We hear all the time about recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans, but what about some of the lesser mentioned items? In response to reader queries, we’ve assembled a list of some odd items that may have you saying, “Wow, you can recycle that?”


Blue Jeans

You know the regular routine. When you no longer need, like, or fit into your jeans, you can always donate them to a charitable resale organization like Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

You’ve heard it a million times, so let’s not make it a million-and-one. We’re actually talking about physically recycling your jeans. After all, some clothes are just too far worn or damaged to head to a resale shop and deserve a proper [recycling] burial.

Enter pioneering companies like Blue Jeans Go Green and Bonded Logic, which manufacture insulation products from recycled denim and cotton fibers. Blue Jeans Go Green offers a variety of denim recycling options through selected retailer dropoff locations, mail-in programs, and denim drives.

Yup, your old denin can become insulation! Photo: Flickr/suttonhoo

Automotive Fluids

Are you a DIYer when it comes to car care? Many of the fluids that power your car are actually recyclable once you change them out, most notably used motor oil and antifreeze.

Used motor oil can be re-refined into brand-new products that can go back into your car, recycled into clean lubricants, or burned as fuel. As long as the used oil hasn’t been contaminated with other fluids, most oil change service companies or auto parts stores accept used motor oil for recycling from the public.

Used antifreeze can also be recycled by filtering out contaminants such as lead, then restoring the original properties through stabilizing additives. The recycled product is not only excellent quality, but it can also be less expensive to purchase and has a smaller carbon footprint. Antifreeze should never be left out or dumped as its sweet taste can poison animals and children.

Snack Wrappers, Drink Pouches, & Chip Bags

Any idea what material candy wrappers, drink pouches, and chip bags are made of? If you answered “no,” you’re not alone as this is a common question we get asked a lot. This confusion is usually what makes these wrappers and bags so difficult to recycle. These items tend to be made of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful plastics and other materials difficult and expensive. In other words, most recyclers don’t want to touch the stuff!

But TerraCycle, a company dedicated to eliminating the idea of waste, has a recycling solution. You can recycle wrappers from candy, chips, granola bars, gum, and other snacks through their Candy and Snack Wrappers Zero Waste Box. Just order the box, save up your empty snack wrappers, and send it back to TerraCycle with the prepaid return label. Note that there is a fee for this recycling solution. (Check TerraCycle’s free recycling solutions for other waste streams.)

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil recycling has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years as its value to the biofuel industry has increased. While it may seem natural to pour your leftover cooking oil and grease down the drain, it can actually be harmful to wildlife and the environment and damage your pipes and local sewage systems. In fact, cooking oil and kitchen grease in our plumbing is the No. 1 cause of stopped-up sewer pipes.

Commercial facilities already contribute substantial amounts of used oil to alternative fuel programs, but there are household cooking oil recycling programs as well. Make a designated waste oil container, label it, and add to it each time there is leftover oil from your cooking. Then search for a local recycling location with Earth911 Recycling Search or contact local restaurants to see if they accept the cooking oil for recycling.

Six-Pack Beverage Rings

Those plastic six-pack beverage rings have definitely received their share of criticism over the years. Like so many plastic packaging materials, they are often disposed of carelessly, polluting public spaces and waterways and endangering wildlife.

The rings are made of plastic #4 (LDPE) and can be recycled in programs that accept low-density polyethylene resin. If your curbside recycling program is limited to plastics #1 and #2 or limits the types of LDPE accepted, consider getting a group collection together and participating in the Hi-Cone Ring Leader Recycling Program.

Hi-Cone’s Ringleader program will accept the six-pack rings in large quantities for recycling through various school programs, as well as through the mail. The company has worked with more than 12,000 schools and groups to collected and recycle the used rings.

Plastic six-pack rings should be properly recycled to avoid contaminating the waterways and harming wildlife. Photo: Flickr/ Louis Abate

Gift Cards, Hotel Key Cards, & Other Plastic Cards

A five-minute clean-out of your wallet, purse, or junk drawer is likely to yield a lot of plastic, from used gift cards to old library cards. Insignificant as they may seem, those cards are typically made of a plastic resin called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is infinitely recyclable. Yet it’s most often landfilled, contributing to more than 75 million pounds of PVC entering the waste stream each year.

Although you likely can’t recycle these cards in your curbside bin, TerraCycle offers a solution for recycling these items with its Plastic Cards Zero Waste Box. Note that there is a fee for this recycling solution. (Check TerraCycle’s free recycling solutions for other waste streams.)

Tennis Balls

Rebounces accepts old tennis balls for recycling and refurbishing. Those brightly colored tennis balls should still be of reasonable quality, and you should wait until you’ve saved up a large amount.

Let Fido have those tennis balls with the teeth holes or slobber on them; they aren’t usually accepted for recycling if not in better condition. Photo: Flickr/TCL8TO7

Ski Equipment

When your skis just aren’t cutting (or carving) it anymore, consider recycling them instead of tossing them. Vermont-based Green Mountain Ski Furniture will convert your old skis into a custom chair, bench, table, rack, or another custom-built piece. What a great way to preserve those memories! Custom orders typically take 10 to 14 weeks for completion.

Originally published on February 8, 2010, this article was updated in November 2020.

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