How to recycle (almost) everything

Reader Helen tipped us off to a valuable resource on for how to recycle or reuse anything. The section has a number of articles in it, my favorite being their A-to-Z Guide.

If you don’t know if an item you’re uncluttering from your home or office can be reused or recycled, check out the A-to-Z Guide before throwing it in the trash. Honestly, I had no idea that crayons were an item to recycle:

Crayons: Send them to the National Crayon Recycle Program (, which melts down crayons and reforms them into new ones.

Or Elmer’s Glue:

Glue: Many schools have recycling programs for empty containers of Elmer’s glue and glue sticks. Students and teachers rinse out the bottles, which are then sent to Wal-Mart for recycling. Find out more at

Or even old skis:

… send them to, 4 Abbott Place, Millbury MA 01527; they’ll be turned into Adirondack-style beach chairs.

Check out the full section to learn even more about ideas for recycling unwanted items from your home.

(Image by James Baigrie for Real Simple.)

12 Comments for “How to recycle (almost) everything”

  1. posted by Mimi on

    clever hints, but to be honest, in germany we recycle nearly all of these things because we have to do that!

    there are recycling centres in every town, you can bring whatever you want to put away and they sort the rubbish. and it´s absolutely forbidden to throw away batteries or compact fluorescent lightbulbs- it seems unimaginable to dump them! every supermarket that sells batteries is forced to take back empty batteries etc!

    or, for example… this quotation from
    “Plastic Bag as Kitchen-Cleanup Aid
    For no-fuss cleanup, instead of peeling fruits and vegetables over a cutting board or into the sink, do it over a plastic bag. When you’re done, flip the peelings into the garbage and rinse the bag to reuse another day, or simply toss the whole shebang into the trash.”

    this would not even be allowed over here. fruit and vegetable scraps have to be recycled a compost heap or we have to pay for a special recycling bin that is made to collect organic materials in order to recycle them…

    i don´t want to criticize the realsimple- homepage, it´s wonderful to get things started. but but reach everybody the goverment has to make rules sothat everybody will do it.

    i really can´t imagine people tossing all those things…

  2. posted by Tammy on

    Mimi –

    I agree! We recently moved to an apartment. There are no recycling facilities here – even for cans, bottles, the simple and obvious things. Everything goes into the trash. I hate it! We save up our recycling and take it to a grocery store once a week – the one grocery store chain in this whole city that accepts the basic recyclables.

    But I am weary of the process, and I know that almost no one else does this. The trash is full of glass, aluminum, plastic, cardboard.

    We need system wide changes. It doesn’t make sense for everyone to drive separately to the few places that take recycling anyway … we are wasting so much energy in doing that!

  3. posted by Jen on

    Mimi – I’ve lived in dorms and apartment complexes in the states for the past several years, and sadly I can tell you that people here will throw away much worse than what’s on that list out of sheer laziness. There have been times when I’ve gone out to the trash bins and taken away items in perfect condition which I’ve used or sold (after an appropriate cleaning of course). I’ve become more cautious as of late because of the resurgence of bed bugs, but I am shocked on a weekly basis at my neighbors who can’t even be bothered to throw their milk jugs into the recycling containers one foot next to the trash cans.
    Very few trash haulers around here allow will recycle more than glass, aluminum, and a couple types of plastic. Our borough’s hauler won’t even accept cardboard or paper as recyclables, so I usually end up taking them to a facility about fifteen miles away, and even that facility is extremely limited in what they accept. One employee at a facility even chastised me for trying to recycle the thin cardboard from a shoe box, even though their website claimed to accept these types of items. It is incredibly aggravating and time consuming, so I suppose I can understand why people would rather just pitch it in the dumpster.
    My ranting aside, I’ve discovered that Best Buy accepts a lot of items also accepted by Greendisk. I took a load of power cords / cables over, as well as some busted CD’s.

  4. posted by Mimi on

    tammy and jen: that sounds very strange for me. sometimes i am angry with our system because it makes a lot of work to sort everything but if i compare it with throwing it all into one ton… i will try not to be angry anymore 🙂

    if someone is interested: here´s a link in english “what to do with your rubbish in germany” it´s a rough text, it´s only the tip of the iceberg, its a lot more comlicated if you look at it in detail 🙂

    i don´t think that germans are less lazy… we are forced to do that by rules and laws and we get fines if we don´t sort what we should have sorted…

  5. posted by Suddenly Susan on

    DO ONE THING. MAKE ONE CHANGE. That’s a suggestion I got from a friend who is a big-time recycler. When people ask her “what can I do or how can I make a change”, that’s what she suggests they do. If we can encourage people to start out with making just one change in the way they recycle, we all can make a difference. Doing one thing is better than none at all.

    My sister lived in Germany the last two years and she told me that everyone carries their own canvas shopping bags to the store. She told me they actually charge you money if you don’t bring a bag and the grocer has to put your groceries in a plastic bag. That would be incentive enough for me.

    I forget sometimes to take my canvas bags to the store so the alternative is I try to use the paper bags. I then use the paper bags to put my cookies on to cool after they come out of the oven. My husband loves this recycling tip!

  6. posted by Jen on

    I read the link you posted – it sounds like it would be wonderful except for disposing of compost materials. If you have a yard or garden, are you required to have a compost heap? I can see how it would be frustrating to separate your trash to such a degree.

  7. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    All the suggestions cited above involve transporting/shipping used items to another location. For crayons and glue sticks, probably not a big deal, but paying to ship skis for recycling? I doubt it will happen.


  8. posted by Tabatha on

    i’m grateful I can recycle at all here, but I am also frustrated that I can’t recycle any colored glass with my regular recycling. they only do a once a year thing down at the fairgrounds and i don’t have space to save colored class all year long. I generally avoid buy anything in colored glass but occasionally i forget. I think I might be able to take it to Target now that they have some bins set up for recycling though.

  9. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    @ Mimi–I don’t know whether Germans are less lazy (I am proudly of 100% German ancestry, and my mom is industrious and my dad is more conserving of effort), but Germans are definitelymore communitarian, as is most, if not all, of Europe. Here we are rugged individualists who can always, we think, find another frontier when we trash up this space!

    Interestingly, though, Canadians, who have far more frontier than Americans, nonetheless are more European in their community spirit. I quickly got used to making sure I always had a shopping bag on me this past summer when we were there.

  10. posted by jan on

    mimi-there are americans out here who are frustrated by our communities who lack any kind of foresight. I used to recycle at a place and then they started picking up recycles at the curb but only a few things. And now while they have a somewhat complete program they keep changing what they will accept and do not give a very good description of the new rules. I called in to ask about which plastic they would accept and the person on the phone, the expert, could not even understand the question, having no knowledge of the rules or the different classes of plastic. GGGeeeZZZ!

  11. posted by Rachel on

    Great resource. I read through the entire list. Thanks for posting this, Erin.

  12. posted by Mimi on

    @ jen/kathryn: it seems as this town that has published it rules has different rules than my town. (i think this is the communitarian thing that kathryn mentioned) we have to order brown bins to put in organic material and we have to pay for that – but if we use a compost heap we don´t have to order the brown bin. anyway, organic materials have to be recycled over here!

    @jan: i can understand your frustration. wanting to do a good thing and not to being able to because of external reasons is… grrrr…

    @ is think link: posted somewhere here? i´d like to recommend it! avoiding waste seems to be even better than recycling it.

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