Chances are you're already recycling the cans, bottles and paper that get picked up at the curb, but what about all that other stuff that's lurking in your drawers or closets — like outdated gadgets and dead batteries — that you're not sure how to recycle? The following household items are especially important to donate or recycle because they contain materials that can contaminate the environment if they wind up in landfills or that can easily be reclaimed for use in new products. Here, courtesy of RecycleBank, are some convenient ways to keep them out of the trash:

  1. Electronics – All Office Depot, Staples and Best Buy stores accept larger electronics like desktop computers for recycling for a small fee (usually $10) and smaller ones like cell phones and PDAs for free. Goodwill stores accept used computer equipment (some locations also accept televisions) for free. Why? You'll keep toxic materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and brominated flame retardants out of landfills. And useful materials will be recovered, saving energy and resources.
  2. Rechargeable batteries – From cordless phones and power tools, digital cameras and other gizmos —  these can all be recycled for free at 30,000 drop-off points nationwide, including retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's, RadioShack, Sears and Target. Enter your ZIP code at Call2Recycle to find one near you. Unfortunately, it's more difficult to find places to recycle alkaline (or single-use) batteries. Try Earth911 to find drop-off locations or order a box (for $34.50, including prepaid shipping) from Battery Solutions and send them up to 12 pounds of alkaline and/or rechargeable batteries for recycling. Why? Like many electronics, batteries contain heavy metals and other chemicals best kept out of the waste stream. Plus, recyclers reclaim metals from them that are used to make new batteries and steel.
  3. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, but they contain a small amount of mercury and shouldn't be thrown in the trash. Take them to any Ikea or Home Depot store for recycling or go to Lamp Recycle to find other drop off locations near you. Why? CFLs in landfills can break and release mercury, a neurotoxin, into the environment.
  4. Plastic bags – Even if you've switched to reusable bags for your shopping, you probably have a bunch of these stored in your home. Luckily, lots of retailers like Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertsons, Wegmans, Krogers and Giant now have bins where you can recycle plastic grocery bags (and newspaper, drycleaning, bread and sealable food storage bags). To find a drop off location near you, go to Plastic Bag Recycling or Earth911. Why? They're made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and when thrown away they take a very long time to decompose. Recyclers will turn them into new products like plastic lumber.
  5. Anything you don't need that could be of great value to others. For instance, you can donate your used prescription glasses to the nonprofit OneSight at any LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical or Sears Optical location (or go to One Sight for more locations near you). You can also donate unused, unexpired medications including antibiotics, pain relievers and others by mailing them to the Health Equity Project. The glasses and medications will be distributed to people in need in developing countries. Keep in mind that you should always recycle hazardous substances like paint, pesticides, propane gas tanks and motor oil at your town's household hazardous waste collection events or permanent collection center. Go to Earth911 or call 1-800-CLEANUP to find collection sites and events.

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