Recyling 101: How To Recycle Absolutely Everything!

This post comes from our contributor FP Naomi.

In the spirit of Earth Day, let’s talk recycling! It’s the number one way that we can reduce emissions, slow raw material consumption, protect our ground water, and take care of the earth and its animals.  If I don’t list it and you have a question on how it can be recycled, please leave a line in the comments!

how to recycle absolutely everything

Light Bulbs

Chances are that you have several kinds of light bulbs in your home. The most common are compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED). The good news is that with both of these modern energy-efficient options, you won’t have to recycle too often. CFLs can last up to seven years and LEDs as long as 23. But the time will come when you have to recycle, and here’s how.

CFL: these lights contain a small amount of mercury, and need to be disposed of safely. Most hardware stores and home goods retailers have free CFL recycling programs. Big name ones are Home Depot, Lowes, and Ikea. Alternatively, many neighborhoods have hazardous waste collection days. Store your old light bulbs in a plastic container or plastic-lined cardboard box (to protect workers from broken bulbs), and put them out for pickup when the day comes.

If you ever have a CFL bulb break, be very careful, do not vacuum, and follow these steps:

  1. Turn off central heat/air conditioning, and leave the room to air out for 10-15 mins.
  2. Put on gloves, and scoop up larger pieces with cardboard or something you can dispose of.
  3. Use duct tape to collect smaller pieces and powder.
  4. Wipe down the area with a damp paper towel.
  5. Place all cleanup materials in a glass jar or sealable plastic bag.
  6. Put the waste in an outdoor or protected area until you can dispose of it.
  7. Check with your local government about disposal requirements, some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the debris with your household trash

LED: There is no mercury in LED lights, but you will find nickel, lead, and possibly even arsenic. Most areas have different systems for recycling LED lights. Check Earth911’s database to find a recycling location near you.

Other: High-intensity discharge (HID) lights, ultraviolet lamps, neon lamps, metal halide lights, and fluorescent tubes are all considered hazardous waste and should be disposed of safely. Here is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of mail-back services if you cannot find a convenient drop-off location near you.

how to recycle absolutely everything


There are many kinds of plastic, and they have different policies for recycling. Each type is classified by a number 1-7 which you will find inside recycling arrows on the piece of plastic. Don’t get discouraged by the work that goes into figuring out which plastics can be recycled in your area and which cannot. Once you get it down, you’ll sleep well knowing that a single recycled plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60-watt bulb for six hours, and that producing new plastics from recycled pieces uses two-thirds less energy than making new plastic from raw materials.

Here are basic guidelines to follow when recycling plastic:

  1. Find out which number plastics are recyclable in your area. Most programs accept one and two which include most jugs, bottles, and jars.
  2. If the number on your piece is accepted by the local recycling program, give it a good rinse, remove metal caps to be recycled separately, and labels are ok left on. You can flatten the container if you have space constraints.
  3. Plastic bags should not be thrown into the recycling bin. Most grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling drop-offs. Determine if you have one near you, and save plastic bags for the next time you stop by.
  1. If your local collection program does not accept a plastic that you have, check Earth911’s database for ways to recycle.

how to recycle absolutely everything


Good news here – almost all glass is recyclable! Mirrors are the only glass that you cannot recycle. They are more heat resistant than normal glass, and will not melt down in the recycling process. If you have an old mirror, you’ll have to find another purpose for it. Try selling it or giving it away (Craigslist & Freecycle are great sites to help you do either), and if it’s broken, make art from it or donate it to a local art program so someone else can.

Tips for recycling glass:

  1. Rinse, remove lids, and leave labels on.
  2. Some programs require you to separate by color – clear, green, or brown. Check your local program’s policy, and do so if needed.
  3. Store sheet glass or pyrex separately from bottles.

how to recycle absolutely everything


If you have an old bike that you need to get rid of, try Craigslist or Freecycle. If that is not an option, most bike shops will take it off your hands and recycle the parts. You can also check out this list of organizations looking for old & used bikes.

how to recycle absolutely everything

Electronics & Appliances

Sadly, electronics account for 70% of the toxic waste currently in landfills. In addition to valuable metals like aluminum, they often contain hazardous materials that we don’t want buried underground. To avoid adding to the problem, you can:

Reuse: before you throw away or recycle anything, see if there is someone you can sell or donate it to. Most thrift stores are more than happy to take old appliances off your hands, and will even pick it up if you give them a call.

