Recycling Beyond Bottles & Cans
So you’ve got your kitchen recycling system dialed, plastic has almost entirely disappeared from your home and you shop for clothes like your grandmother (in a good way, of course). Up next? Responsibly disposing of home goods and electronics.
Yet, simple solutions for how to properly recycle these products evades us for good reason: it’s truly not that easy. A United Nations study reported that of the millions of tons of e-waste that was discarded in 2016, only 20% of it was recycled correctly—that’s not counting the large number of home goods that are sent to landfills as well.
In light of those numbers, we are encouraged by pioneering companies taking the lead to help you safely recycle and repurpose unwanted home goods and electronics. Read on to get the quick and dirty guide on how to be a more mindful post-consumer.
How to Recycle Electronics
Let’s start with the trickiest one first: electronics, which is also referred to as e-waste. Old cellphones, laptops and gadgets are often sent to landfills, leaving the reusable products within them (gold, silver, copper, plastic, metal, and glass, to name a few) to languish as well. While the opportunity to reuse and renew those raw materials are lost, many electronics also contain chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment—so don’t throw them in the trash.
If you’re upgrading or sorting through a pile of e-waste, try this systematic approach to help you discern which is the best way to properly dispose of your products.
Return it to the manufacturer. The cardinal rule (well, it’s a cardinal rule now) of recycling electronics is to check with the manufacturer or company first. There’s a good chance that the maker of your device has a recycling program that will happily take back their own products. Big brands like Dell, Apple, Canon, LG, Samsung, Sony, HP, Sprint, and even Amazon accept old e-waste. You can also check your local electronics store to see if they have an initiative in place or an electronics recycling bin.
Check with your town. Local municipalities can be a great resource to safely recycle e-waste. Log on to the Waste Management’s website for information on how, where, and what you can recycle in your own city.
Bring it to an e-waste recycler. One of the biggest organizations, Call2Recycle will responsibly dispose of old batteries and cellphones nationwide. Go to their website to find a drop-off location near you (they’re in Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Staples), which the organization states is within 10 miles of 87% of people in the US. They also offer the option to mail it back in bulk. You can find local recycling options through TIA E-Cycling Central as well, complete with a clickable map and list of resellers, recyclers, and ways to get rid of e-waste.
Donate your electronics. A stellar option for working and sometimes non-working electronics is to donate them. Some brands have programs that accept their old electronics as donations, and there are plenty of organizations in your area that do the same.
How to Recycle Home Goods
Thankfully, home goods don’t conceal hazardous waste or valuable raw materials in the same way electronics do. This makes them less of a chore to recycle, but the category can be quite vague. Exactly what kind of home good you are trying to recycle is specific to you. Since they run the gamut from sofas to silverware, it’s challenging to provide a few easy answers for how to recycle home goods.
Here are some helpful tips for parsing through a varied collection of unwanted home goods and what to do with them:
Is it swappable or resellable? Assess the condition of the item to determine if it might still have value to someone else. If so, donating, swapping, or reselling on an online marketplace (think: Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle etc.). Shop around and talk to friends, family, co-workers or community members to see if anyone might have a use for _____. Doing so will give it a second life, and that is always the best option, even before recycling.
Consider composting. Your first thought when ridding yourself of home goods may not be the compost… but it could be. For example, a wooden dish brush with natural bristles can break down into organic matter, or unstained all-natural textiles can be cut up and added to the pile. Unsure? Give it quick web search first before chucking it into the bin.
Upcycle or repurpose it. To truly limit and even avoid creating additional waste, think of ways to give your product a second life. Be thrifty with existing items so you don’t have to buy new—or can at least avoid sending them to landfill. This may feel a bit ambitious, but it can also be a fun and budget-friendly way to get more creative.
Check with the brand, seller, or manufacturer. A similar solution to the e-waste conundrum is to check and see if the brand or seller accepts old items back for recycling. For example, Whole Foods’ partnership with Preserve allows you to recycle approved bath and beauty products through their Gimme 5 program. You might not always strike gold, but it never hurts to try.
Find a recycling program. Permanently disposing of your item is always last on the list. After considering the other four options, you may still have to find a way to recycle your home goods. In that case, Terracycle, Recycle Nation, or your local Waste Management are by and large the most effective ways to do so.
Based in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, Katherine Oakes Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering others to live a more conscious and connected life. She is a contributing writer for The Good Trade, Wayward Collective and pens articles on outdoor travel as the East Coast correspondent at Bearfoot Theory; Katherine is also the former web editor of Pure Green Magazine. Offline, you can find her on a yoga mat or in pursuit of adventure in the wilds of Maine and the neighboring White Mountains.