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How to keep specialty waste out of landfills and incinerators

Chances are you are already doing your part to recycle and maybe even compost all of the items that your curbside waste program accepts (if you’re not its never too late to start! Look for community composting options in your area if you don't have curbside compost collection.) Recycling correctly and placing all your food waste and organic materials (such as paper towel, tissues, cotton swabs and balls, etc) into your compost bin makes a huge difference, reducing your family’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. But there are actually a bunch of sneaky waste items that we all have that most curbside waste collection programs don’t accept in your recycle or compost bin. Let’s consider some of these and how you can do your part to keep them out of landfills and incinerators.

  1. Wine Corks- Cork is a sustainably harvested material and highly recyclable. It should never go in the trash or even the compost bin. Instead collect your corks in a nice glass jar labeled “Corks”. Once the jar is full, bring it to your nearest Recork collection bin. Use this handy map to find their nearest location to you.

  2. Batteries- All batteries contain toxic materials including Lead and Mercury, and ideally should not be put in the trash although many municipalities allow you to put them in the trash. When batteries wind up in landfills they slowly leach toxic chemicals over time contaminating the area around them and groundwater. To divert your batteries, purchase an Alkaline Batteries recycle box from TerraCycle. Better yet, switch to reusable, rechargeable batteries which avoid the waste all together and can be used hundreds of times, saving you money too!

  3. Textiles- Textiles are America's fastest growing waste stream, but they don't ever belong in your trash bin. With a little ingenuity and creativity all used clothing and fabrics should be able to be sold, donated, reused or recycled! If you have clothing that’s still in good condition consider giving it to a friend, posting it on your local Buy Nothing group (on Facebook), or selling it to any number of popular second hand clothing and accessory websites such as ThredUp! and Poshmark. Torn t-shirts, polo shirts, towels and sheets and some types of pajamas can be cut up into large squares to be used as cleaning rags (I do this at home and it’s great, I never have to buy cleaning cloths!)

  4. Bubble wrap and plastic bags- Buy a Terracycle Plastic waste bin and place clean and dry bubble wrap, plastic bags, ziplock bags, dry cleaner bags, pallet wrap and other types of film plastic in the box. The box comes with a handy shipping label already adhered to it, so when its full simply tape it up and drop it off at your nearest UPS location.

  5. Styrofoam- Styrofoam is very damaging to the environment, breaking up into small bits and ingested by animals, it is often fatal to wildlife over time and pollutes waterways. Avoid it all together if possible!

  6. Electronics- Electronics contain dangerous and toxic chemicals, they should never go in your household trash or recycle. Instead sell them on Facebook Marketplace if they are in working order, or bring broken electronics or old electronics to a local electronics retailer such as Staples or Best Buy which are now required by law to accept your electronics for recycling. The bonus? Many times you'll even make some money back on your old electronics!

  7. Toys, books and other small household goods- Give them away to friends or on a Buy Nothing page, or if they are in excellent condition why not try selling them on EBay? Check with your local library and public schools, many of them will take books and toys in good condition. You can also donate them to a local thrift store.

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