Why Recycle? How to Recycle Anything!

How to Recycle Anything!

Adapted from Real Simple Magazine and the City of San Antonio Solid Waste Department Website

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Aerosol cans: These can be recycled with other cans in your curbside recycling - just pull off the plastic cap and empty the canister completely.

Antiperspirant and deodorant sticks: Many brands have a dial on the bottom that is made of a plastic polymer different from that used for the container, so you might need to pull the dial off and discard it before recycling the rest. Tom’s of Maine makes a deodorant stick composed solely of plastic No. 5 that is completely recyclable.

Appliances: Has your refrigerator or stove stopped working? Don’t trash it – take it to Great Northwest Recycling (523-8155) and you can even make a few dollars!


Backpacks: The American Birding Association accepts donated backpacks, which its scientists use while tracking neotropical birds (americanbirding.org). You can also donate backpacks to Goodwill (goodwillsa.org).

Batteries: Recycling batteries keeps hazardous materials out of landfills. Many stores, like RadioShack and Office Depot, accept reusable ones. All non-reusable batteries should be taken to San Antonio Household Hazardous Waste*, and never thrown in the trash. Car batteries contain lead and can’t go in landfills, because toxic metals can leach into groundwater, but almost any retailer selling them will also collect and recycle them. You can also contact Environmental Health and Safety at UT Health Science Center to recycle batteries used on-campus at 567-2955 or at research.uthscsa.edu/safety/.

Beach balls: They may be made of plastic, but there aren’t enough beach balls being thrown away to make them a profitable item to recycle. If a beach ball is still usable, donate it to a thrift store or a children’s hospital.

Books: In San Antonio, paperbacks can be thrown into your curbside recycling bin. Hardcover books can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin as well – you just need to rip off the hardcover binding and discard it.

Brush: Brush and yard debris can be recycled at the City of San Antonio Bitters Brush Recycling Center - learn more at their website: sanantonio.gov/swmd/solidwast/treelimbs.asp. Gardenville will also accept clean brush for a small fee - check out their website for more information at garden-ville.com.


Cardboard: This can go in your regular curbside recycling – just do your best to flatten it before putting it in the bin.

Carpeting (nylon fiber): Go to carpetrecovery.org and click on “What can I do with my old carpet?” to find a carpet-reclamation facility near you, or check with your carpet’s manufacturer. Some carpet makers, like Milliken (millikencarpet.com), Shaw (shawfloors.com), and Flor (flor.com), have recycling programs.

Cars, jet skis, boats, trailers, RVs, and motorcycles: Even if these are unusable―totaled, rusted―they still have metal and other components that can be recycled. Call junkyards in your area, or go to junkmycar.com, which will pick up and remove cars, trailers, motorcycles, and other heavy equipment for free. You can also support national public radio by donating your ‘retired’ car to them at v-dac.com/cartalk/index.html.

Cell phones: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 20 percent of cell phones are recycled each year, and most people don’t know where to recycle them. The Wireless Foundation refurbishes old phones to give to domestic-violence survivors (calltoprotect.org). You can also recycle cell-phones on-campus by contacting Environmental Health and Safety at (567-2955).

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs: CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, and must be recycled to keep mercury out of our environment. Why choose CFLs if they contain mercury? Because CFLs use so much less energy than traditional bulbs, they actually prevent much more mercury from entering the environment than is released from the extra power production required for a traditional bulb (coal plants produce especially large amounts of mercury). Home Depot operates a free CFL recycling program; you can also check with your local hardware store to see if it offers recycling services. While Environmental Health and Safety cannot recycle your CFL bulbs from home, they can recycle bulbs you might use in your office – call them at (567-2955) for more info or visit their website at research.uthscsa.edu/safety/.

Computers: You can return used computers to their manufacturers for recycling (check mygreenelectronics.com for a list of vendors) or donate them to a charitable organization like Goodwill. Nextsteprecycling.org repairs your broken computers and gives them to underfunded schools, needy families, and nonprofits.

