Sustainability

10 Household Products You Never Knew You Could Recycle

Gather your non-recyclables. There is a way.

by:
April 22, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Because of our respective interests (and absolute pet peeves), my roommate aka partner and I have fallen, mostly comfortably, into our respective jobs: I cook. He washes the dishes. I scrub and tidy things. He takes out the trash and recycling—which necessarily also means sorting our trash and recycling.

“I’m happy you’re doing this story,” he said to me the other day, mid-sort. “You have no system.”

He’s right. Despite living here for four years, I still have no understanding of how our recycling system works. Namely, I want to recycle it all: the coffee bean bag, peanut butter jar, toothpaste cap, the little plastic pieces that serve no use other than to announce your furniture is new. The cardboard cutouts, when you’ve stamped out all the game pieces—they’re all forms of paper and plastic, which are recyclable, right?

So, I did some digging, and sorted things out (ha). Here are 10 of the most surprising household items you can’t just throw into the recycling bin, but can recycle in alternate ways.


10 Non-Recyclables You Actually Can Recycle

1. Toothbrushes

So you read this, and found that you’re not rotating through toothbrushes frequently enough for proper dental hygiene. But before you toss it in the recycling bin—well, don’t. Because toothbrushes are made of mixed materials, they can’t be recycled along with your curbside plastics.

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Top Comment:
“Plastic bags are highly recyclable- California requires stores that give them out to collect them for recycling- or did until they were largely banned here. Many of the collection companies will take them; mine will also take used batteries, CFLs and oil, though they can't be put in the bin. And they emphatically don't want envelopes with plastic windows; many of them now just have a hole without a window. Recycling of glass is limited to containers made for food- I think it has to do with additives, particularly lead.”
— Smaug
Comment

Instead, mail toothbrushes to alternate recycling systems like Terracycle or Preserve. Or, repurpose it. I have an old toothbrush reserved for scrubbing hard-to-reach areas, like around sink handles or into grimy corners.

2. Disposable razors

Though these sport a largely plastic body, the metal blade prevents them from being recycled along with plastics. Again, Terracycle’s got you covered.

3. Snack bags

While you can recycle firm plastics, you can’t actually recycle flimsy ones, like bags. You guessed it—Terracycle will collect, melt, and reform them into hard, recycled plastic products.

4. Mail

If your mailbox looks anything like mine, this will be easy—grab the New Yorker, dump all else right into the recycling bin. That’s right—even the envelopes with the plastic windows can be recycled with your curbside paper collection.

5. Corks

Neither plastic, nor metal, nor paper, really—how should corks be recycled? Because they’re made of natural materials, you actually can drop them right in the compost. If you don’t have curbside compost pickup or a backyard pile, drop corks off at designated collection bins.

6. Batteries

While most cities’ Special Waste Management systems are able to collect and process used batteries, collection times can be few and far between. You can also ship used batteries to Call2Recycle. (And don’t forget—there are rechargeable versions of most batteries!)

7. Charging cables

I did a bookcase cleanout the other weekend, only to find two charging cables for electronics I no longer even own. (Oops.) Luckily, electronic stores usually have collection boxes for cables like these, as do E-Waste recycling warehouses, but better yet, find someone who might still find them useful. Who would ever turn away an extra laptop or phone charger?

8. Grocery plastic bags

Despite your best intentions, attempting to recycle plastic bags will only hinder recycling, as they can get caught in sorting machines designed for firm plastics. Fold plastic grocery bags into very cute, non-menacing triangles for handiness later. But if your under-the-sink area is absolutely overflowing, many grocery stores have collection bins out front, or you can find collection centers here.

9. Broken glass

So this one is, sadly, an exception: you actually can't recycle broken glass. Because it is a hazard to those collecting and sorting through your recycling, broken glass (whether from wine glasses to mirror glass) should not be recycled in curbside recycling bins, but simply wrapped well and trashed. Once broken, glass is much more prone to abnormalities and further breakage, which makes its reuse, recycling, or reshaping very difficult.

