5 Items You Should Recycle But Probably Throw Away

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Go through any neighborhood on the weekly recycling day and in front of most residences you’ll find recycling bins filled with cans, bottles, newspapers and other recyclables. Most Americans make an effort to recycle; according to one 2009 poll, 77% of Americans sometimes recycle. That statistic, reliable or not, doesn’t account for the other potentially recyclable items these same well-meaning individuals toss into the trash daily. Here are the top five items that should be recycled but all too often end up in landfills.

5. Electronics

Old computers, cell phones and other electronics contain many harmful compounds.

Old Apple computers at a recycling center; Myles Grant

People once judged a man by his haircut, and a woman by her handbags and shoes. Now it’s all about electronics, and more notably which cell phone or laptop you’re carrying. Seemingly before you have even learned how to download all your favorite apps, your once top-of-the-line toy becomes unfashionably obsolete. It’s time for an upgrade, but what to do with your old gadget? For many people, the answer is to simply toss their old television, phone or computer into the trash. This obsession with newer, faster and better has turned America’s landfills into toxic waste dumps. Electronic circuit boards contain several hazardous metals, including chromium, lead, cadmium, beryllium and mercury. Yet according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans recycled only about 18 percent of their used electronics in 2007, which means almost 2 million tons wound up in landfills. That’s not only bad for the environment, it’s also illegal in many jurisdictions to throw old electronics in the trash. Stop this vicious cycle by visiting the website Earth911 to locate an e-recycling center near you.

Also, many electronics companies are working to promote awareness of electronics recycling. For example, the Verizon Device Recycling Program rewards consumers for recycling old smart phones and other electronics. Old devices may also be donated to HopeLine from Verizon, a program that aids survivors of domestic violence.


4. Printer Cartridges

Americans throw away some 375 million ink and toner cartridges each year.

Photo credit: © Artur Marciniec/Dreamstime.com

Approximately 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are tossed into the trash every year in the U.S. The plastic used to create these cartridges is manufactured from engineering grade polymers that take up to 1,000 years to completely decompose. A safer, eco-friendly alternative is to bag up your empty ink and toner cartridges and bring them to a participating recycling center. Many of these establishments even pay you for the cartridges, but there are several restrictions; for example, the cartridge’s plastic casing, nozzle plate and flex tape cannot be broken or cracked.


3. CFL Bulbs

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so should be recycled.

Photo credit: Kempton

Environmentally conscious and thrifty consumers across the United States are ditching traditional incandescent light bulbs in favor of CFLs, or compact fluorescent lamp bulbs. CFLs use approximately 75% less electricity, result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and last five to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. The problem comes when these bulbs reach the end of their lifespan. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, which seeps into the ground, nearby water or is released into the air when the bulbs are broken. Many cities and states have laws prohibiting the disposal of these bulbs in the trash, but residential consumers recycle only about 2 percent of their used CFLs each year, according to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers. The EPA recommends bringing your old bulbs to one of the many CFL recycling centers nationwide, including those found at Home Depot, Lowe’s, IKEA and several other major retailers.


2. Plastic Grocery Bags

Americans use some 100 billion plastic shopping bags a year.

Photo credit: © Jo Ann Snover/Dreamstime.com

Think of all the times you’ve rushed to the grocery store to pick up some butter or a half-gallon of milk. For the sake of convenience, how many times did you throw the items into a plastic grocery bag? Americans use an astonishing 100 billion plastic grocery bags every year, but the EPA estimates less than 5% of those bags are recycled. To make matters worse, the plastic residue can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills. Many environmentally conscious people are switching to reusable cloth bags, but this doesn’t solve the problem. Few recycling centers accept plastic bags, simply because it’s not profitable to process the material. The best solution is to bring the bags to your local grocery store or major retailers, including Target and Walmart, and look for plastic bag recycling boxes near the front entrance.


1. Batteries

Americans throw away some 180,000 tons of batteries each year.
Look through your home and count the number of toys, gadgets and tools that require batteries. Now imagine how many batteries are found in similar items across the country. According to Earth911.com, Americans throw away almost 180,000 tons of batteries each year. Rechargeable batteries, and traditional batteries manufactured before 1996, are of particular concern because they contain larger amounts of toxic mercury. The good news is that battery recyclers have seen a rise in recycling in recent years. And more than 30 states have passed some type of rechargeable battery disposal law. For example, New York State passed a law in 2010 making it illegal for someone to knowingly toss rechargeable batteries in the trash. Do the eco-conscious, and in some cases legal, thing and recycle your batteries. Visit www.call2recycle.org to locate a battery recycling facility in your area.


One More: Prescription Medications

There’s no way to recycle your old prescription medications, but there is a proper way to dispose of them. People often flush their old medications down the toilet, which introduces the chemicals into the water supply. Instead, crush any pills or pour liquid medications into a zippered plastic bag. Mix the liquids or pills with coffee grounds, sawdust or kitty litter and seal the bag before throwing it into the garbage.

Written by

Jaimie Zinski hails from Wisconsin and is a freelance writer on various topics, from pets and parenting to history and horror films. When she's not writing for several online sources, Jaimie is reading, watching a horror film or working on a series of children's books based upon her daughter Olivia's favorite animal, fish.