Have you ever tossed a plastic shopping bag in your recycling cart? You may be guilty of something called “wishcycling.” With all the complicated rules on what can and can’t be recycled curbside, it’s tempting to just toss everything in the blue bin and hope for the best. But things like plastic bags and textiles can get caught in recycling machinery, and items like batteries have hazardous chemicals that need to be handled carefully. At ReStore, part of our mission is to divert waste from landfills and extend the life cycle of usable materials. We’ve put together a list of common items that are tricky to recycle, so you can help us keep stuff out of incinerators and into the circular economy!
When you finally finish cleaning out your closet, the last thing you want to do is spend more time sorting through your castoffs. In 2018, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills, where they can take up to 200+ years to decompose. So, it’s worth taking a little more care to keep your old clothes out of landfills and incinerators! If your clothes and shoes are still in pretty good shape, extend their life by donating to a local thrift shop or dropping them off at the USAgain bin at ReStore Oakland. If they’re completely worn out, it’s time to hit the mall! Retailers like H&M and Madewell accept textiles from any brand in any condition to be recycled into materials like housing insulation. And in exchange, you’ll receive a coupon for your next purchase. Win-win!
2. Plastic Film
From plastic wrap to cereal bags to bubble wrap, flexible plastic film is everywhere. But don’t be fooled by the chasing arrows symbol on your Amazon mailer! Flexible plastic is not accepted in most curbside recycling programs. But that doesn’t mean that they’re destined for the landfill. Many grocery stores like Safeway and Trader Joe’s have drop-off bins where plastic film is collected to be recycled into new bags, or even plastic furniture and decking! Find details on what can be recycled and where here: www.bagandfilmrecycling.org
Bet you didn’t know paint could be recycled! ReStore Oakland accepts house paint, primers, stains, sealers, varnish, and more to be recycled through our partner PaintCare. These paint products are then recycled into new paint, or even concrete or fuel. And they don’t forget about the container – that’s recycled too!
Did you know that in California it’s illegal to throw out certain types of lightbulbs? Many lightbulbs contain mercury, which is considered hazardous waste. Many cities and counties have household hazardous waste disposal sites, such as the Santa Clara site in the Environmental Innovation Center next to ReStore San Jose. However, you can also recycle lightbulbs at retailers like Lowe’s and IKEA!
5. Baby Supplies
Kids grow up so quickly that it’s easy to accumulate a mountain of stuff they don’t need anymore, and many thrift stores don’t accept baby supplies. Local parent groups on Facebook are a great resource to not only give away items your kids have outgrown, but to save some cash and grab some secondhand stuff yourself!
We don’t need to tell you that mattresses and box springs aren’t going to fit in your curbside recycling bin. But they can be dropped off for free at Bye Bye Mattress collection sites like the one at ReStore Oakland. These mattresses are then broken down into separate materials like foam, wood, and steel to be recycled. Over 75% of a single mattress can be recycled into new products!
Electronics these days become outdated in the blink of an eye, contributing to 54 million tons of e-waste produced in 2019. While it can be tempting to trade in your phone or laptop when it starts to lag, consider extending the life of your tech by opting for repairs first. Just a quick battery replacement can make your iPhone feel brand new! But if a simple fix won’t do the trick, many chain electronic retailers like Best Buy, Staples, & Apple offer free recycling for all sorts of electronics, plus appliances or ink cartridges! To do even more good with your old tech, donate it to ewasteCollective, a local non-profit that gives away refurbished computers to those in need.
If your appliance is under seven years old and in perfect working condition, drop it off at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or schedule a donation pick up! But even older or broken appliances are still valuable sources for scrap metal. Check out California’s list of Certified Appliance Recyclers to safely recycle large appliances near you.
Batteries are another hazardous item that are illegal to trash in California. Luckily, it’s easy to recycle batteries at many hardware stores, libraries, or at your local household hazardous waste drop-off site. Some cities like Oakland will accept batteries curbside, but only in plastic bags placed on top of the recycling cart. Once you recycle your old single use batteries, consider switching to rechargeables!
If you want to get rid of anything not listed here, try posting it in your local Buy Nothing group! Buy Nothing groups are local Facebook groups where community members offer up unwanted items or ask for things they need, all for the low price of free. Nothing is too small to give on Buy Nothing! From spare thread to extra granola bars, people have found new homes for all sorts of unwanted items.
Before you dump any packaging in the trash, check to see if the brand partners with TerraCycle. TerraCycle partners with many national brands to give consumers the option to mail back packaging to be recycled and kept out of landfills.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, there are also paid services like Ridwell that will pick up difficult to recycle items like plastic film, batteries, and textiles from your front door!
It may take a little extra effort to make sure you’re recycling right, but at the end of the day, we’re responsible for the waste we create. But the best way to deal with waste is to avoid it in the first place! Check out local resources like StopWaste and CalRecycle for tips on how to reduce and reuse.