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We're all getting better at recycling. Nearly anything around your home or workplace can be recycled, and the list of old items that can be given new lives grows by the day.
While helping the environment, you can also often help charities or other nonprofit organizations that redistribute your items or otherwise put them to good use. Check our list. If you don't see what you're looking for, check back — we're constantly adding and updating.
Rechargeable batteries often contain toxic metals, so recycling is important. Call2Recycle , a nonprofit organization financed by product manufacturers, offers free recycling of all rechargeable batteries and cell phones at more than 30,000 collection sites nationwide. Since 1996, it's kept more than 70 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from entering the solid waste stream. Single-use batteries contain hazardous materials and should be recycled, too. Look for a take-back location near you or check with your local household hazardous waste facility.
In 1953, a Detroit housewife moved by the plight of a Korean War orphan started a charitable effort that would become World Medical Relief. Full-, queen- and king-size sheets go with other supplies into 40-foot shipping containers destined for developing countries; twin-size sheets go to stateside shelters.
Food and water aren't the only things in short supply in parts of Africa. Reading material is, too. If you have books you no longer need or want, you can give them a new life by sending them (use the U.S. Postal Service's low-cost "media" rate) to Books for Africa, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minn. Since 1988, it has shipped more than 24 million donated books to stock library and classroom shelves in 46 African countries. Do you have paperbacks that you'd like to go to American troops deployed overseas? By registering as a "volunteer shipper" with Operation Paperback, you can collect and send books directly to service members using addresses that it provides.
TerraCycle aims to "outsmart waste" by turning everyday throwaways into new products: watering cans made out of granola wrappers or tote bags made from Frito-Lay chip bags, for example, that are sold by major retailers and online. To donate, join a "Brigade" for the wrapper or other specific type of waste you wish to recycle. As a Brigade member, you can drop your stuff off at a participating location or use your computer to print out a prepaid shipping label.
Twice a year, Operation Gratitude collects used CDs, DVDs and lots of other items that become part of care packages to U.S. service members deployed in hostile territory, to their children left behind and to wounded warriors. The nonprofit organization accepts donations from March 15 to May 5 and, for the holiday season, from Sept. 15 to Dec. 5. Its complete wish list is posted online, along with project ideas and how-tos.
Cellphones contain environmentally toxic substances like lead and arsenic, so recycling them properly is important. Call to Protect, a charitable initiative of the nation's wireless communications industry, collects and recycles unwanted wireless devices otherwise destined for the landfill and uses the proceeds to make grants to organizations that fight domestic violence. You can donate yours by downloading a prepaid mailing label and tax receipt.
Through a partnership with Dell, Goodwill Industries now refurbishes and recycles all brands of used computers and computer equipment — hard drives, printers, scanners, monitors, even tangled old cords and cables — from more than 2,600 drop-off locations nationwide. Be sure to "scrub" or otherwise delete any personal information from your computer equipment before you donate it. Many disk-scrubbing utilities or software programs — some free and some commercial — are available for this purpose.
Some 13 billion natural corks are produced each year, and CorkReHarvest aims to recycle as many of them as possible. It collects used corks at hundreds of drop-off locations around the country, including all Whole Foods Market stores.
When your old blue jeans are just too ratty to be worn, they can still have a second life keeping someone warm. Mail them — or any other garments made from denim — to CottonFromBluetoGreen.org. They'll be reprocessed into sheets of natural cotton-fiber insulation, which in turn will be donated to "green" building projects.
An old pair of eyeglasses may be an outdated prescription or style for you, but just right for someone else. Some 284 million people in developing countries need eyeglasses but do not have them, according to the World Health Organization. Lions Clubs International collects old eyeglasses, sorts and repairs them, then distributes them worldwide through humanitarian distribution teams. On the "How You Can Help" page of the club's website, you can find a collection box near you or details on how to mail in old eyewear.
Some major airlines — including Continental, Delta, United and US Airways — allow customers to donate unused miles to charitable organizations. Since 1998, for example, US Airways customers have donated more than 700 million miles to such charities as American Red Cross, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Mercy Medical Airlift. Check with your carrier's frequent-flier program for details.
