How to Dispose of 8 Odd, Seemingly Difficult-To-Recycle Items

Photo: kisokiso/Flickr.

About to embark on a big springtime clean 'n' purge project around the house? Without fail, you’ll most likely encounter numerous, purge-worthy items that don’t fit neatly into the "paper, plastic, aluminum, yard waste" recycling scheme. These offbeat potential recyclables may leave you wondering: "What in the Sam Hill do I do with this?" For obvious reasons, many of these items aren’t appropriate candidates for a Goodwill drop-off or garage sales. Clueless as to what to do with battery-operated personal "massagers," false teeth and bad-idea lingerie, we sometimes end up chucking them in the trash (often hoping that sanitation workers don’t spot them).

But not so quick ... to prove that you can recycle or reuse almost everything, we’ve rounded up a few unusual items that you may encounter during a spring cleaning session and suggested ways of disposing of them. In many cases, the recycling of these objects helps to bring joy, comfort (and lest we forget, pleasure) to others. Have something on your hands that you want to recycle that isn’t on this list? Head on over to Earth 911. Happy spring cleaning!

1. Prosthetic Limbs

Here’s what the Amputee Coalition of America has to say on the recycling of prosthetic limbs: “Prosthetic components are generally not reused in the United States because of legal considerations. However, used prosthetic limbs may be disassembled and the components shipped to Third World countries for use by landmine victims and/or other individuals in need.” The ACA goes on to list numerous organizations such as the Limbs for Life Foundation and the International Foundation for the Physically Disabled that are willing to take a spare prosthetic limb off your hands.

2. Bras

Although Arizona-based textile recycling organization Bra Recyclers has officially deemed October as “Recycle Your Bra Month,” it’s never too early to commit an act of undergarment altruism by donating seldom worn, ill-fitting or entirely inappropriate brassieres to a good cause. Check out the Bra Recyclers website to learn more about the Bosom Buddies Program in which donated bras of all shapes and sizes (post-breast-surgery and maternity bras are needed, too) are given to local shelters or redistributed through exporters and organizations to women in developing nations.

3. Crayons

Unless you’re a crafty type, have kids, are frequently visited at home by children brandishing coloring books or prefer to take your own set of colors to restaurants with paper tablecloths, there’s really no reason to keep an old cookie tin filled with crayons at home. If you do and think it’s time high time that you parted with them, consider shipping them off to the Crayon Recycling Program, where “unwanted, rejected, broken” crayons are recycled into new ones. So far, the program has prevented 62,000 pounds of crayons from entering landfills.

4. Old Greeting Cards

Greeting cards are a funny one. They’re such a pleasure to receive but what to do when the sometimes sappy sentiment wears off? Do you dare throw away the Snoopy St. Patrick’s Day card that Great Aunt Helen sent three years ago? While there are numerous greeting card craft projects (Hanukkah card coasters, anyone?) to consider, if you’re looking to unload a huge mass of old cards that you’ve been hoarding in shoeboxes stashed under the bed, check out the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children Recycled Card Program. As part of the Kids Corp. program at St. Jude’s Ranch, children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused are given the chance to learn entrepreneurship skills by making new greeting cards out of fronts of old ones. Just don't donate old Disney, Hallmark or American Greetings cards, please.

5. Your Pet’s Fur

Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, has been accepting donations of non-filthy pet fur and human hair since 1998 to craft oil-absorbing hair mats — described as “flat square dreadlocks” — and hair-stuffed containment booms made from recycled pantyhose. These hairy contraptions are effective at soaking up oil and they don’t require any new resources ... just stuff you’d normally trash.

Although it appears that Matter of Trust — a very busy organization during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — is not accepting donations of the hairy kind at this time, they do suggest that you keep on collecting errant fur and hair to make booms for use in local waterways.

6. Dentures

Unlike a pair of old designer jeans, dentures are pretty much impossible to reuse given that the “fit” is unique to one’s mouth. However, in Japan there’s the Japan Denture Recycling Association, a program where precious metals are removed from the dentures and sold with the proceeds benefiting UNICEF. In a 2008 article, the head of JDRA, Isao Miyoshi, estimated that if all of the 3.6 million dentures with precious metals discarded each year in Japan were recycled, they’d be valued at up to 7 billion yen (roughly $83.3 million).

Unfortunately, no such program that we know of exists in North America, so instead check in with a local dental school to see if they’d take an expired pair of false teeth. Or better yet, an art school in desperate need of offbeat materials may benefit from them. Although arts and crafts projects abound at elementary schools and day cares, they probably aren’t the best candidates unless you plan on traumatizing young children. Just be sure to call before you show up anywhere trying to hawk a plastic zip-close bag filled with castoff chompers. And there’s always the gag gift circuit ...

7. Sex Toys

Whether you’re remodeling your love dungeon into a new baby’s bedroom or simply want an ex-paramour’s Magic Wand out of your sight, a company called Sex Toy Recycling will gladly accept used or broken sex toys. Explains the Sex Toy Recycling website: “Our company is dedicated to reducing waste and environmental toxins by providing a creative alternative for the disposal and recycling of used sex toys. We collect used sex toys and use a patent pending process to recycle the materials into new products.”

The Sex Toy Recycling process works like this: You send your unwanted sex toy to STR (email them and they’ll send along a Tyvek pouch). Once it’s received, the toy is sterilized and sorted in a processing center. Plastics, metals and batteries are recycled appropriately for non-sex-toy purposes while rubber and silicone are reclaimed and used to make new sex toys. Says the STR website: “We then use a patent-pending process similar to that used to recycle athletic shoes into rubber surfaces for basketball courts. The rubber and silicone is ground up, mixed with a binding agent, and remolded into new toys. For sanitary and safety reasons, each toy is then coated with a layer of new silicone. The result is a sex toy made of at least 95% post-consumer materials.”

8. Trophies

Is your past life as an overachiever starting to haunt you? Has the “I’m someone special case” in the den reached emergency overflow status? Rid your home of trophy-related clutter — even if you just happened to come in second place at that bowling tournament back in ’92 — by donating it to a company that specializes in recycling and reusing gold colored plastic statuettes holding sports equipment. One is Lamb Awards & Engraving, a Maryland-based company that will donate matching sets to charities or break down old trophies for parts. Total Awards & Promotions out of Madison, Wis., also has a popular recycling program where old trophies are recycled, reused and donated to nonprofit organizations.

If it’s medals, not trophies, taking up valuable real estate in your home, donate to Medals4Mettle. Through a nationwide network of physicians and volunteers, this fantastic organization bestows donated medals from marathons, half-marathons and triathlons to children and adults fighting debilitating illnesses “who might not be able to run a race, but are in a race of their own just to continue to live their life.”