19 Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled (And How To Do It)

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled collage; keys hanging on wall; bras; makeup; eyeglasses

Other Things That Can Be Recycled, Beyond Paper And Plastic

You probably already recycle common recyclables like paper, plastic, aluminum cans, and glass bottles, which is a great thing! Recycling these materials helps to conserve resources, save energy, protects the environment, and reduce the amount of trash in our landfills.

Related: Do You Know What You Should And Shouldn’t Recycle?

But there are likely other things that can be recycled lying around your home that you may not know about. Find out about 19 things you can recycle below, and get rid of thing you don’t need and keep waste out of landfills at the same time!

19 Surprising Things You Can Recycle

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - iphone

1. Cell Phones

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 20 percent of cell phones are recycled each year. Most cell carriers have programs for recycling old phones — check your carrier’s website for details.

Another option is Cell Phones for Soldiers, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing cost-free communication services and emergency funding to active-duty military members and veterans around the world.

2. Crayons

Crayons aren’t as fun to use once they’re small or broken, and most of those pieces end up going right into the trash. But if you save all those unused pieces of crayons, you can donate them to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which collects the materials for Crazy Crayons. Alternatively, you could mail them to The Crayon Initiative in California, which turns old crayons into new ones and donates them to children’s hospitals across the country.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - batteries

3. Batteries

There was a time when nobody really recycled batteries, but now it’s much easier to recycle your used batteries. Many national retailers such as Best Buy, The Home Depot, Staples and Lowe’s accept reusable ones, as does Call2Recycle.

4. VHS Tapes

If you have VHS tapes that you don’t use anymore (I know I do!) and they aren’t fit to donate, recycle them! There’s a company called Green Disk, who will recycle your “technotrash” for you. The tapes are taken apart and shredded and then turned into all kinds of useful things, like product packaging.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - tennis shoes

5. Running Shoes

Don’t know what to do with your old running shoes? Instead of throwing them out, send them to a recycling program. Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program accepts old sneakers (any brand) and recycles them into courts for various sports so kids around the world have a place to play. If your sneakers are still in good shape, donate them to needy athletes in the United States and around the world through One World Running.

Related: These 10 Brands Make The Most Comfortable Shoes Ever

6. Inhalers

More than 46 million people throw away their inhalers every year. This is a huge amount of waste that can be recycled. If you bring your used inhalers to participating pharmacies, they will be broken down into plastics and aluminum.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - makeup

7. Cosmetics

Cosmetic packaging probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering recycling, but compacts, tubs, tubes, and other containers can be easily recycled. Various companies have their own programs, including: Lush, MAC Cosmetics, and Kiehl’s, to name a few.

8. Corks

Wine corks can be recycled and used in a variety of materials including flooring tiles, insulation, automotive parts, and sports equipment. Some Whole Foods locations, wineries, and breweries have drop boxes where you can recycle corks, so look for one the next time you’re grocery shopping. The organization ReCORK also has drop boxes in various locations.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - medication bottles

9. Prescription Drugs

Most people simply throw away or flush old prescriptions. This can cause a number of environmental issues because drugs get into streams and leak into landfills. Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.

10. Mattresses

More than 50,000 mattresses end up in U.S. landfills each day. Fortunately, you can change that. Bye Bye Mattress will help you find your closest recycling facility. Recycled mattresses are used to make fiber for scrap metal, wood chips, clothing, and foam products.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - bras

11. Bras

Check out the Bra Recyclers website to learn more about the Bosom Buddies Program in which donated bras of all shapes and sizes are given to local shelters or redistributed to women in developing nations.

Related: This Brand Makes The Most Comfortable Bras Ever

12. Apple Products

Apple Trade In is a trade-in and recycling program that’s good for you and the planet. If your trade-in device is eligible for credit, you can use it to offset the cost of a new Apple device. If your device isn’t eligible for credit, they’ll recycle it for you for free, so it’s a win either way!

Related: Clever Ways To Recycle Your Old Smartphone Cases

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - eyeglasses

13. Eyeglasses

Donate your old eyeglasses and sunglasses to help people with eyesight difficulties worldwide. (Sunglasses can be non-prescription. They are needed in countries near the equator to help protect people’s eyes from sun damage.) Go to Lions Clubs International to find out how to recycle your old glasses. You can take them to a Walmart vision center, a local Lions Club, or mail them in.

