How to Recycle Tricky Materials: Our Guide to Recycling

Find out how to recycle challenging materials such as paint, computers, furniture, printer cartridges and car batteries.

| October 7, 2010

It’s no secret that recycling is good for the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008, Americans generated 249.6 million tons of waste in 2008 alone. An impressive 33.2 percent of that waste was recycled — a number that has been steadily rising since the 1980s.

“Over the last few decades, the generation, recycling, composting and disposal of MSW have changed substantially,” the Facts and Figures report says. “While solid waste generation has increased, from 3.66 to 4.50 pounds per person per day between 1980 and 2008, the recycling rate has also increased — from less than 10 percent of MSW generated in 1980 to over 33 percent in 2008. Disposal of waste to a landfill has decreased from 89 percent of the amount generated in 1980 to 54 percent of MSW in 2008.”

This progress is a huge step in the right direction for the environment, but we can do more. Our landfills will be less crowded and our air, water and soil will be cleaner if we learn to use only what we need and reuse as many items as possible. Many of us are already taking steps in the right direction: We’re recycling our soda cans, glass bottles, newspapers and office paper. But what should we do with more difficult items such as cell phones, computers and paint?

We’ve found some great solutions and resources to help you learn how to recycle many challenging materials.

How to Recycle Paint

A clean coat of paint can solve a lot of problems, but the paint that’s left over presents its own challenges. Fortunately, your old latex- or water-based paints usually can be reused if you know where to look. Many Household Hazardous Waste facilities put leftover paint to good use with Product Reuse programs.

In a community near the MOTHER EARTH NEWS office (Lawrence, Kan.), the Household Hazardous Waste facility collects leftover paint and consolidates it for a second life. Large containers of paint are available to residents at the Product Reuse Facility, and — get this — in Lawrence, the paint is free by appointment.

Jay Babione
11/8/2011 12:02:43 AM

I was under the impression that recycling saved landfill space and saved energy. Saving energy happens because it takes less energy to recycle a material into a product than it takes to manufacturer the same product from virgin materials. However, the township I live in demands that all labels be removed from bottles and cans and they be rinsed. By the time I do all this I have wasted more energy than that which will ultimately be saved recycling these items into new products. Somebody needs to inform these people better ways to handle recycling.

Norman Elliott
10/11/2010 1:13:18 PM

Another way you can help is to re-use items yourself. It's amazing what can be done. Have a look at: which can give you lots of ideas.

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