Cooking Oil (used): You can drop off used cooking oil at San Antonio Household Hazardous Waste (7030 Culebra) where it will be recycled.

Crayons: Send them to the National Crayon Recycle Program (crazycrayons.com), which melts down crayons and reforms them into new ones. Leave the wrappers on: “When you have black, blue, and purple crayons together without wrappers, it’s hard to tell them apart,” says the program’s founder, LuAnn Foty, a.k.a. the Crazy Crayon Lady.

Crocs: The manufacturer recycles used Crocs into new shoes and donates them to underprivileged families. Mail them to: Crocs Recycling West, 3375 Enterprise Avenue, Bloomington CA 92316.


DVDs, CDs, and jewel cases: Send CDs, DVDs and jewel cases to greendisk.com for recycling, and you can also buy recycled CDs, DVDs, and cases on the site!


Empty metal cans (cleaning products): Cut off the metal ends of cans containing powdered cleansers, such as Ajax and Bon Ami, and put them in with other household metals. (Use care when cutting them.) Recycle the tubes as you would any other cardboard.

Empty metal cans (food products): Metal cans go into your household recycling bin here in San Antonio. Rinse out cans, but don’t worry about removing the labels. “Leaving them on doesn’t do any harm,” says Marti Matsch, the communications director of Eco-Cycle, one of the nation’s oldest and largest recyclers, in Boulder, Colorado. “When the metal is melted,” she says, “the paper burns up. If you want to recycle the label with other paper, that’s great, but it’s not necessary.”

Stereos and VCRs: In San Antonio, Corona Vision (521-7612) will recycle electronics (computers, TVs, cell-phones, etc).

Eyeglasses: Plastic frames can’t be recycled, but metal ones can. Just drop them into the scrap-metal bin. However, given the millions of people who need glasses but can’t afford them, your frames, broken or not, will go to better use if you donate them to neweyesfortheneedy.com (sunglasses and plastic frames in good condition can also be donated). Or drop off old pairs of glasses at LensCrafters, Target Optical, or other participating stores and doctors’ offices, which will send them to givethegiftofsight.org. Medical Students at UT Health Science Center also often collect eyeglasses and sunglasses to take on medical trips to parts of Texas, Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. If you have an extra pair, walk by the medical school lecture halls to see if any groups have placed a box out for donations.


Fake plastic credit cards: They’re not recyclable, so you can pull them off the junk-mail and throw them out. But don’t forget to recycle the rest of the junk-mail!

Film canisters: In San Antonio, film canisters can be thrown into your regular curbside recycling.

Fire extinguishers: There are two types of extinguishers. For a dry-chemical extinguisher, safely relieve the remaining pressure, remove the head from the container, and place it with your bulk-metal items in your curbside recycling. Alternatively, call fire-equipment companies and request that they dispose of your extinguisher. Carbon dioxide extinguishers are refillable after each use.

Food: Have a little extra food on your plate after dinner? Start a compost-pile or worm-poster at home to decrease your trash and also get a free source of ‘black-gold’ compost for your yard or garden. Visit howtocompost.org for more information and get started.

Formal wear: Finally, a use for that mauve prom or bridesmaid dress: Give it to a girl who can’t afford one (go to operationfairydust.org or catherinescloset.org). Goodwill* also accepts all kinds of clothing!


Gadgets: There are many ways to recycle PDAs, MP3 players, and other devices so that any money earned from the parts goes to worthy causes―a win, win, win scenario (for you, the environment, and charity). Recycleforbreastcancer.org, for example, will send you prepaid shipping labels, recycle your gadgets, and then donate the proceeds to breast cancer charities.

Glass Bottles and Jars: In San Antonio, all colors of glass bottles and jars can be recycled curbside. Remove lids and rinse all food, and liquids. Examples: beverage bottles, food and condiment bottles and jars (jelly, mustard, mayonnaise).

