Earth Talk: Recycling Items Other Than Paper, Plastic and Glass

Photo Caption: "Don't leave it on the sidewalk! A number of resources are now available to help consumers recycle everything from electronics to fluorescent light bulbs to disposable batteries. It's not just paper, plastic and glass anymore." Credit of image: Wikipedia.


Earth Talk
Recycling Items Other Than Paper, Plastic and Glass
Dear EarthTalk: Most of us know how to recycle paper, plastic and glass, but how do we find out about recycling the many other items we use that eventually break or die out, such as light bulbs, disposable batteries, portable electronics, and so on? -Elizabeth Lauer, via e-mail

It's true that recycling items other than paper, plastic and glass is still no easy task. But if you're committed to unloading something without adding it to a landfill, a little research can go a long way. Fortunately there are some great resources out there to help.
One of the best is a May 2006 article published in E - The Environmental Magazine by Sally Deneen entitled "How to Recycle Practically Anything." Besides debunking myths about the ineffectiveness of municipal recycling programs, Deneen outlines where and how to recycle dozens of different types of household items not typically picked up by the recycling truck at your curbside.
Regarding compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)-which shouldn't be thrown in the trash as they contain trace amounts of the toxic heavy metal mercury-Deneen recommends first checking with your local household hazardous waste disposal facility to see if they will take them for recycling. If not, many hardware stores will take back spent CFLs. If none of these options pans out, a free online listing of companies that recycle CFLs can be found at the lampecycle.org website.
As for disposable batteries, Deneen says they, too, can usually be dropped off at municipal hazardous waste facilities, where they will be disassembled and their parts recycled for use in other products. If such facilities in your area won't take them, some local or national retailers (such as Walgreen's in some areas and Batteries Plus nationwide) may-just call and ask. Another option is to pay for the privilege by sending them to Battery Solutions, a mail-order company that will recycle them for 85 cents per pound.
Another common question is how to recycle (or at least responsibly dispose of) portable electronics-cell phones, video games, MP3 players, etc.-given that they usually contain heavy metals and chemicals that can pollute soils and groundwater. Deneen recommends dropping them off at your local Staples, Office Depot or Radio Shack store, which should take them back free of charge even if you didn't buy them there. Another option would be shipping the worn out items to CollectiveGood (4508 Bibb Boulevard, Tucker, GA 30084), which will recycle them and donate the proceeds to the charity of your choice.
If you're stumped about how or where to recycle an item, check out the Earth911.org website. It offers a free keyword-searchable, zip code-based database of municipal and commercial recycling and hazardous waste disposal facilities across the United States. The frequently updated database, which is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as state governments and several non-profits, can also direct you to the proper municipal facility or local business to off-load potentially toxic items, like old tires or unused paint, in a safe and responsible manner. If you don't have handy Internet access, give Earth911's toll-free telephone hotline a call at 1-800-CLEANUP.

Contacts: "How to Recycle Practically Anything," www.emagazine.com/view/?3172; LampRecycle.org, www.lamprecycle.org; Battery Solutions, www.batteryrecycling.com; CollectiveGood, www.collectivegood.com; Earth911.org, www.earth911.org.
Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.