There are many reasons to recycle, from saving the Earth to saving the economy. In fact, when U.S. recycling levels reach 75 percent, it will be the equivalent of removing 55 million cars from the roads while simultaneously generating 1.5 million new jobs in the U.S. every year. But there’s one big hiccup: Americans are largely in the dark about what and how to recycle. We all know that our empty soda cans and bottles should go straight into the green bin, but what about all of those landfill-clogging consumer goods we’ve got lying around? Yep, most of them can be recycled, too! Here are some innovative recycling programs to consider in your effort to go green

  • Oyster Shells—Restaurants, food processing plants and home chefs: Don’t toss your oysters into the regular trash! Many states have free oyster recycling programs with public drop-off locations where you can unload those empty shells. Why, you ask, would anyone want used oyster shells? They can be directly returned to the ecosystem for filtering, creating new habitats for other animals and controlling erosion. Small businesses have also employed the shells to make sustainable apparel, which is surprisingly soft.
  • Ink Cartridges—Many people don’t realize that recycling ink cartridges can actually save the Earth and your pocketbook at the same time. You can actually refill your ink cartridges yourself using printer cartridge refill kits or you can drop off your empty cartridges at a participating recycling location for a bonus. For example, you can unload old cartridges at Staples to get a few dollars back in rewards for every ink or toner cartridge.
  • Denim—The denim giant Madewell is pioneering denim recycling through its Do Well program, which lets customers drop off their old jeans for a $20 off coupon. Madewell then works with Blue Jeans Go Green to recycle the discarded denim into housing insulation. There are several other denim recycling programs out there to keep your favorite pair of old blue jeans out of the landfill.
  • Bulk Bags—If you work in warehousing, manufacturing, fulfillment or logistics, there’s a good chance you’ve come across bulk bags, otherwise known as flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBC). For the rest of us, these are basically just giant bags that hold

bulk quantities of loose materials. But because they’re made of woven plastic, they can be recycled again and again. The containers may be fixed up for reuse in the same application or transformed into a whole different item entirely.

  • Packing Peanuts—There’s no denying that foam peanuts are some of the best supplies for protecting fragile goods in transit, but those fluffy little peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene, which isn’t good for the Earth. While this kind of plastic is highly recyclable, it’s also super-lightweight, which makes shipping costly. The best way to recycle packing peanuts is to find a drop-off location in your state. You can also donate the material to your local shipping company.
  • Electronics—So many different kinds of electronics can, and should, be recycled. Old cell phones, printers, tablets, cameras, microwaves, refrigerators and washing machines can all be recycled relatively easily. For small consumer electronics, look for receptacles at major stores, including Staples and Best Buy, or inquire about mail-in recycling programs to the original manufacturer. For large appliances, many recycling companies will often come and pick up the item. Some will even pay you for them!
  • Shoes—Like electronics, shoes are made from a wide variety of materials that can be recycled, especially rubber and plastic. Some big shoe manufacturers encourage shoe recycling through special programs. For example, Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old athletic shoes to produce Nike Grind, a material which can be used to create playgrounds, flooring and more.
  • ●       Batteries—Battery recycling isn’t just recommended, it’s actually regulated in some states. That’s because batteries contain various hazardous materials—mercury, lead, lithium and others—that can damage the environment when tossed in a landfill. On the other hand, when you recycle them, these materials can be recharged and reused. The metal can also be recycled and made into other products. Your local recycling center or battery store can help you properly dispose of most kinds of batteries.
  • Keys—Keys are usually made out of the most-recyclable material out there—metal—so they’re definitely something that you want to recycle when they no longer serve you. Keys are generally treated as scrap metal, which you can’t just toss in your recycling bin. A safer bet is to donate to specific key-recycling programs, such as Key for Hope. This organization collects unwanted and old keys, which are then sold to scrap recyclers for money to support local programs that feed the hungry. 
  • Tapes—Cassette tapes, VHS tapes, you name it…these consumer goods have posed a big problem for the environment for years. They’re typically made of easily recyclable plastic and not-so-recyclable Mylar tape, which means recycling is a bit of a conundrum. However, the company GreenDisk offers a unique VHS tape recycling program that parcels out the tapes so that the plastic can be recycled and made into something else.
  • Carpet and Rugs—Depending on what kind of carpet you have, you may be able to save it from the landfill. Many carpets are made from synthetic materials—nylon, polyester, olefin or acrylic—which can be recycled again and again and made into other materials. It is possible to recycle carpets made from natural fibers—jute, wool and sisal, for example—with certain programs. Some wool carpets can be recycled into fertilizer and soil conditioner when cut up. Synthetic carpet and rugs can be recycled into fiber backing for new floor coverings and other plastic goods.

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