14. Hearing Aids

Send your old hearing aids to the Hearing Aid Project to give the gift of hearing to those in need and contribute to a healthy environment. Any make or model, regardless of age, can be donated. All donations are tax deductible and a letter of acknowledgment will be sent to all donors.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - holiday lights

15. Holiday Lights

Send those energy-sucking strands of holiday lights off to HolidayLEDs.com to be recycled and you’ll get a discount coupon you can put toward the new, twinkly LED lights of your dreams. The Christmas Light Recycling Program is open year round.

16. Juice Pouches

Because most are a combination of a plastic polymer and aluminum, drink pouches aren’t typically recyclable. However, TerraCycle has a program sponsored by Honest Kids that accepts empty Honest Kids, Capri Sun, and Kool-Aid drink pouches at select drop-off locations.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - backpack

17. Backpacks

The American Birding Association collects backpacks and other field gear (binoculars, etc) and redistributes it, free of charge, to researchers, conservationists, and educators working to conserve birds and their habitats in the Neotropics.

18. Greeting Cards

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children accepts new and used, all-occasion greeting cards all year. They recycle the cards and then create new ones from them. Money raised from selling the new cards helps fund programming for abused, neglected or homeless children, young adults and families.

Surprising Things That Can Be Recycled - keys

19. Keys

The Keys for Hope Foundation is a non-profit that seeks to end hunger. The foundation helps by raising money from key drives and donations. The keys are weighed and then sold at recycling centers for scrap metal.

Related: These Are The 9 Best Containers To Repurpose

Were you surprised by any of these things you can recycle?

Read This Next


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

MORE IDEAS FROM

Bright Ideas

  • I wish you would have included the local Lions Clubs as a donation center for used eyeglasses. They are categorized by diopter (lens strength) then sent to foreign countries as giveaways for free.

  • Very cool! In our time when there are very big problems with the pollution of the planet, I believe that it is necessary to make very great efforts to recycle and reuse resources. This is a critical problem in our society, when people think only to themselves and do not think about future pollution problems. I use the services of a company that helps me keep things clean and tidy.

  • We found out that CVS has a drop box for old medications. We had almost a gallon zipper bag full after cleaning out my mother in law’s house

  • I love all of these resources! But before recycling those old VHS video tapes, have them transferred to DVD. Classicmemories.com has nationwide service and they will do the work for you. Great prices and service.

  • “Juice pouches
    Because most are a combination of a plastic polymer and aluminum, these are not recyclable.”
    ???
    I thought that this was for recycled items, not non-recyclable items…
    I am very confused on juice pouches. Are they or are they not recyclable?

    • Did you even read her description? you can send them off to an organization that recycles them into purses, etc. they even pay for shipping. So while not technically recycled, they are recycled in another way by giving them a new life.

  • Eye glasses are recycled by the Lions Club International. check with your local club as to were to drop the glasses off.

  • What wonderful information, Jillee … see how much good you do for the world. You are amazing!!! <3

  • I still can’t find any place that will recycle single use batteries. So frustrating! While I lived in Australia, you could drop them off at any hardware or office supply store. Including IKEA! But here in the US nothing. I do so hate to put them in the garbage Any ideas?

  • unfortunately, the TerraCycle program isn’t accepting any new ‘groups’ to recycle juice pouches. I contacted them to see if pouches could be sent, even without the ‘reward program’ – am hoping to hear back soon.

  • When I read “19 Things You Can Recycle” I just wanted to reach through my computer and hug you. I was unaware of these, and will definitely be recycling to them. I’m also going to print this out, and pass it on to as many people as possible. Thank you so much for your caring spirit.

  • You missed the most prevalent used eye glass recycling group in the WORLD…the Lions Clubs! Local Clubs collect them. They are sorted and sent to other countries for those who can’t afford them.

    • Most opticians’ offices and places like Lenscrafters in Ontario, Canada welcome used eye wear. Just ask if you don’t see the donation box.

  • Great tips, Jillee! But I had to laugh when you talked about recycling old bras, to DEVELOPING countries!!!

  • In my area it’s very easy to donate unused items. My mom always has at least one group calling her about picking up items for donations. We’ve given old clothes and other stuff.These groups will stop by our house and pick up the items.