Glue: Many schools have recycling programs for empty containers of Elmer’s glue and glue sticks. Students and teachers rinse out the bottles, which are then sent to Wal-Mart for recycling. Find out more at elmersgluecrew.com.

Glue strips and inserts in magazines: Lotion samples and non-paper promotional items affixed to glue strips in magazines should be removed and discarded in the trash because they can jam up recycling equipment (scented perfume strips, on the other hand, are fine). “One of the biggest challenges we get is pages of promotional stickers and stamps,” says Matsch, “which can adhere to the machinery and tear yards of new paper fiber.”


Hangers (plastic): In San Antonio, you can always donate plastic hangers to Goodwill*, who can use them in their store.

Hangers (wire): Several drycleaners in San Antonio recycle wire hangers including Five Star Cleaners and Pilgrim Cleaners.

Hearing aids: The Starkey Hearing Foundation (sotheworldmayhear.org) recycles used hearing aids, any make or model, no matter how old. Lions Clubs also accept hearing aids (as well as eyeglasses) for reuse; log on to donateglasses.net to find designated collection centers near you.

Holiday cards: After they’ve lined your mantel for two months, you could throw them into the recycling bin, or you could give them a whole new life. St. Jude’s Ranch for Children (stjudesranch.org), a nonprofit home for abused and neglected youths, runs a holiday-card reuse program in which the kids cut off the front covers, glue them onto new cards, and sell the result―earning them money and confidence.


Ipods: Bring in an old iPod to an Apple store and get 10 percent off a new one. Your out-of-date iPod will be broken down and properly disposed of. The catch? The discount is valid only that day, so be prepared to buy your new iPod.

Jam jars: Jam Jars can be recycled in your curbside recycling in San Antonio – just do your best to clean the jam out first.

Juice bags: Because most are a combination of a plastic polymer and aluminum, these are not recyclable. But TerraCycle will donate 2 cents for each Honest Kids, Capri Sun, and Kool-Aid Drink pouch and 1 cent for any other brand you collect and send in to the charity of your choice. The organization provides free shipping, too. What does TerraCycle do with all those pouches? Turns them into colorful purses, totes, and pencil cases that are sold at Target and Walgreens stores throughout the country. To get started, go to terracycle.net.


Keys and nail clippers: Almost any metal, including keys and nail clippers, can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin.


Leather accessories: If your leather goods are more than gently worn, take them to be fixed. If they’re beyond repair, they have to be thrown in the trash―there’s no recycling option. (A product labeled “recycled leather” is often made from scraps left over from the manufacturing process, which is technically considered recycling.) Donate shoes in decent condition to solesforsouls.org, a nonprofit that collects used footwear and distributes it to needy communities. Goodwill also accepts all kinds of leather goods from belts to shoes, as long as they are in good condition.


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 re-usable, 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. Some thrift stores may also accept sets.

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, you can throw it into your curbside recycling.

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.


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.


Office envelopes

  • 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.

Paper: Most types of paper can be recycled in your curbside bin, such as ad circulars, catalogs, carbonless paper, dry goods packaging with liners removed (example: cereal, pasta, rice, beer/soda cartons) envelopes, file folders, flattened cardboard, junk mail, magazines, newspapers, office paper, paperback books, paper bags, paper towel/toilet paper cores, phone books, and non-metallic gift wrap. You can also bring magazines and office paper to the Abiti Paper Recycling bin on campus (Near Lot 3 and the Forensic Science Building). On campus, office paper, paperback books, and other basic paper can be recycled in the paper recycling bins around campus.

Packing materials: Styrofoam peanuts cannot be recycled in most areas, but many packaging stores (like UPS and Mail Boxes Etc.) accept them. To find a peanut reuser near you, go to loosefillpackaging.com. Some towns recycle Styrofoam packing blocks; if yours doesn’t, visit epspackaging.org to find a drop-off location, or mail them in according to the instructions on the site. Packing pillows marked “Fill-Air” can be deflated (poke a hole in them), bundled, and recycled in you curbside recycling bin.