Want to find a new home for your old furniture? Furniture banks are nonprofit organizations that collect gently used furniture and other household furnishings and give them to people who need — but can't afford — them. With more than 80 banks around the country — they're listed in an online directory maintained by the Furniture Bank Association of North America — you may well find one close to you.
Used or new, send them to Bunkers in Baghdad, a charity that collects balls, clubs and other equipment and sends them to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Wounded Warriors programs here in the United States.
Old cards get new lives at St. Jude's Ranch for Children, which serves abused, abandoned and neglected children of all faiths. Its Recycled Card Program keeps kids busy — they remove the fronts of the cards and attach new backs — and teaches them some entrepreneurial skills at the same time (they sell packets of 10 recycled cards, in six different categories, for $10).
Is taking care of that long 'do just too much work? If you cut off a ponytail that's at least 10 inches long, consider donating it to Locks of Love. The organization provides high-quality hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children who've lost their hair because of autoimmune disorders, burns, radiation treatments and the like. And even though gray hair doesn't work for kids, no worry: Locks of Love can sell it to offset its manufacturing costs.
At least 3.5 billion wire hangers needlessly end up in landfills every year. Many dry cleaners reuse or recycle them, and they can also be recycled with other metals (remove any attached paper or cardboard first).
The Starkey Hearing Foundation's Hear Now Program recycles used hearing aids – any make or model, no matter how old — for distribution to those who need but can't afford them. Lions Clubs also recycle used hearing aids (as well as eyeglasses, laser and inkjet cartridges, and cellphones and accessories) collected at designated centers from coast to coast.
Medical Bridges collects manual and electric hospital beds that would otherwise be discarded (along with many other forms of "medical surplus") and redistributes them to hospitals and clinics in developing nations throughout the world. (For more options, see "Medical equipment" entry.)
Do you have an extra sphygmomanometer (aka blood-pressure cuff) a nebulizer or a humidifier that you don't need anymore? MedShare may be able to find it a grateful new owner. Since 1999, when it shipped its first 40-foot container of medical supplies to Costa Rica, MedShare has collected more than $93 million worth of medical supplies — and kept more than 2 million cubic feet of goods out of landfills. (For more options, see entries for "hospital beds" and "stethoscopes.")
Some pharmacies offer take-back programs for unwanted medications, syringes and the like. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider for more information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a state-by-state list of needle disposal rules, along with disposal programs near you.
Click and Clack aren't just funny guys; their National Public Radio program, "Car Talk," also sponsors a vehicle donation program that supports local public radio and television stations. The website for the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program will even help you determine whether it's smarter to donate your car and take the tax deduction or sell it instead.
Since its beginnings as a Sunday-school class project in 1996, Crosslink International has shipped more than $45 million in medical supplies to humanitarian relief efforts worldwide. It collects a wide variety of donated items — from antihistamines, pain relievers and vitamins to bandages, gauze and toothbrushes. (It does not accept or use items past their expiration dates.)
Proms, quinceañeras and formals can be girls' dreams-come-true events – and it helps to have the right thing to wear. Hundreds of nonprofit organizations around the country collect gently worn dresses to donate to those who can't afford them; find one near you at DonateMyDress.org, a site created and maintained by Hearst Teen Network. If you don't see a dress-drive organization in your community, you can download a handbook on how to start one.
With scrap-metal prices hitting record highs, you can get rid of your junk and do a good deed at the same time by finding a local scrap-metal recycler that will donate the proceeds to charity. Example: Golden Recycling in Golden, Colo. You can, of course, also donate the proceeds on your own.
WorldScopes, a philanthropic arm of the American Medical Association, collects new and gently used stethoscopes and sends them to clinics and hospitals around the world.
Bath towels in good condition can be donated to World Medical Relief (see "Bed sheets" for more information). The organization gives them to hospitals and clinics in developing nations. Or, closer to home, contact your local animal shelter; many need used towels (and blankets) as pet bedding.
Local offices of the Muscular Dystrophy Association collect wheelchairs (manual or motorized) and other gently used, durable medical equipment to redistribute them to people who need them. You can use MDA's ZIP Code Finder to locate the office nearest you.