1) Cell Phones
Their circuit boards contain a toxic slew of cadmium, lead mercury and arsenic – heavy metals that leach into the groundwater and can cause cancer and birth defects. In 2007, Americans discarded 140 million of the devices. Instead of contributing to this ecological nightmare, hook up with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, a nonprofit that collects discarded phones in every state and either recycles or refurbishes them. www.call2recycle.org
As part of its Reuse-A-Shoe program, Nike will take your old funky-smelling sneakers and turn the rubber, foam and fabric into three types of Nike Grind–a major ingredient in synthetic surfaces such as basketball courts, running tracks and playgrounds. Niketown stores and Nike factory outlets will accept any brand of athletic shoes as long as they are not wet, are not cleats and don’t contain metal. www.letmeplay.com/reuseashoe
More than 4 billion pounds of carpet enter our landfills every year. Science’s best guess as to how long it will take to decompose: 20,000 years. Carpet America Recovery Effort is a nationwide alliance that will connect you with a recycling center in your area. Your old carpet can be turned into new carpet, fiber padding, automotive parts and a variety of other materials.
When our computers die, they are shipped to China, where workers are poisoned by lead and flame retardants when they tear apart the machines for scrap. Some of the lead is even fashioned into costume jewelry that is sold across China. A better method is to hold the manufacturers responsible for the recycling and safe disposal of their own creations. Dell and Sony now take back all of their products; Toshiba recycles its laptops; and Apple – if you buy one of its new computers – will properly dispose of any brand. You can even return your old iPod and get 10% discount on a new one.
5) Construction Materials
More than a quarter of landfill waste comes from home construction and renovations. Take any salvageable materials – old doors or decking, a broken dishwasher – to one of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, where DIY-ers buy them at deep discounts. ReStores are now in 45 states, and some have reported raising enough cash to build an additional 10 homes a year.
6) CDs and DVDs
It’s unknown exactly how long CDs and DVDs will remain at the bottom of our landfills, but it is known that at many municipal dumps, the disks are incinerated and emit toxic fumes such as methane and monochlorobenzene. So instead of throwing them in the garbage, call GreenDisk, a company that will pick them up at your house and recycles them into car parts and office supplies.
The United States Postal Service processes more than 8,000 pieces of mail per second. Last summer, to reduce the ensuing waste, USPS began providing free recyclable Tyvek envelopes for its priority and express mail services. Return your stash of used envelopes directly to DuPont for reprocessing. Offices capable of collecting more than 500 envelopes a month can also create custom recycling programs.
American households waste about 14 % of the food they purchase, according to a recent study at the University of Arizona. When food is tossed into the trash, the nutrients it pulled from the land and sun become frozen in a landfill. But as any gardener knows, you can turn kitchen scraps into high-grade fertilizer by feeding them to earthworms. For $170.00, you can buy a trash-can-size bin with 1,000 red wigglers inside that can process a pound of food waste a day.
Americans discard so much that managing the leftovers costs the government $512 million a year. But a market for recycled latex paint is emerging. The largest organization, Amazon Environment, recycles paint in three states. Some waste-management facilities also recycle paint.
Find one near you at www.epa.gov
Much of today’s discarded outdoor clothing contains Polartec, a synthetic version of fleece that doesn’t really decompose. To ease the burden on our landfills, Patagonia, Teijin and Polartec teamed up to create the Common Threads Garment Recycling Program. A fifth of Polartec’s offerings come from recycled fibers, and 100 percent of Polartec fabrics are recyclable. Drop off your old fleece at Patagonia stores and select retailers, or mail it to Patagonia’s distribution center.