Paint: You can drop off dried-up paint at the City of San Antonio Hazardous Waste for disposal, but if the paint is still usable, consider donating it to Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org).

Pendaflex folders: Place these filing-cabinet workhorses in the paper bin. But first cut off the metal rods and recycle them as scrap metal.

Phone books: These can be recycled in your regular curbside recycling bin.

Pizza boxes: If cheese and grease are stuck to the box, rip out the affected areas and recycle the rest as corrugated cardboard. Food residue can ruin a whole batch of paper if it is left to sit in the recycling facility and begins to decompose.

Plastics: In San Antonio, plastics labeled #1 through #7 can be recycled in your curbside recycling. Look for the recycling symbol on the bottom. Remove lids and rinse any remaining food or liquids from containers or trays. Examples include: beverage bottle, shampoo and lotion bottles, meat trays, condiment bottles, prescription and medicine bottles. On campus, you can recycle your plastic bottles in the recycling bins located across the campus.

Plastic bottle caps: Toss them - They’re made from a plastic that melts at a different rate than the bottles, and they degrade the quality of the plastic if they get mixed in.

Plastic wrap (used): Not recyclable – throw it out, and try to use reusable containers instead!

Post-its: The sticky stuff gets filtered out, so these office standbys can usually be recycled with paper.

Prescription drugs: The Starfish Project (thestarfishproject.org) collects some unused medications (TB medicines, antifungals, antivirals) and gives them to clinics in Nigeria. They’ll send you a prepaid FedEx label, too. Medical student groups at UT Health Science Center also often accept unused medications for medical service trips – walk past the medical school lecture halls to see if any groups have put up signs asking for help.

Printer-ink cartridges: Seventy percent are thrown into landfills, where it will take 450 years for them to decompose. Take them to Staples and get $3 off your next cartridge purchase, or mail HP-brand cartridges back to HP. Printer cartridge recycle bins are also located near the Medical School lecture halls and in the Dental School. You can also call Environmental Health and Safety for help recycling your ink cartridges at (567-2955).


Quiche pans and other cookware: These can be put with scrap metal, and if it has a plastic handle, don’t worry – it will be properly sorted at the recycling center.


Recreational equipment: Trade sports gear in at Play It Again Sports (playitagainsports.com), or donate it to sportsgift.org, which gives gently used equipment to needy kids around the world. Mail to Sports Gift, 32545 B Golden Lantern #478, Dana Point CA 92629. As for skis, send them to skichair.com, 4 Abbott Place, Millbury MA 01527; they’ll be turned into Adirondack-style beach chairs.

Rugs (cotton or wool): Your best bet is to donate them to the thrift store of a charity, like the Salvation Army or Goodwill*.


Shopping bags (paper): Even those with metal grommets and ribbon handles can usually be recycled with other paper.

Shopping bags (plastic): HEB offers plastic bag recycling at all of its stores (look for the bins near the entrance). Better yet, buy a few of the reusable grocery bags (usually for sale for $1 at HEB and other stores), and never use plastic grocery bags again!

Shower curtains and liners: Most facilities do not recycle these because they’re made of PVC. (If PVC gets in with other plastics, it can compromise the chemical makeup of the recycled material.)

Six-pack rings: See if your local school participates in the Ring Leader Recycling Program (ringleader.com); kids collect six-pack rings to be recycled into other plastic items, including plastic lumber and plastic shipping pallets.

Smoke detectors: First Alert takes back detectors (you pay for shipping); call 800-323-9005 for information.

Sneakers: The Athlete’s Foot stores accept used sneakers a their store at Alamo Quarry Market. 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.

Soap dispensers (pump): Most plastic ones are recyclable; toss them in with the other plastics.

