We’re used to setting aside bottles, cans, cardboard, and the like for the recycling bins to help conserve resources and lighten the load on our landfills. But what about everything else?
“We want everyone to think about reduction and reuse before we get to recycling,” says Matt Grondin of ecomaine, a nonprofit that deals with handling waste safely and responsibly, and helps Mainers think about sustainable waste management strategies. “While recovering our paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, and glass in our single-sort bins is vitally important to Maine’s landfill diversion goals, we can all look to reuse things we don’t need or want any longer, but might have use for someone else.”
Here’s a rundown on proper disposal for the less-straightforward items many of us use:
Batteries and cell phones: Recycling these items is important because it keeps harmful materials out of landfills and water supplies. It also reduces risk of fires caused by old batteries and conserves resources. Some locations charge a small fee to recycle single-use batteries – the type used in flashlights and remote controls. Find a recycling site.
Clothing and footwear. Your local swap center, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and thrift stores are all great places to start. Some churches and other places of worship may have collections, too. Most of these places want items that are gently used clothing and in good repair. Goodwill, however, often finds uses for items with wear and tear (clothing scraps may get another life as cleaning cloths, for example).
Home building materials: If you’re renovating, you might be able to donate old kitchen cabinets, doors, light fixtures and more to a Habitat for Humanity Restore near you. Some locations offer a handy pick-up service for large items. Learn more about donations and locations here.
Electronics. TVs, computers, electrical cords and other electronics cannot go in the trash, because of potential for environmental harm. In Maine, your local transfer station will accept them to recycle, but if electronic device works, donate it at your local swap center, Goodwill or Salvation Army. Retailers like BestBuy and Staples also take e-waste for recycling for free. Find a collection site near you (they also take other potentially harmful items like fluorescent bulbs and mercury thermostats).
Eye glasses. Gently used eyewear can be reused by others who need a little help to see clearly. Donate eye glasses at these locations: Goodwill, Salvation Army, Ruth’s Reusable Resources (collects and redistributes school supplies). Or call your Town Hall and ask if there’s a community swap shop and check with your public library. Lions Clubs also has many U.S. recycling centers.
Medical supplies. Most medical waste like bandages, asthma inhalers and IV bags are considered trash. This type of waste should be sealed in plastic bags before you add it to your trash. Sharps (needles) should be put in sturdy, puncture-proof, leak proof containers (like a plastic detergent bottle), labelled “do not recycle”, then sealed and taped closed before adding to trash. If you have questions about disposing of medical waste safely, these resources can help:
- American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org or 207-774-7717
- Biomedical Waste Program, 207-287-2651
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1-800-311-3435.
Have unused medical supplies that you’d like to donate? Partners for World Health can find a use for almost any type of medical supply or piece of equipment you may have! Click here for comprehensive list of what they can accept. If you’re uncertain if they’ll be able to accept something that you have, send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many communities gather hard-goods like crutches, grab bars, and wheelchairs from residents for others to re-use free of charge. Check with your town offices for more information.
Over-the-counter and prescription medication. Because medications of any type could mix with public water, they should never be flushed or poured down a drain. They also shouldn’t sit in our landfills. You can find out where your town or city’s trash winds up here before you put it in the trash. (ecomaine recommends mixing medicine with coffee grounds or cat litter as an additional precaution.)
You can also ask your Police Department or pharmacy when they’re holding a drug collection day, and hand over medications there.
Paint. Maine has 117 locations where you drop leftover paint that’s been used on a building, free of charge, thanks to a relatively new law that led to a stewardship program with PaintCare. PaintCare recycles the paint, reuses it as part of other products, or uses it to create fuel. Find a location near you. Some transfer stations also collect used paint.
Thin, filmy plastic. Grocery bags, bread bags, dry cleaning wrap and the like are no longer accepted by local recyclers, but you can find drop-off locations that accept these materials and more at PlasticFilmRecycling.org. Get a complete list of accepted materials here and search for a drop off location here.
With just one more tool in your arsenal, you’ll be ready to help keep our communities healthier for all: ecomaine Recyclopedia. It’s easy to use. Just enter the name of item you’re not sure how to recycle, and ecomaine gives you instructions and options.
Is the effort worth it? The latest data shows that in Maine, we recycle about 37 percent of all the trash we create each year. Much more of that we drop in landfills – by some estimates as much as 60% – could be recycled or composted. Which makes us think: How can we do more?