Recycling is one of the easiest steps you can take toward living green--but some recycling matters more than others. RecycleBank, a recycle rewards program in 24 states and the United Kingdom, compiled this list of five household items you should always recycle because they aren't biodegradable or they contain materials that could contaminate the environment if they wind up in landfills. Some materials can be hard to find recycle sites for, but don't worry--we have suggestions.
Computers, cell phones and other home office electronics contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury and arsenic as well as materials that can be salvaged and reused elsewhere. Office Depot, Staples and Best Buy accept larger, desktop computers for recycling for a small fee (around $10) and smaller items such as cell phones for free. If you participate in RecycleBank's rewards program, you can earn points by recycling cell phones, laptops and iPods or MP3 players through RecycleBank's partners.
2. Rechargeable Batteries
Batteries contain heavy metals and chemicals, and recyclers can reclaim metals from them to make new batteries and steel. Cordless drills, digital cameras and power tools often have rechargeable batteries that can be recycled for free at more than 30,000 drop-off locations in the United States, including retailers such as Home Depot, Target, RadioShack and Sears. Check out Call2Recycle to find a recycling center near you.
Single-use, alkaline batteries are harder to recycle. Try Earth 911 or Battery Solutions to recycle these batteries.
3. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
These light bulbs will save you energy (and money), but CFLs can break and release mercury in a landfill. Take your CFLs to an IKEA or Home Depot to recycle them, or check out Lamp Recycle to find other drop-off sites near you.
4. Plastic Bags
Even if you shop with reusable bags, chances are you still have some (or lots) of plastic bags hanging around your house. Plastic bags are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and take a long time to decompose. It's easy to find a recycling center that accepts them. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger and others have large bins, often at the front of the store, to recycle plastic bags of all varieties (grocery, newspaper, dry cleaning and more).
5. Anything You Think Can Be Reused
If you think the item still has some use, recycle or donate it. For example, donate your prescription glasses to the nonprofit OneSight at any LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Target Optical, Sears Optical or Sunglass Hut. OneSight hopes to collect and reuse at least 1.2 million pairs of eyeglasses to use at eye care clinics in developing countries.
Unused, unexpired medication is another good candidate for recycling. If you have leftover medication, mail it to Health Equity Project, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes to needy people around the globe.