Recycling isn’t limited to curbside pick-up.
Think about what you can freecycle, take to recycling centers, and send to mail-in programs.
With a bit of effort, you can prevent items like toothbrushes and razors from ending in a landfill.
You can also recycle a lot of e-waste and physical media.
Maybe you’ve got bags piled high with unwanted belongings after a busy spring cleaning. Or perhaps you’ve been putting off decluttering your home because you have no idea what to do with those old appliances. We’ve got good news: You can recycle more than you may think, as long as you’re willing to go beyond curbside pickup.
This guide will run you through some common things to recycle when decluttering and teach you how to give these household staples a second home.
1. Magazines, Newspapers, and Books
Most printed matter, including old magazines, newspapers, and books, can be included in your municipal recycling bin (though in some cities, only paperback books are accepted, so check your local regulations).
However, keep in mind that many books and other bound volumes (like scholarly journals) can be sold to used bookstores or donated to a nonprofit like Better World Books, which hosts book recycling drop-off boxes in many locations.
2. Unneeded Electronics and Cords
You can recycle old technology like laptops, cell phones, and televisions. In many cases, they must be recycled, as they may emit dangerous pollution and incur fines if sent to a landfill.
If your tech is too old to sell, or you’d rather give it away, many charitable organizations can repurpose your old electronics for someone in need. If the items are too old to donate to charity (but not old enough to donate to a museum of technology), you can recycle them with a municipal e-waste program or at some big box stores. The same goes for all the old cords, outdated headphones, and mystery remote controls piling up in your darkest drawer.
Batteries are another hazardous item that you can’t throw in the trash. There are drop-off locations for battery recycling around the country, including major chain stores like Staples. If there is no drop-off box or recycling center in your area, you can also recycle them by mail—for a small fee—through the Big Green Box program.
4. Glass Dishware and Vases
While it may seem like glass items are easy to recycle—just throw them in the recycling bin with your paper and plastic—most curbside recycling services will only accept container glass, used in products like beverage bottles. The glass used in dishware or items like vases is treated with chemical and mechanical processes, meaning it needs to be melted at different temperatures than your old iced tea bottle.
However, you shouldn’t just throw it in a landfill either. Call 311 or search online for local facilities that recycle treated glass and give a new life to unwanted dishware, vases, and other items.
Note: Items like windows and mirrors often include non-glass materials and can only be processed by construction and demolition centers that primarily do business with contractors.
5. Toothbrushes and Razors
Plastic items like toothbrushes and razors often pile up in landfills because they are made of synthetic materials that will never decompose. The good news is that in recent years several programs have emerged to facilitate the recycling and repurposing of such waste.
Terracycle operates programs for recycling toothbrushes and other oral care products, as well as razors. Preserve—a company that produces recycled toothbrushes—also accepts plastic oral care recycling through its Gimme 5 initiative.
6. Wire Hangers
Wire hangers can accumulate without you really knowing how: You’ve never bought one in your life, but when spring cleaning rolls around, you’ve got more of them than you can carry.
In most places, you can’t put them in your curbside recycling bin since they can damage the equipment at single-stream facilities. But that doesn’t mean you should throw them in the trash: Most dry cleaning outfits will take them back for reuse or be collected with their scrap metal. If that fails, charity shops will likely take them.
Just because your child has graduated to watercolors doesn’t mean you need to dump their old crayons into the trash during your next big declutter. Instead, pack them up and send them to the National Crayon Recycling Program, which works to keep thousands of unnecessary pounds of waste out of landfills by repurposing these colorful implements.
If you’ve replaced your rusty old bike with a sparkling new bicycle, you don’t need to toss the old one. Second-hand bikes and bike parts are in high demand worldwide, and many organizations accept donations to redistribute them to those in need. Use Earth911’s recycling search to find one in your local area.
9. Holiday Lights
After not having a Christmas tree for years, you finally accepted during your last decluttering spree that those old Christmas lights don’t spark joy. Don’t dump them in the trash—send them to Holiday LEDs’ Christmas Lights Recycling Program.
10. CDs, DVDs, VHS Tapes, and Video Games
There are large secondary markets for physical media of all kinds. If you have decided to go all-digital, you can sell your old CDs, DVDs, and the like to a local retailer or an online marketplace. In some cases, you may have items worth a significant amount of money.
If you’d rather save the hassle, charity shops will always accept these kinds of resalable materials. You can also mail them to media recyclers like GreenDisk. Just make sure to remove cardboard packaging and paper sleeves first, which can be more efficiently recycled with your curbside pickup.
11. Clothing and Linens
Much of your clothing, bedding, and linens can be donated or resold. For those that can’t be, the good news is that most clothing, fabric, and linens are recyclable. Use Earth911’s recycling locator to find a collection point nearest you. There are also a number of clothing companies—including Patagonia, Reformation, and H&M—that operate take-back programs, accepting old items from consumers to be reused or recycled.
For apparel that doesn’t have a recycling market, there are often reuse programs to which you can donate. There are many such programs for shoes, including those for sneakers and sandals. The Bra Recyclers accepts brassieres and other similar items for reuse by people in need.
Mattresses are a nightmare to move, and they take up huge amounts of space in landfills. If you’ve got an old mattress that isn’t a condition to sell or donate, recycle it through a program like Bye Bye Mattress.
13. Plastic Containers
If you live in a city that accepts number five plastic recycling, you can include it with your curbside pick up (though, unfortunately, even if they pick it up, it will probably still end up in a landfill). The Gimme 5 program accepts clear number five plastic, including many plastic leftovers containers. There are also mail-in recycling options through a joint initiative from Terracycle and Rubbermaid.
Where to Recycle Items
Recycling doesn’t only happen in the blue bin you place out on the curb every week. You can open the door to a much wider range of recycling options with a little effort.
In most parts of North America, there are now curbside pick-up services from local waste management organizations for many kinds of paper, plastic, and glass recycling. The precise specifications for which items you can include in your curbside recycling vary from place to place, so check with your city or county’s sanitation authority to find out what you can and can’t put in the recycling bin.
Recycling centers often take a wider range of pre-sorted materials than single-stream pick-up services. Some are focused on particular types of materials, like e-waste or steel, while others accept a broader array of items. Check with local waste removal services and nearby trash haulers and junk removers to learn your full range of options.
Throughout the country, there are active communities of people who try to avoid buying or selling goods and exchange for free as much as possible. Find one in your area by searching the Freecycling Network or the Buy Nothing Project—or else via neighborhood social media.
If you limit yourself to curbside pickup and freecycling, you’ll be sending a lot of materials to the landfill that might otherwise be recycled. A wide range of programs exists to facilitate the recycling of many types of household items. Search the Earth911 database to find out where you can recycle almost anything in your area.