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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.