10. Clothing hangers

Plastic hangers are, in fact, not made of a single type of plastic, and so cannot be recycled in curbside recycling bins. While wire hangers can be processed by some cities’ curbside programs, check first with your local dry cleaners who may be eager to collect and reuse them.

What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to recycle something? Brag about it in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • CE
    CE
  • 2714Boysz
    2714Boysz
  • LongBrooke83
    LongBrooke83
  • Sarah Moody
    Sarah Moody
  • Smaug
    Smaug
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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

11 Comments

CE May 24, 2020
GLASS - There are at least 2 places in metro Atlanta, GA, that I know take broken glass - City of Roswell Recycling & CHaRM. Yes, you have to collect it and take it yourself, oh the horrors (sarcasm font)! We recycled several thousand pounds of glass from our Alpharetta concert venue in 2019. I know because I spearheaded the action, and helped load, take to the center, unload and sort it into their bins. It was NOT easy - 96 gallon bins, hot, sticky, smelly and could be dangerous if you weren't patient, so yes, I'm proud of us for doing it, and would like to see more people searching for the truth about it than believing in hearsay. Throwing it in our regular trash at the venue was worse because the cleaning crew was getting injured when they pull full bags - they're not allowed to roll the bins out and back in. Just because the most convenient place doesn't do it - your home waste servicer - doesn't mean everyone won't, and we shouldn't take the first no as an absolute. P.S. Terracycle also takes used cigarette butts to recycle into plastic pallets. We sent at least 20 lbs last year. They rock.
 
2714Boysz May 13, 2020
Good article but in reference to plastic grocery bags, I have not seen a Walmart th as t doesn't have a Grocery Bag recycle bin at the entrance. Only stipulation is that they are clean bags not food bags( my understanding)
Issue with broken glass; our recycle center is set up for self service. Metal, plastic & glass, hopper opens, you dump then it dumps. So any glass bottles there in you frequently hear it breaking as it is rolled into the cargo load, so needless to say I don't worry over broken glass other then my son or myself being cut by it.
 
LongBrooke83 April 26, 2020
Makeup and personal care products can be recycled via Terracycle and a few conscious companies like Credo Beauty (in NYC, chicago and La) have the terracycle boxes in store (and give rewards points to recyclers!)
 
Smaug April 26, 2020
It's true that there are a lot of things that can be recycled in ways other than curbside pickups, with metals and electronics leading the way, but many other things too. Bulky items like tires and construction materials, and demolition products like stucco and concrete and rebar, are recyclable, but I don't know if there are collections from consumers. Places like New York are probably not fertile ground for the space consuming, low return yards that do this stuff, but they exist.
 
Sarah M. April 22, 2020
what's the storage cabinet featured in the main image for this article? is it a food52 item?
 
Author Comment
Coral L. April 22, 2020
Hi Sarah! You can find it here: https://food52.com/shop/products/6625-yamazaki-wood-steel-slim-storage-cabinet?sku=20309&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_cK07Y786AIVD5-fCh3aDwvdEAQYASABEgLHL_D_BwE
 
Sarah M. April 22, 2020
Wonderful!! Thank you!!
 
Anja April 25, 2020
That's not the same open style that is featured in the article. I prefer the one that is in the article.
 
Lynn May 13, 2020
Here it is: https://food52.com/shop/products/6205-fit-anywhere-slim-storage-cart
 
Smaug April 22, 2020
You really need to check with your service provider for recycling guidelines, which can vary widely. And hope that they tell you- they can be surprisingly uninformative sometimes- I still can't find out if there's any way to recycle cardboard milk cartons, but it seems like there isn't. Plastic bags are highly recyclable- California requires stores that give them out to collect them for recycling- or did until they were largely banned here. Many of the collection companies will take them; mine will also take used batteries, CFLs and oil, though they can't be put in the bin. And they emphatically don't want envelopes with plastic windows; many of them now just have a hole without a window. Recycling of glass is limited to containers made for food- I think it has to do with additives, particularly lead.
 
Author Comment
Coral L. April 22, 2020
Thanks for the reminder, Smaug!