  • I love these ideas, lots of new things. In Europe batteries are recycled intensively, but lots of local rules (eg about plastic collection) are a brake to the development. Some efforts are made but my overall idea is that not enough materials are recycled (yet!)… until the raw materials become rare or too expensive.

  • […] of electronics responsibly. See this post to learn more about safe ways to recycle your old electronic […]

  • I’m not sure of what group does this but I saw on the news one night where you can donate wedding dresses that are cut up and made into small gowns to bury babies that died at birth and the parents doesn’t have the money to dress the baby. This was so sad to hear about but happy that there are people that do this.

    • I donated my wedding dress to the Mary Madeline Project. Google it to find a local group that accepts dresses and makes them into beautiful little burial gowns for babies.

  • In my area, the diabetes association will even pick up clothing or household items to donate to a chain of thrift stores. The pick up is free; they call ahead to ask if you will have something to put out then send an automated reminder a couple days before. I don’t know if any other charities do this in other places (I’m in Ontario Canada) but it’s great to schedule your garage sale or spring cleaning right before they come around.

    As for sending things to some of the places Jillee listed, if we are being truly environmental, do your best to find local places to recycle your goods rather than sending them off. There’s a carbon footprint to shipping items that can be avoided by local drop-off. Is it really worth it to ship corks or bras to some distant place? I honestly don’t know!

    Wine corks are great for kids crafts. A local school might want them! Panty hose are used in many crafts too though the hygiene of those might be an issue.

  • Who knew that you can recycle old sunglasses, pantyhose, and keys. Thank you Jillee for all this information.

  • Thank you for this helpful article. I hate tossing things that can possibly have another use.

    Nylons: I cut old nylons into rings about an inch or 2 wide and use them for tying up my tomato & other plants in the garden. They are gentler to the plants than twine or string and FREE. You can loop them together to make longer pieces.

    Freecycle: I love this site. I have both given stuff & received things. Things you would never dream that anyone would want or use. Old nylons (hehe), toilet paper tubes or plastic lids needed for an ‘art’ project, unwanted plants you dig up from your yard, coupons, etc. You name it and you might find it or be able to give it away.

    Batteries: I recently read an article where a house burned down and the cause was from a ‘collection’ of used batteries being collected for recycling. It had something to do with the positive & negative posts of 9V batteries connecting creating a charge that sparked causing the fire. They recommend putting a piece of electrical tape over the posts.

  • our community is very big on freecyle.org its a wonderful place to post your unwanted items and its very easy to manage. your post sends out an email to those enrolled. anyone interested in your free item will email back to make arrangements to pick it up. our city is probably 99% front porch pick up. once i have the name/date of the person wanting the item, all i have to do is put it on the front porch and that person will come by and pick it up. I works from even the simplest items like an old used coat or gently worn shoes to unopened food to unwanted furniture. plus you can always post for items you WANT. if someone has what you’re looking for they’ll let you know. and its all FREE.

  • […] 25 things you can recycle you might not know about […]

  • I donate a lot to our local thrift shop, which in turn uses the proceeds to fund our local food pantry. I recycle when I can but honestly it could turn into a full time job trying to figure out where to donate items to!

  • […] 25 Things You Can Recycle You Might Not Know About […]

  • As usual you’ve done it again! You’re posts are SO informative & this one helps the environment as well. I’m passing this on to all my FB friends.

  • This article is super helpful! I love learning about where I can recycle stuff I can’t use anymore! I’ve kept all my old VHS tapes until I could find a way to recycle them.

    Does anyone know of a way to recycle jeans no longer wearable? My husband damages quite a few pairs a year where he works and so they are not something I can donate.

    I know there is a place in Arizona that turns jeans into insulation for houses, but it would cost a small fortune to ship jeans to their location from Wisconsin. Does anyone know of an alternative?

    • When you donate them to goodwill, they send them to be recycled if they can’t use them. I believe all cotton is recycled somehow. There are tons of crafty things you can do with jeans too if parts of them are ok like the waist/butt area can be used to make nice bags. And I’ve seen really cool things done with the legs too. Depends on where/how he wrecks them.

