What To Do With Harder-to-Recycle Items

In an ideal world (so, not necessarily this one), the zero waster hums along with bulk bags in tow, making no trash, leaving no trace. In reality, I've found, unexpected pieces of recycling crop up. Some recyclables are, of course, widely accepted - paper, glass, aluminum. Other things can be recycled, but because it's hard to figure out where to do so, they tend to end up as trash. Below, I've rounded up a few of my favorite resources for recycling those odds and ends, and I'd love to hear yours, too.

Gift cards.

Once they're finally spent, a few options come to mind. If they're to a favorite local business/coffee shop/restaurant/store your friend loves, you might be able to reuse them for future gifts! Most stores can add value to old cards. Or, you can send them away for recycling. Terracyle and Earthworks both accept gift cards. Terracycle's program requires a fairly large fee, and may work best at institutions like schools/libraries/etc.; however, Earthworks' takeback program is free, excepting only postage (just can send them an inquiry email to find out the address you should ship to!). I save my cards in a box (and offer to take the empty ones from friends and family), and plan to send them all away at once when it's full.

Stretchy plastic.

Bags, wrappers, and things of that ilk are so ubiquitous that acquiring one or two over time seems, sadly, inevitable. Many grocery stores and pharmacies have drop-off bins near their entrance for recycling these (my local CVS and Walgreens pharmacies both do). Look for the drop box next time you're there, or ask an employee to help you locate it.


Fellow zero waste blog No Need For Mars introduced me to Free the Girls, a company that will take your gently used bras to help victims of sex trafficking open their own secondhand clothing stores.

Plastic pots.

You know, the kind you acquire when you impulse purchase a lavender plant. (Or is that just me?) These seem like they should be recyclable, but don't usually have numbers on them. When purchasing starter plants from a farmers' market, I've chatted with the sellers and have found that many are happy to take these pots back once you've repotted the plant into your own container.

Packing peanuts.

Since I don't package things up with them myself, I tend to sort of forget that packing peanuts exist. Out of sight, out of mind at its finest. So, if I have to order something online, I may accidentally neglect to specify "no packing peanuts" in notes to the seller. When I received a package with packing peanuts a few months ago, I took them to my local UPS store, who gladly accepted them for reuse. If you don't have a UPS near you, check with another mailing and packaging company in your area.

Old exercise shoes.

Those ones that are too muddy and worn to donate to a local resale shop. You can find a few options for recycling them, here, or you can check with your nearest running store to see if they offer a take back program or know of someone else who does. Often these recycled shoes become soft, mulch-like turf on playgrounds.


Terracycle offers programs for recycling many different categories of those hard-to-recycle things; they accept a lot of unusual pieces that your local recycling won't. Some examples: Toms of Maine brand products, stuffed animals, pipet tips (for the scientists among us), paint brushes. Some of their recycling programs are free, and others demand a (sometimes large) fee - the latter might be best set up at your school/office/community center. At the vey least, browsing their website is pretty interesting - so take a look!

If you're not sure about something, a quick Google search ("How to Recycle ____") can help get you on the right track! If that fails, maybe you can upcycle it; find some ideas in that category, here. What other tricky things do you go out of your way to recycle? I'd love to hear.