Where Can I Recycle This Thing?

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With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, I thought it would be a good time to post some useful information that I have found on how to recycle some odd items that most people don’t usually think about recycling and talk a little bit about the past, present and future of recycling.

Most cities and towns in The United States now have regular routine household recycling pickup for the local residents, mine included. However, I often find myself with other unwanted items that my town does not recycle. I feel guilty about just throwing these items out, so I started doing a little research in my local area to find out where I might be able to recycle things like old, used sneakers, or the Styrofoam™ packaging that comes in electronics boxes.

I discovered 1800recycling.com which is a very useful web site for finding out where to recycle all sorts of things. You just enter your zip code and the type of item that you want to recycle and a listing will come up with places near you that recycle those items.

At my house, with two small growing boys, we go through a lot of sneakers, and once they are worn out, the sneakers usually just go into the garbage when not suitable for donation to places like Soles4Souls and One World Running or second-hand stores like The Salvation army or Goodwill that take donations of new or useable shoes and clothing.

Thanks to the internet, it is so much easier to find places that recycle these items. At 1800recycling.com I was able to do an online search and find Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe Program. Nike’s in-store drop-off recycling program collects old sneakers/athletic shoes that are not suitable for donation to charity and turns them into new Nike products. On the web site, you can do a search and find places locally and around the world where Nike stores and outlets have recycling bins. Near me, I found a Nike Outlet store at the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, NJ that has a collection bin. I just store a bag of old sneakers until I get a chance to visit this mall and drop them in the Nike bin when I am there. The shoes do not need to have been made by Nike. Any brand of athletic shoe is accepted. The only catch is that the shoes can’t have any metal in them, so no cleats or spikes. If you can’t find a location near you, you can also mail the sneakers to Nike for recycling at the address listed on the Reuse-a-Shoe website.

During my internet search, I even found a place near me in Springfield, NJ called Foam Pack Industries. Foam Pack Industries recycles White CLEAN EPS (Expanded Polystyrene), most commonly known as Styrofoam™ — the stuff that is found in furniture, appliance and electrical packaging and identified by the recycle symbol #6. It felt great to be able to haul a big pile out of my basement and bring it to Foam Pack Industries for recycling. Foam Pack Industries even accepts food service products such as cups, meat trays and food shipping coolers as long as they have been washed thoroughly.

Conceivably, with a little time and effort and the help of a site like 1800recycling.com, anyone’s residence could become a zero waste or almost zero waste household by composting food waste, recycling paper products and plastics along with just about everything else from appliances, clothing, shoes, batteries, computers and electronics, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), eyeglasses, foam packing, ink/toner cartridges, sports equipment, furniture and so on. The only things either not compostable, recyclable or reusable are things like animal product waste, toxic pesticides, chemicals, motor oil, medications and the like, but many of these items can at least be disposed of properly at local hazardous waste collection sites, medicine take-back events and cleaning products can be donated to others in need.

Reduce, reuse and recycle have become common words now, but the concepts they represent have been in existence since the dawn of mankind and are part of the natural cycle of things. Humans have always found ways to be resourceful even back when we were hunters and gatherers. Humans found ways to use every part of an animal from the skin used for clothing, meat for food and bones as weapons, tools and jewelry. And more recently, during WWII, my grandparents and parents had to save string, newspapers and tin cans for the war effort. Somehow along the way, we have forgotten this. There are many reasons — the industrial revolution, mass production and concepts like planned obsolescence are some of the main culprits.  Planned obsolescence is a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete—that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in the future, the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.[1]

I learned about planned obsolescence from watching a ground-breaking animated video called “The Story of Stuff” made back in 2007. The concept of planned obsolescence and its relationship to current economic structures is explained in far better terms than I could ever give at The Story of Stuff Project’s web site which I highly recommend visiting.

Now a new concept is becoming popular which is upcycling. A quick online search will lead you to many inspirational sites that show creative DIY crafting types how to make new stuff out of old stuff. Or in more formal terms from Wikipedia: “Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.”

I was actually “upcycling” long before I knew the term when I started making shadowboxes in my teens by saving various found objects, trinckets, and other sundry “junk” that would have ended up in the landfill. I collected empty, used cigar boxes and created pieces of art, many of which are still hanging on my walls today. There is also a collection of wine corks in my basement that I have been saving since the 80’s to make some sort of craft. To my amazement I found that corks are now being recycled in many locations, and I have come across old wine cork trivets and bulletin boards made from recycled corks. I even still have old gum wrappers that I saved to make paper chains and belts out of.

These and so many other upcycling projects are now being done by crafty people, artists and designers all over the world. If upcycling and reusing are just not your thing, you can still become a zero waste household by composting and using resources like 1800recycling.com where you can find places to recycle just about anything. By working with your neighbors and collecting things like Styrofoam™ packaging and then recycling in bulk, you can take recycling even further to encourage your local community to join in.

I think the old saying “haste makes waste” really applies here and brings up a related topic that I will probably write more about in the future. Traveling, being rushed for time, fatigue and distraction all make it more likely that I will get lazy and just throw something away instead of taking the time to think about how I can reuse it or upcycle it. Today everyone is busier than ever and not necessarily happier or healthier for it. Slowing down to take the time to be more conscious of our habits and choices extends to every area of life — slow food instead of fast food and savoring experiences more than acquiring more stuff. By slowing down to enjoy life we can take the time to repurpose or think twice before buying something new. Compost takes some time and effort vs. just throwing things away, but there is no away, only here, which is where my children will hopefully live and thrive long after I am gone.

Even with the terrible amount of waste that humans are still producing, I feel that there is hope for the future as we gradually, but steadily wake up to and respond to the new green economy that is developing all around us. If we all try our best to reduce, reuse, recycle and upcycle we can have a big impact on helping the environment!

Hmm, maybe I can get my kids to help me finish those paper gum wrapper chains while we enjoy using the lighting provided by the solar panels on our roof…

1. March 23, 2009, The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/13354332, “Idea: Planned obsolescence”. The Economist. March 25, 2009.

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