What To Do With Your Spring Cleaning Junk

Spring Cleaning and RecyclingWith spring cleaning on everyone’s lips, there’s going to be a lot of junk tossed into dumpsters in the coming months.  Although the idea of de-cluttering is a noble goal, one person’s clutter is another person’s gold.  For example, that tacky sweater your aunt gave you last Christmas may keep someone less fortunate warm next winter, and a lot of toxic waste—to include batteries, used CFLs, and other things that contain chemicals harmful to the environment—needs to be dealt with particularly.  They don’t belong in landfills, and in fact much of our spring cleaning refuse can be recycled.  Here’s how.

Backpacks: Donate them to the American Birding Association.  Scientists can use them while tracking birds.

Batteries: Keep hazardous metals out of landfills.  Take your car batteries to any retailer and they’ll be recycled.  For household batteries, take them by RadioShack or Office Depot.

Books: Donate books or alternatively sell them to a used bookstore.  You won’t make much (the most I’ve made is $35 in one batch, and that included a season of Lost on DVD).

Cell phones: The Wireless Foundation gives refurbished phones to domestic-violence survivors.  Some states like California and New York require that retailers accept and recycle your phones without charging you.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL): They contain mercury, so you don’t want them in landfills.  Drop them off at an Ikea or Home Depot.

Computers: Return them to manufacturers or donate to charities.  If it’s broken, try sending them to, which will repair and give them to schools and families in need.

Crayons: National Crayon Recycle Program melts old ones down to make new ones.  Leave the wrappers on so they know what color each one is.

DVDs, CDs: Send it to for recycling without it cluttering a landfill instead of your desk.

Empty metal cans: For cleaning products like Ajax, cut off the metal ends and put them with other household metals.  Recycle the tubes with paper or cardboard, accordingly.  For food products, clean the food out of them and recycle with metals.  You can leave the paper on since it just burns up in the recycling process.  (If you want extra green points, recycle the paper, too.)

Gadgets: will send you shipping labels so you can send them your clutter, which they will recycle.  The proceeds go to breast cancer charities.

Holiday cards.  Yes, they’re sweet and sentimental, but you can send the ones from your boss or acquaintances to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.  Formerly abused or neglected youths will cut off the covers of these cards and glue them to new ones, which they sell to fund the nonprofit program.

Shoes: If your shoes are in good shape, they’ll be donated to athletes in need via  If not, drop them off or mail them to Nike Recycling Centers; they’ll be recycled into sports courts and playgrounds.

Shopping bags: Okay, you’ve started the reusable bag thing, but you still have all the plastic and paper bags from the old days.  Recycle the paper ones with paper (even if they have metal grommets; they’ll be pulled out by the machines) and drop the plastic ones at your local grocery store.

Spiral notebooks:  Toss the thing, metal and all, in the paper recycling.  The machines will pull it out.  If the cover is plastic, though, rip it off first.

Stereos and VCRs: You can find a list of recyclers, retailers, and manufacturers near you that will take them here.

Toothpaste tubes: Yep, you can recycle them with your aluminum tubes, even if your aluminum tube still has paste inside.  With plastic ones, though, you’re out of luck.

Used clothes: Donate them to your local charity organization or even the animal shelter, where they can be used as bedding (they’re always in need of bath towels, too).

Videotapes, cassettes, floppy disks: send them to, since they’re a menace practically anywhere else.

Read the full list of recyclable (and non-recyclable) items by Real Simple here.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and in her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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