  • Thanks soooooo much for all the great info!! I’d like to consider myself a “master recycler” but there’s quite a few on the list that are new to me. One thing that I’d like to find a way to reuse/recycle are my old purses. I don’t buy the super expensive ones so inevitably the corners and straps get so worn out they’re no longer usable. I’m not too crafty and don’t have much time to replace the straps so maybe other readers out there could give me some pointers. I’ll check out freecycle for sure! Thanks again!!!

  • A lot of the doctors in my area will take your unused meds, as long as they aren’t expired, and give them to patients they know who don’t have the money to pay for them at the pharmacy, homeless shelters, and free clinics. It’s a much better use for them than being destroyed at a turn-your-old-pills-in event.

    • I asked at my pharmacy if they would take my old pills and send them to someone who needed them when I had an almost full bottle left after an RX changed. Try said they can’t because of the chance of contamination or tampering. That dr is taking a huge chance doing that. His/her license could be on the line or he/he even face criminal negligence charges. But I guess if he/she is willing to take the risk, it sure is better than being destroyed.

  • I understand unwearable clothes are cleaned and shredded then baled and sold to recycling companies if you take them to Good Will.

  • Amazing!! Really helpful to me as I slowly help my mother clean out her house. I’ll feel a little less guilty if I can recycle some of her excess stuff. Definitely a “Who Knew” post.

  • This is great info!

    I just recently discovered Freecycle.org! It’s amazing. The Freecycle network in my area is really active, and you seriously can get most anything on there. I was very skeptical at first, and absolutely sure we were going to get mugged or murdered at our first ‘pick up’ but it all worked out. We’ve gotten lots of baby clothes and supplies absolutely free for our baby that’s due soon! Such a blessing for us.

    Most of the things people post on there would just be thrown out otherwise. It’s such a great way to find good homes for reusable items!

  • I absolutely LOVED this post.

    I must say I’m relatively new to Pinterest so yours is one of the first blogs I’ve followed.

    I am thrilled. So many good posts! Thank you for sharing your site with everyone.

    I’m sure I’ll find some other great board, blogs and sites to follow, but I’ll always be grateful that I found yours right off the bat.

    Thank you!

    Kitty

  • While it’s great to donate broken/no longer working Apple products back to them, there is a better use. A new film called “Alive Inside” is about the power of music, especially for the elderly with dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you go to the website http://musicandmemory.org there is a link to donate your working iPod. Watch the youtube video to be inspired! A great way to help the elderly in America and give your old iPod a new life!

  • Great list!
    Lightly used pet collars & leashes are often collected by pet stores & shelters as well as old towels, sheets, blankets & more.
    Most times dry cleaners collect hangers back.
    Some schools collect old tennis balls to place on the legs of student’s chairs to reduce that scraping sounds the chairs make.

  • I love this. Lots of good ideas. In our area Target stores have
    Places close to the checkout where you can drop off your old
    Cell phones and other items.Many eye doctor’s have programs where you drop off your old glasses and in our area the Lion’s
    Club collects them to third world countries.

  • Jillee & Girls- You are WONDERFUL!!!!! People need to know these things so that they may participate in these programs. You had a bunch that I haven’t heard of and I’m a Master Recycler!!! Shame on me!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! HAPPY EARTH DAY!!!

      • Here’s something I’m going to try

        HOMEMADE MOSQUITO TRAP:
        Items needed:
        1 cup of water
        1/4 cup of brown sugar
        1 gram of yeast
        1 2-liter bottle

        HOW:
        1. Cut the plastic bottle in half.
        2. Mix brown sugar with hot water. Let cool. When cold, pour in the bottom half of the bottle.
        3. Add the yeast. No need to mix. It creates carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes.
        4. Place the funnel part, upside down, into the other half of the bottle, taping them together if desired.
        5. Wrap the bottle with something black, leaving the top uncovered, and place it outside in an area away from your normal gathering area. (Mosquitoes are also drawn to the color black.)

        Change the solution every 2 weeks for continuous control.

  • […] “25 Things You Can Recycle That You Might Not Know About” by One Good Thing by Jillee […]

  • HAPPY EARTH DAY!! I’m constantly recycling anything that can’t be reused or repurposed. I so appreciate the info above, such as the Keys for Hope foundation. Over the years, I have thrown out dozens of keys……….NOT ANYMORE…………..Thanks again Jillee for all that you do for us as well as everyone who contributes in the comments. Some of the comments are invaluable to me as well as others !!