Stereos and VCRs: In San Antonio, Corona Vision (521-7612) will recycle electronics like these for free.


Takeout-food containers: Most are not recyclable. Paper ones (like Chinese-food containers) aren’t accepted because remnants can contaminate the paper bale at the mill. Plastic versions (like those at the salad bar) are a no-go too.

Tinfoil: It’s aluminum, not tin. So rinse it off, wad it up, and toss it in with the beer and soda cans.

Tires: You can often leave old tires with the dealer when you buy new ones (just check that they’ll be recycled). Worn-out tires that you recycle can be reused as highway paving, doormats, hoses, shoe soles, and more.

Tissue boxes with plastic dispensers: The plastic portion will be filtered out during the recycling process, so you can usually recycle tissue boxes with cardboard.

Toothbrushes: They’re not recyclable. Your best bet is to purchase toothbrushes with replaceable heads to cut down on waste.

Toothpaste tubes: Even with all that sticky paste inside, you can recycle aluminum tubes (put them with the aluminum cans), but not plastic ones.

TVs: Best Buy will remove and recycle a set when it delivers a new one. Or bring old ones to Office Depot to be recycled. Got a Sony TV? Take it to a drop-off center listed at sony.com/recycle. If your TV is still working, you can always sell it at a garage sale or on craigslist.org.


Umbrellas: If it’s a broken metal one, drop the metal skeleton in with scrap metal (remove the fabric and the handle first). Plastic ones aren’t accepted.

Used clothing: Donate used clothing to Goodwill* or a thrift store. If the clothing is too worn out for someone else to use, consider donating clothing to animal shelters like the humane society on Fredricksburg, where it can be turned into pet bedding.


Videotapes, cassettes, and floppy disks: Send tapes to the ACT (actrecycling.org), facility in Columbia, Missouri, that employs disabled people to clean, erase, and resell videotapes. You can also send videotapes, cassettes, and floppy disks to greendisk.com; recycling 20 pounds or less costs $6.95, plus shipping.


Wheelchairs: Go to lifenets.org/wheelchair, which acts as a matchmaker, uniting wheelchairs with those who need them.

Wine corks: To turn them into flooring and wall tiles, send them to Wine Cork Recycling, Yemm & Hart Ltd., 610 South Chamber Drive, Fredericktown MO 63645. Or put them in a compost bin – they’re natural so they’re biodegradable. Plastic corks can’t be composted or recycled. Local craft stores also sell kits that help you make a bulletin board out of collected corks.

Wipes and sponges: These can’t be recycled. But sea sponges and natural sponges made from vegetable cellulose are biodegradable and can be tossed into a compost heap.

Writing implements: You can’t recycle pens, pencils, and markers, but you can donate usable ones to schools that are short on these supplies. Also consider buying refillable pencils and biodegradable pens made of corn so that less waste winds up in the landfill.


Xmas lights: Ship your old lights to holidayleds.com, Attention: Recycling Program, 120 W. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1403, Jackson MI 49201. The company will send you a coupon for 10 percent off its LED lights, which use 80 percent less energy and last 10 years or more. And they’re safer, too. LEDs don’t generate much heat, whereas incandescents give off heat, which can cause a dry Christmas tree to catch fire.


Yogurt cups: Many towns don’t recycle these because they’re made of a plastic that can’t be processed with other plastics. But Stonyfield Farm has launched a program that turns its cups into toothbrushes, razors, and other products. Mail to Stonyfield Farm, 10 Burton Drive, Londonderry NH 03053. Or you can join TerraCycle’s Yogurt Brigade (terracycle.net) to recycle Stonyfield containers and raise money for your favorite charity. For every cup collected, Stonyfield will donate 2 cents or 5 cents, depending on the cup size.


Zippered plastic bags: Venues that recycle plastic bags will also accept these items, as long as they are clean, dry, and the zip part has been snipped off (it’s a different type of plastic).