Even if you’re diligent about cleaning your empty salad containers and rinsing out metal cans before you plunk them in a paper grocery bag (aka your recycling bin), chances are there are plenty of could-be recyclables that make it into your trash regardless. It’s not that you’re being thoughtless; it’s that, if we’re being honest, knowing what can be reused (and what can’t) is kind of confusing. But it turns out that you can recycle way more than just newspapers and bottles.
No, that doesn’t mean you can just leave your empty makeup bottles and old CDs curbside—that’s because recycling policies vary depending on where you live. Thankfully, there are a few nationwide organizations that will accept the things you can’t just leave in that blue bin, either via mail or at drop-off locations. Here are some of the surprising items that they’ll take:
You try to always remember your reusable grocery bags, but sometimes, you still end up collecting a plastic bag here or there—it happens. The good news is that you can easily dispose of them (and other “plastic film” products like Bubble Wrap, shipping bubbles, and produce bags) in recycling receptacles around your neighborhood. Just search for your zip code at PlasticFilmRecycling.org to find a grocery store or major retailer that accepts them. (For example, Target and Whole Foods both participate). But no matter what, don’t put them in with your other recyclables because they can damage recycling equipment.
Even it’s 1 a.m., resist tossing your contact lenses in the sink or toilet—when you do, they can end up polluting the ocean. The trash is okay, but it still brings them to the landfill. Luckily, there’s an even better solution: Send them over to TerraCycle, an organization that collects recyclable waste (all you have to do is bring it to a drop-off location or, for some items, pop it in the mail). Through its partnership with Bausch + Lomb, the company collects both contacts and blister cases from any brand to properly clean and recycle them.
Save your mascara wands, and you’ll be saving animals—amazing, right? You can send used, cleaned wands to Wands for Wildlife, an organization that uses them to remove fly eggs and larva from the fur and feathers of animals in wildlife rehabilitation. One thing, though: The group only collects wands during February and October. (Your remaining mascara tubes—and lipstick, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and pretty much any other beauty product packaging—can be recycled through TerraCycle.)
Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
One billion toothbrushes are thrown away in the U.S. each year—that’s a whole lot of nonbiodegradable plastic. Making the switch to bamboo might be a good thing to consider, but for now, you can send worn-down toothbrushes (and empty toothpaste tubes and empty floss containers) to TerraCycle, which, thanks to a partnership with Colgate, ensures they’re recycled.
All Kinds of Electronics
You probably already know to trade in or donate old phones and computers, but that’s not all the tech that can be repurposed. Google has its own recycling program for its devices, and Apple will also accept tools like printers, speakers, and keyboards. You can also save those scratched-up CDs and DVDs from the landfill through CD Recycling Center of America. And guess what? Those stacks of VHS tapes in your childhood bedroom can go to Green Disk, too.
Can’t knock that afternoon snack habit? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, make a habit of collecting chip bags until you have a good amount to recycle through TerraCycle’s partnership with Sensible Portions, which accepts clean family-size and individual-size bags from any snack brand. See, your Flaming Hot Cheetos obsession can be turned into a good thing after all.
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