Refrigerators/Freezers/Air Conditioners: Please be aware that these items must be removed by a professional. They are full of chemicals that if released into the air could be very harmful for the environment.  Look up a service near you on Earth911.

Electronic Recycling Programs: Check out the EPA’s list of organizations and retailers with electronic donation or recycling services.

Local Municipality: Your local municipality may have a program in place to pick-up & recycle old appliances. Give a look at your service’s website, or shoot them a call to see what they can do. The EPA also has information on regional and state electronic recycling programs here.

how to recycle absolutely everything


This one is easy because pretty much all paper is recyclable. Separate it by type (newspaper, magazine, sheet paper, cardboard, etc.). Tie everything in bundles or put it in paper bags. Do note, you cannot put hard-cover books in the recycling – instead, donate them to a book drive or used bookstore.

how to recycle absolutely everything

Motor Oil & Car Parts

Motor oil can be recycled into many important things. When you, your husband, boyfriend, or friend changes the oil on your car, do not throw the used oil or filter in the garbage. Store the oil in a container, and take both to an auto shop near you. The same goes for old tires. These can be turned into patios, tiles, running tracks, horse arenas, and so much more. AutoZone is a chain retailer who will recycle tires, oil, filters, and other car parts. If you’re feeling crafty, check out Pinterest for old tire DIY ideas!

how to recycle absolutely everything

Metal & Aluminum

Aluminum: Aluminum is the most valuable of all household recyclables. You can tell the difference between aluminum and steel by using a magnet. If it does not stick, you have aluminum, but if it does stick then you are dealing with steel. Common aluminum recyclables are cans, tin foil, and disposable baking tins. Give them a good rinse, crush them, and stick them in the recycling. Larger pieces such as siding, metal frames, and lawn furniture will need to be specially picked by a local service.

Steel: Steel cans are eagerly sought after. As with other recyclable containers, they should be rinsed, and separated from aluminum. Many recycling programs also collect empty steel aerosol cans and paint cans. Paint cans must be empty with no more than a skin of dried paint.

how to recycle absolutely everything


Medicine is a very bad thing to throw away. We do not want prescription drugs, steroids, reproductive hormones, or even nonprescription drugs seeping into our drinking water. Most local pharmacies have a take-back program for expired or unused medicines. You can also take drugs to a hazardous waste facility if needed.

how to recycle absolutely everything


This one is another no-brainer. There is no reason why old clothes should end up in the landfill. Most cities and towns have drop-off bins, you can stop by the Salvation Army, give a thrift store a call, or donate them to a friend or acquaintance in need. There is also the website & app, Poshmark, which is a great way to make a couple of bucks on your old pieces.

how to recycle absolutely everything


Batteries should never go in the trash! Many hardware stores collect old batteries, and you can also check out Call2Recycle’s locator with over 30,000 drop-offs searchable by zip code.

how to recycle absolutely everything

General Resources

Earth911: A recycling locator that will help you find where to recycle materials in your community.

Freecycle Network: List an item you want to get rid of or are in need of, and connect with others in your area that can help you out.

1-800-Recycle: This YouTube channel has videos on how to recycle pretty much any item you can think of.

Check out Naomi’s blog Numie Abbot!

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9 years ago

Do you have any small space ideas for keeping recyclables organized? My apartment complex does not offer recycling (how is that legal?!) so in an attempt to limit our trash, I have taken to using less and less things that would either be recyclable or trash. I hate throwing things like milk jugs in the trash that I know can be recycled, but keeping everything separate and organized until I can take it to a recycling place is a pain and can be a real eyesore. All ideas from anyone are welcome!

9 years ago

Thanks so much for mentioning medicine!! That is such an important one- it’s so unhealthy for all of us to be drinking hormones and antibiotics in our water.

9 years ago

Thank you for this post, I’m sure we can all brush up on our recycling habits! Xx, Tiffany |

9 years ago

nice post!!!!!!!!!!!!!

9 years ago

Lamentinglizzie – might be a tad pricey but how about something like the IKEA’Trofast’ range of children’s storage units to separate the rubbish?

6 years ago

Thank you so much for the post.

4 years ago

I thought that it was interesting when you said that aluminum is the most valuable item in your home to recycle. I have been thinking about recycling the bottles and cans from my home just as a way to do my part in helping the environment and I didn’t realize that I could get money from it. I will be sure to be more diligent in recycling my bottles and cans now that I understand that I will make money from it as well as help the environment.

3 years ago

I had no idea that I could recycle oil. My husband always uses sawdust to soak up the oil and then throws it away. I’ll be sure to talk to him about different ways to dispose of waste oil.