How Exactly Do You Recycle Hard to Recycle Materials?

Krista Diamond | Mar 02, 2017 @ 11:00 AM

It’s in the name. Hard to recycle materials often seem like they’re impossible to get rid of. They take up space in your storage unit, your basement and your garage—space that you could be using to store things you actually want to keep.

According to the Pennsylvania Resources Council, a hard to recycle material is “any item that you cannot easily recycle in your curbside collection.” This often includes things that you can’t easily or legally throw in the trash. Hard to recycle materials can be items that contain freon, like your refrigerator or air conditioner, and items that contain mercury, like fluorescent tube lights, as well as automotive items and battery powered or electric household appliances. Other notoriously hard to recycle materials include bicycles, large plastic items such a patio furniture and the bane of every storage facility manager’s existence, used mattresses.

So how do you get rid of these pesky little—and in many cases big—items? Here’s a handy guide to recycling those hard to recycle materials.

Check Your Local Waste Management Program First

Your first step is to give the people who actually pick up your trash and recycling a call. Many communities have services in place, like Waste Management's At Your Door Special Collection, which is designed to alleviate the problem of hard to recycle materials. This typically will allow you to arrange a time for your hard to recycle materials to be picked up from your home or business. When asking about this service, be sure to find out what materials are accepted and whether or not you will be required to pay a fee.

Look for a Facility That Accepts Hard to Recycle Materials

If your waste management service can’t handle your hard to recycle materials, look for a specialized facility that can. Most large communities have some kind of facility in place for this purpose.

You can find yours by running a quick search for the term “hard to recycle materials” followed by the name of your hometown. These facilities, often referred to as CHaRMs (Centers for Hard to Recycle Materials) are typically open to the public and will accept these items.

For example, if you live in Atlanta, you can take hard to recycle materials to this facility. Some materials at this particular center, such as propane tanks and paint, require a small processing fee. Other materials, like carpet and styrofoam, do not. Some items, like shoes and bicycles, may even be re-used. You can gauge whether or not your item will incur a fee at your local CHarRM by assessing whether or not it contains chemicals and considering how difficult it will be for the facility to dispose of.

For items like electronics and metals, search for a privately run company that handles these items. In the case of the latter, you may even make a few bucks in the process of recycling.

Contact Your Local Charity

For items that aren’t hazardous and are in good condition, always get in touch with your local Goodwill, Salvation Army or neighborhood charity of choice.

If you have an item that is damaged but working (say, a dented microwave) or an item that is damaged but could work with reasonable repairs (like a bicycle that needs new tires), don’t count your local thrift store out. Some charities, such as animal shelters, may even accept damaged items like torn or stained clothing that can be repurposed as clean-up rags.

Get Creative

If you’re searching for a place to dispose of a specific item, narrow your search to include only charities and disposal services that handle that specific item.

For example, this Chicago based non profit accepts used bicycles that are then refurbished and donated to local and international communities that lack access to transportation. And don’t fret if you’re not in Chicago; there are several other similar charities in cities across the country.

For used mattresses, look for companies like this Las Vegas business that accepts old mattresses, shreds them and sends them to California where they are sterilized and turned into casket linings.

Whatever hard to recycle material you’re looking to recycle, take the time to think of a way in which it could be repurposed before tossing it in the trash.

Talk to Your Storage Facility’s Staff

If your hard to recycle materials are taking up space in your storage unit and you’ve already followed the above steps and you’re still at a loss, talk to the staff at your storage facility. They definitely don’t want your mattress to end up in their dumpster and they’d hate to see you abandon a bunch of old tires in your storage unit, so they may be inclined to connect you with resources you haven’t thought of. Talk to your storage facility manager about charities and recycling programs that they’re connected with. You may be surprised by your options.