  • As usual, such great info. Many of these I am aware of (I’m a big freecycler) but some are news…. Question: what about PUR filters? That’s what i use and i’ve been tossing them… reluctantly. Thanks!!!!!

    • Regarding the PUR filters, the company has an address to send them to, but they must be drained and you will have to pay the postage. Hope this helps………..

  • We have a program called the Kidney Car Program where they will take your old scrap cars and give you a tax receipt. A lot of Optometrist offices will take your old glasses for donation to third world countries. Most pharmacies will take back your old medication and dispose of it properly. Just keep one old one and keep tossing the rest in until it is full and take it in. Some mattress retailers also take your old mattress and clean it up and donate it to charity. The 3 R’s in order are reduce, reuse, recycle. Always try and do the first 2 first! Happy Earth Day :)

  • This is a great post, Jill. Thank you so much for all the information.

    Like the reader above, my husband and I were runners for many years, and we still walk quite a bit. I am so happy to learn about Nike’s recycle program.

    I’ve bookmarked this post for future reference.

    Happy Earth Day!

    You make a difference, Jill, and I appreciate you.

  • Re: using vhs tape for yarn. The metals on the tape can flake off. They might be a health hazard to the person working with them. Just be aware and careful. Wear gloves, and maybe a mask..

  • Thank you so much for this article! I can’t wait to get home to ship off all my old greeting cards to St. Jude!

    One good thing I learned recently (see what I did there?) is that Sherwin Williams will recycle empty paint cans. Just bring it in to your store and they will take it back for free! If you have a contractor account, they may even give a credit. I’d call ahead just to be sure, but what do you have to lose!

    All of your info is great, but this article really has got me motivated to see what else I can recycle!

    • I mailed some Christmas cards to St. Jude’s the beginning of last year and they didn’t indicate they don’t do it anymore. They sent a thank you note.

    • Ann, if you click on the link in the post you will see they are still collecting cards. :-)

  • Thanks for sharing! I am happy to know how to recycle those water filters! Our local Goodwill will take any clothing, shoes, or household items no matter what condition they are in. They find uses for everything and promise not to put anything in the landfill. For example, stained shirts with holes are cut up and used as cleaning rags in their janitorial job training program. I’m not sure if this is a nationwide policy, but it’s a great resource for those items you don’t want to trash but can’t imagine any one wanting to use.

  • Finally a place where I can recycle all my greeting cards I’ve saved over the years -THANK YOU JILLEE!

  • I recently learned that Best Buy will take a fair number of electronic items for recycling. Their website lists what they take in detail. I recently recycled my uncorking iPod touch there.

  • I just want to point out if you are scrapping a vehicle, they should be PAYING you for it, not just picking it up for free. We couldn’t sell our old truck for $300, and ended up scrapping it ourselves. We got over $600 from the scrap yard.

    I like the vhs recycling, but it’s pretty expensive at Greendisk if you only have one or two. (Greencitizen charges .25 per tape if you live close to a center in California.) Or you can take them apart, recycle the plastic case, and use the tape for “yarn.” http://www.myrecycledbags.com/2007/06/03/how-to-use-vcr-vhs-tape-as-yarn/

  • Dear Jillee

    Your article is awsome!
    It can be an inspiration for all.

    Happy Earth Day!

  • Happy Earth Day to you…Thank you for creating this useful compilation of information for us. I had heard of some of these on your list, but not all… and to have all of this info in one place is great! I have just recently found your site and have enjoyed exploring all you have put out for us to read/learn.

  • Thank you so much for this fantastic article. I consider myself a very eco-conscious person and always try and figure out how to recycle items. However, there are always those odd items that you are never really sure what to do with – but now I do! I am thrilled to hear about the program for recycling old running shoes because as a runner I go through a new pair a few times a year. I always feel guilty throwing them away but I am certain from a distance of 6 ft no one else would want them! Thank you so much for providing all the links/contact information for these organisations as it makes it so much easier for everyone to access.
    I would like to mention I fledgling program called the SCRAP’s (School Community Reuse Action Project) USA Project. It has 5 locations and its mission is to inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational programs and affordable materials to the community.
    Thank you again for all the super information! Very inspirational.

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