance than Alkalines and can be recharged. Read about it at "Best AA Batteries That You Never Heard Of".

Fluorescent light bulbs, Mercury Thermostats & Thermometers, Mercury Switches

Fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury vapor. Older wall-mounted thermostats have a ball of shiny silvery liquid metal mercury. Thermometers with a silver (not red) column probably contain mercury. Mercury has been used in a wide variety of products, even kid's flashing sneakers.

Mercury is a deadly poison. Chronic exposure leads to brain damage (and dain bramage). Mercury easily gets into water, then into fish, then back into humans. Mercury containing products of any source must be disposed/recycled as "household hazardous waste". Contact your garbage or recycling company for days & times. Do not mess around with mercury.

Unwanted Household Goods (small appliances, tableware, clothing, furniture, toys, sports equipment, children's books, white elephants, etc.)

Your unwanted household items can have a life again if you donate them to charity. Organizations such as Goodwill Industries will take your donations, sort and sometimes repair them, and resell them in thrift shops nationwide. Broken items are fixed, and scrap materials (like worn-out textiles) are sold for recycling. Goodwill provides jobs and job training for tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have trouble finding work. In 1994 alone Goodwill assisted 25,000 people finding placement in the private sector, helping many people get off public assistance. Wash the clothing, and try to include manuals or brochures on appliances (especially if broken). Surf the net, scan the white pages or look in the yellow pages under "Thrift Shops" for a charity and drop-off center near you.

Another great option is the local repair shop. Don't expect to sell your old appliance, just give it to the shop for use as spare parts.

Sneakers & Athletic Shoes, Recycling

Nike corporation grinds up shoes and reuses some of the components for athletic mats, which are donated to good causes. Call 1-800-352-NIKE and navigate deep into the menu for drop-off locations and a Reuse-A-Shoe program description. Next time you buy shoes, ask the store if they participate in any recycling programs.

Carpets, Synthetic, Recycling

Natural fiber carpets can be composted. Old synthetic carpets have value as recycled materials. Individual consumers generally can't get rid of a carpet, but you can ask installers and renovation companies if they will do it for you. Don't let a major carpet job go by without asking about recycling!

Blue Jeans / Denim

The company Bonded Logic produces Ultratouch from post-consumer blue jeans. Pickup options vary: in some cases you can simply donate worn out jeans through normal donation stores, but in other cases those jeans will be discarded. For other options and special promotions check out Cotton From Blue To Green.

Got Junk?

Why not sell it on or Even if the item is broken, you can pick up extra cash by selling the parts.

Reviving Dead Ballpoint Pens

No, there does not seem to be a practical way to recycle them. But maybe they are not really dead? Try placing the tip of the pen in boiling water for a few seconds. Then draw a long line to clear out dried up ink. Your pen may magically return to life.

Recycling Drugs?

The last place you want expired or unused medication is the trash or toilet. The drugs can enter water supplies and circulate through the environment. Visit the Drug Enforcement Administration National Take Back Program to fnid an option near you. For expired drugs consider that the date on the package may be vastly conservative or based on marketing rather than science (read more at the Los Angeles Times).

Valid HTML 4.0! Click for the main menu. Contents Copyright 1997-2006 Evergreen Industries. Keywords: recycling difficult unusual toxic materials recycling batteries appliances electronics. Ask for permission before republishing this material. Links are free.