How to Recycle Anything
An A-to-Z guide of what can be tossed into which bin.
Makeup: Makeup can expire and is none too pretty for the earth when you throw it in the trash (chemicals abound in most makeup). Some manufacturers are making progress on this front. People who turn in six or more empty MAC containers, for example, will receive a free lipstick from the company in return; SpaRitual nail polishes come in reusable, recyclable glass; and Josie Maran Cosmetics sells biodegradable plastic compacts made with a corn-based resin―just remove the mirror and put the case in your compost heap.
Mattresses and box springs: Mattresses are made of recyclable materials, such as wire, paper, and cloth, but not all cities accept them for recycling. (Go to earth911.org to find out if yours does.)
Metal flatware: If it’s time to retire your old forks, knives, and spoons, you can usually recycle them with other scrap metal.
Milk cartons with plastic spouts and caps: Take off and throw away the cap (don’t worry about the spout―it will be filtered out during the recycling process). As for the carton, check your local recycling rules to see whether you should toss it with plastics and metals or with paper.
Mirrors: These aren’t recyclable through most municipal recyclers, because the chemicals on the glass can’t be mixed with glass bottles and jars. You can donate them to secondhand stores, of course. Or if the mirror is broken, put it in a paper bag for the safety of your trash collectors. To find out what your municipality recycles, call 800-CLEANUP or visit recyclingcenters.org.
Nikes and other sneakers: Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program (nikereuseashoe.com) accepts old sneakers (any brand) and recycles them into courts for various sports so kids around the world have a place to play. You can drop them off at a Nike store, other participating retailers, athletic clubs, and schools around the country (check the website for locations), or mail them to Nike Recycling Center, c/o Reuse-a-Shoe, 26755 SW 95th Avenue, Wilsonville OR 97070. If your sneakers are still in reasonable shape, donate them to needy athletes in the United States and around the world through oneworldrunning.com. Mail them to One World Running, P.O. Box 2223, Boulder CO 80306.
Notebooks (spiral): It may seem weird to toss a metal-bound notebook into the paper recycling, but worry not―the machinery will pull out smaller nonpaper items. One caveat: If the cover is plastic, rip that off, says Matsch. “It’s a larger contaminant.”
- Envelopes with plastic windows: Recycle them with regular office paper. The filters will sieve out the plastic, and they’ll even take out the glue strip on the envelope flaps.
- FedEx: Paper FedEx envelopes can be recycled, and there’s no need to pull off the plastic sleeve. FedEx Paks made of Tyvek are also recyclable (see below).
- Goldenrod: Those ubiquitous mustard-colored envelopes are not recyclable, because goldenrod paper (as well as dark or fluorescent paper) is saturated with hard-to-remove dyes. “It’s what we call ‘designing for the dump,’ not the environment,” says Matsch.
- Jiffy Paks: Many Jiffy envelopes―even the paper-padded ones filled with that material resembling dryer lint―are recyclable with other mixed papers, like cereal boxes. The exception: Goldenrod-colored envelopes must be tossed.
- Padded envelopes with Bubble Wrap: These can’t be recycled. The best thing you can do is reuse them.
- Tyvek: DuPont, the maker of Tyvek, takes these envelopes back and recycles them into plastic lumber. Turn one envelope inside out and stuff others inside it. Mail them to Tyvek Recycle, Attention: Shirley B. Wright, 2400 Elliham Avenue #A, Richmond VA 23237. If you have large quantities (200 to 500), call 866-338-9835 to order a free pouch.