How to Recycle Tricky Items Like Mattresses and Styrofoam, According to an Expert
Sorry, but you're properly disposing of batteries completely wrong.
March 18th is Global Recycling Day.
While you may know that plastic bottles and cardboard boxes go into the recycle bin, do you know how to recycle your mattress? Don't feel bad if you don't. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and Earth911, 65% of respondents said they didn't understand which plastics were acceptable in curbside recycling collection. And when you add items like Styrofoam and batteries into the mix, the whole recycling system can get even more confusing and contaminated.
"What makes recycling so complicated is that every city has different recycling functionalities. It's a business and things are recycled if there is a demand or a value for the recycled product," says Lauren Singer, founder of Trash Is For Tossers and Package Free. She notes that items like metal are easy to separate, but plastic, which is artificially inexpensive, usually has no demand for the recycled product.
So how can you make sure that you're recycling correctly? Below is a list of the most common items people have trouble recycling, with advice from Singer on how you can salvage them rather than giving up and throwing everything in the trash.
What goes in the recycling bin:
How to recycle Styrofoam
According to Singer, there's simply no recycling business for Styrofoam. "There's no value for the recycled products. It's cheaper [for the government] to send it to a landfill," she explains.
But if you don't want to add more to landfills, how can you get rid of Styrofoam safely? According to It's All You, a website on recycling, many grocery stores and shipping companies have take-back programs for foam packing and peanuts. If you live in New York, Singer says that her shop, Package Free, uses a recycling program called TerraCycle that offers a discount code for users who want to get rid of their Styrofoam.
The best thing you can do, however, is to refrain from using Styrofoam at all. Try to have reusable utensils and cups on you at all times, and ask companies to not use peanut packaging when delivering products.
How to dispose of a mattress
According to The Mattress Recycling Council, Americans dispose of roughly 15 to 20 million mattresses every year. Plus, conventional mattresses contain synthetic fibers, foams, and hazardous flame retardant chemicals, which are hard to recycle and aren't biodegradable, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The good news is, some parts of your mattress—such as foams, metals, and woods—can be recycled. All you have to do is contact your nearest recycling center to see if they collect them. If you don't have a place near you, Earth911 states that you can call Goodwill or The Salvation Army to see if they take mattress donations or have a recycling program of their own. There are also other resources, such as ByeByeMattress.com and Earth911, that offer ways for you to easily search online for places that'll accept your mattress, too.
Keep in mind, most recycle centers will request a fee ranging from $20 to $40 if they pick up the mattress for you, and they won't accept mattresses that have been stained, ripped, or are ridden with bed bugs.
How to recycle electronics
"Electronics are really complicated because they're made of so many different mixed materials," says Singer. "To be recycled properly, they'd have to be picked apart and each material taken to various places."
If you want to recycle your electronics—and, as of 2018, 25 states have passed laws requiring people to do so—you can visit Call2Recycle to find out where the nearest drop-off recycling center is located. Third parties like Apple or Microsoft will also take back old computers to refurbish or give away to local schools or libraries. But if you want to make money from older electronics, programmers are always looking for new computers on Craigslist or eBay to buy and update for their own personal needs.
How to dispose of batteries
As of late, a lot of materials that make up single-use batteries are no longer hazardous and can be recycled. According to Battery Solutions, all you have to do is call your local solid waste district to find out if there is a collection program where you can drop off your batteries if you want them to be recycled. For instance, Earth911 has a recycling search program where you can look up "alkaline batteries" and your zip code to find the closest center near you.
However, when it comes to rechargeable batteries, you never want to throw them in the trash. They usually contain nickel cadmium, which can leach into the soil and water in landfills. Instead, you can drop rechargeable batteries off at home department stores, office supply stores, or eco-friendly shops. Call your local stores to see if they have a program in place.