What Can I Do With All My Old, Useless Keys?

Q: My husband’s a compulsive key-maker. We had seven sets to our last apartment, and now less than a year later, we’re moving again with seven new sets, leaving me with fourteen unusable sets of keys. Is there a way to recycle these? Or am I just supposed to throw them out?

A: Wow, that’s a lot of keys. And it’s not just you who has a boatload of unusable keys. Think about it. Every office building, every house, every store has doors, usually multiple doors, and every single one of those doors has keys. Every convenience store has a set of keys for it. The cashier has a key, the shift manager has a key. The store gets robbed and — Bam! — new sets of keys for everyone. Have you ever thought about all the keys on a janitor’s belt? Now that’s a lot of keys.

Many hotels are actually ahead of the game because they’ve replaced old-fashioned metal keys with those handy credit-card sized reprogrammable ones. You know the ones — the magic cards that you swipe (maybe more than once if you’re coming back to your room in Vegas after midnight and you’re drunk) and then see that gorgeous green light signaling entry to your temporary slice of paradise. (Unless you’re at a Motel 6, then not so much.)

Over the past several years, corporations and businesses have finally caught on to the trend, and double the keycards as identification cards as well (which is what we do here at MNN world headquarters). This was a little trick originally designed to help gun-shy bosses to fire employees in an e-mail, and then have the secretary deprogram their keycard, avoiding the always awkward “I’ll need your keys” conversation. (If only you could deprogram your boyfriend’s key when you break up with him instead of having that awkward conversation ...) And now that I think about it, having people wear their keycard around their neck at work makes it much easier for you to pretend you know them instead of asking their name for the third time in a row.

Speaking of keys — you know how they give people the “key to the city”? What does that even mean? What magic door does it open? What happens if you lose the key to the city? Does that mean everyone is locked out? Or is everyone locked in?

Truth is, keys can indeed be recycled at most recycling centers in the mixed metals bin. Just make sure you take off the little rubber edging you have around it first. They can often melt down and reuse the metal.

If you set your mind to it (and I know you will), you can come up with other ways to recycle those old keys. If not, check out a great website, keysforkindness.com, that’ll take your old keys and recycle them for you, donating the proceeds to charity. Either way, you’ll have less long-lost keys the next time you move.

-- Chanie