14 Surprising Items You Can Donate or Recycle

Photo by Lacey Williams on Unsplash

I think recycling needs a marketing makeover.

When we think of recycling, we tend to think about paper, aluminum cans, and glass bottles. This is a great start, but there are a lot of other items you can recycle.

These items often can’t be recycled curbside or in those recycle bins you see everywhere, so it takes a little more effort. So why donate or recycle instead of throwing stuff in the trash?

Trash is actually kind of expensive. I pay almost $100 a year just to have my city pick up my trash. Many communities are starting to charge by the trash bag, give people smaller bins, or bundle the cost into property taxes or rent.

I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of trash I create ever since I found out about the zero waste movement, started by Bea Johnson. The movement aims to send nothing to a landfill and instead create a circular economy, in which items are reused.

The goal is actually to reduce our need for recycling, but I’m sure you have most of these 14 items in your home right now. I also included tips on how to avoid some of these items in the future.

With spring cleaning on many people’s minds, I thought this list might come in handy. If everyone disposed of stuff responsibly, we’d all save money and help the environment. Plus, a lot of charities operate from the proceeds of these recyclables or donated items.

I haven’t tried all of these organizations, and some are only available in certain locations, so check all guidelines before collecting stuff.


Batteries are one item that people often throw away, but definitely shouldn’t. Batteries have harmful chemicals and should be disposed of properly. Try Earth911 to find locations, or look for a local electronics recycling company near you.

How to avoid: Reusable batteries.


Books are one of the few items on this list you can sell. Websites like Bookscouter and Decluttr let you check the value of your books, and offer cash for ones that are still in demand. Decluttr also an app you can use to scan barcodes and instantly check the value — no need to type long ISBNs.

Many libraries accept donations, especially books often assigned for summer reading (think The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.). Hospitals often accept children’s books, large print books, or magazines; check what they need before dropping any off.

Did you know that you can donate books to prisoners? Educational materials are especially in demand. Bookriot has a guide for what they’re looking for, and how to donate.

And of course, your local charity shop will most likely accept books in good condition.

Building Materials

Habitat for Humanity ReStores will accept some building materials, including leftover stuff from home remodeling projects.

Bread Tags

Those little plastic tags are recyclable. Bread Tags for Wheelchairs, based in South Africa, collects them to fund their charity.

How to avoid: You can buy bread in bakeries using a cloth bag.

Cell phones

Even if a cell phone isn’t connected to a plan, it can be used to dial 911. Old phones and their chargers can be valuable for homeless shelters to give out in case of an emergency. Secure the Call and Cell Phones for Soldiers are two options that collect phones.

Broken cell phones can also go to electronics recycling.


I don’t smoke, but every time I take a walk, I see used cigarettes littering the ground. Terracycle offers a cigarette recycling program that might be useful for a business or a community cleaning up an area.


Clothes in good condition can be sold to consignment shops or donated to many charities, but some organizations also collect torn or worn-out clothing for textile recycling. Make sure the clothes are clean and labeled as rags/recycling. Try Savers or Goodwill, or check with a local charity.


Old computers, cords, keyboards, etc — these are all recyclable. Some communities do collection events, or check out Earth911 for locations near you.


The Lions Club collects old eyeglasses to give away. You can either ship eyeglasses directly, or find drop-off location (some banks and retail stores have boxes by the doors).

Gift cards

Some plastic gift cards can be reloaded and reused, but I prefer to use cash or credit. Earthworks System recycles used plastic cards if you mail them in.

How to avoid: Gift cash.


Key for Hope collects old keys for recycling, and uses the money to fight hunger.

Light bulbs

Certain light bulbs are recyclable. Easy Light Bulbs has some helpful resources.

Pet supplies

Extra pet supplies, bird cages, and even stuff like old, clean towels are accepted at many animal shelters. Check your local shelters to see what they’ll accept.

Plastic bags

Plastic grocery bags, some shipping materials, and a lot of plastic wrapping is recyclable. It’s important to keep plastic bags out of trash, because they can easily blow away and harm wildlife.

Before you toss plastic, flip it over and check for a recycling symbol. If it’s there, bring it to a local store for recycling (there’s probably a collection box in the same area where aluminum cans are collected). Most curbside recycling programs aren’t equipped to handle it, but the stores are.

Plastic Film Recycling has more information on what’s recyclable.

How to avoid: Take reusable bags to stores, and try to avoid items with a lot of plastic packaging.

Many other items

If you have items you don’t need, you can offer them to others on Freecycle.

Terracycle also has a lot of recycling programs for organizations.

If you know of any other recycling programs, please share the information in the comments.



Article writer, aspiring YA novelist & health scientist.

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