Photo: How to recycle practically everything

It’s not so hard to recycle hard-to-recycle recycling! (Credit: Kristen Bonardi Rapp via Flickr)

What to do with stuff you no longer want? First rule: if it's not irreparably broken, donate or resell it. But what if nobody wants it?

Recycling hard-to-recycle items isn't as tricky as you might think! Find solutions for some of the most common challenges — including lights, eye glasses, cell phones and mattresses — in my FAQ's section.

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Regional and provincial departments are getting good at summarizing local options. The Recycling Council of British Columbia's Recyclepedia, streamlines information from all major non-profit recycling associations in the province.

If a one-stop shop is more your style, a recycling company will happily take many items for a reasonable fee. And this may be your only option for troublesome plastics that can't be returned to either the manufacturer or retailer. But before you pack off your treasured 90's CD and DVD collection (or phone for a pickup), check out websites like Pinterest. Your trash could be crafting gold for an upcycling project.

Socially responsible companies are also making it easier:

Batteries: Call 2 Recycle boxes are located in recycling depots, retail locations, community centres or non-profit offices across Canada. Find one using the interactive map.

Shoes: If they aren't suitable for donation, return any brand of running shoe to Nike. Tiny choices has a list of other ways to recycle your kicks

Electronics: Some municipal depots now accept electronics. If yours does not, Best Buy and Future Shop offer comprehensive electronics recycling programs in all their locations. Finally, many manufacturers — including Sony, Samsung and Apple — recycle their products and list drop-off locations on their sites. (Apple doesn't buy back products in Canada, but you can return batteries to their stores.)

CD/DVDs: Future Shop and Best Buy accept these but, as far as I can tell, there is no capacity to actually recycle them in Canada so they are shipped away (mostly overseas).

Packaging: London Drugs' Bring Back the Pack program accepts packaging from any product purchased in their stores, and diverts it for local recycling.

Coffee cups: Although some Canadian Starbucks and Tim Horton's locations now collect cups, recycling paper cups is wrought with complications. Ask for a mug or bring your own commuter cup.

Food & candy wrappers: Terracycle has take-back programs for all sorts wrappers! Print prepaid shipping labels and send to them directly. London Drugs has partnered with Terracycle on selected collections — visit the site to see which items can be returned there.

Garage stuff: Even used saw blades and drill bits can be returned to Rona!

The idea that having less stuff actually makes us happier is gaining traction. As recycling gets easier, we can get rid of clutter with less cost to the Earth!

Tovah Paglaro, The Queen of Green

January 14, 2013

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Aug 21, 2016
12:16 PM

where can I take old photographs for recycling?

Cheers Louise

Aug 10, 2016
10:07 PM

Does anyone accept plastic outer wrap and bags other than the usual plastic shopping bag?

Aug 15, 2016
11:56 AM

Some cities now take soft plastics in the blue bin, or stores like London Drugs accept soft plastics. Also, many communities have special pick up days for soft plastics. Depends on where you live! Queen of Green

Aug 03, 2016
9:47 AM

great article! thanks for sharing… any idea where i can send off old school backpacks and old insulated lunch bags… I am a more conscientious consumer now but I wasn’t in the past… I’ve been holding on to these 2 items not wanting to simply throw it in the trash. They have both been used to the max! thanks for helping!

Aug 01, 2016
1:45 PM

Hi! Thanks so much for your valuable information on how to recycle just about anything. Any ideas how I can reclcyle my kids’ school binders? I can’t seem to find a supplier in Calgary by looking on the Internet.

Apr 14, 2016
10:44 PM

Recycling is good to human and next generation. INTCO Recycling encourage people in community to recycle Styrofoam and help drop-off centers to dispose of the compacted foam blocks. INTCO recycling collect waste Styrofoam and make good use of them as delicate renewable PS frames.Here has whole EPS recycling solution:

Mar 01, 2016
4:44 AM

Nice article.Thanks for sharing information.

Feb 19, 2016
1:22 AM

Nice article.Thanks for sharing

Jun 13, 2015
12:55 PM

do any of the waste streams or privates recycle photographs?

Jan 20, 2014
1:23 AM

Your post is really collection of such useful information and I personally would like to appreciate the efforts. Once again thanks for your post.

Nov 08, 2013
7:46 AM

Habitat for Humanity ReStores, located across Canada, recycle batteries and electronics as well as sell both new and gently used home décor and renovation items. ReStores have diverted tonnes of material that otherwise would have ended up in landfills. Many ReStores also operate a kitchen salvage program where volunteers will remove a homeowners kitchen, when they are renovating, and sell the removed kitchen. Homeowners save on the labour to remove the old kitchen and, of course, the kitchen does not end up in the landfill and supports a great cause!

Aug 12, 2013
7:46 AM

Recycling isnt difficult if you buy the right products. These guys sell items that are all recyclable

Jul 03, 2013
12:10 PM

Great post! Where can I recycle an old bike helmet? This one is past its expiry date so I don’t want to donate it. Thanks!

May 29, 2013
1:29 PM

Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics. Although similar in effect, the composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste—such as food or garden waste—is not typically considered recycling.

Apr 04, 2013
1:15 PM

I had a bumper crop of flower seedlings this year that I needed to transplant to larger containers. Never thought to use coffee cups and regretably bought 4 inch plastic pots-and lots of them. But I wil forgive myself because I learned a lesson about my own consumerism mentality. Also by next year I will have found a source so I can reclaim these cups for my flower project.

Mar 21, 2013
10:24 AM

There is something that bothers me greatly about recycling, a package that doesn’t go full cycle shouldn’t be out there to begin with. Agree we need packaging to a certain extent to protect and insure integrity of whatever it is that needs transportation. But what we have is an overdose of Pakcaging that makes products more expensive and contribute to pollution and excess of dumped co2. Lets face it, we use up a lot of energy and money to something that will end up in a garbage. Does that make any sense?

Mar 05, 2013
3:37 PM

Great guide David. It is great to see the care and devotion you have for our environment, it comes through the words and is quite apparent. I think you may have missed a big and important thing you can recycle. An old car. Older cars with their low emission standards and leaking fluids are a hazard to where it parks, and where it drives. People can sell their cars to a place like or and get rid of it and they will recycle it and resell the cleaner metals.

Feb 15, 2013
1:35 PM

I never really quite knew that I didn’t have to give everything to my local recyclers in Edmonton. This new up-cycling concept sounds pretty cool! Although, if I can’t up-cycle or it doesn’t look good, I’ll recycle anyways. Thanks for sharing.

Feb 11, 2013
3:41 PM

Where do you recycle styrofoam?


Feb 11, 2013
1:43 PM

Good information. Yet, I submit recycling IS tricky — extremely tricky — especially for those living in rural areas. It takes hours to identify possible recyclers, then mail the items in. Is it even worth the effort and cost to recycle these items? Our time might be better spent lobbying government to strengthen municipal recycling programs and enact laws to reduce packaging and mandate extend manufacturer responsibility.

Feb 11, 2013
10:41 AM

Styrofoam : that had no food or veggies and well washed : daycare for crafts (downcycling only). CDs and DVDs make good coasters. Food packaging : When I don’t buy bulk at the market, I ask my grocery store to keep it, and they accept. Eventually, as many clients do the same and complain about the amount of packaging, the place will realize there is too much and will reduce it. The market reuses egg cartons, fruit and vegetable wood and cardboard baskets, olive oil bottles, plastic pots for many items.

Feb 10, 2013
11:05 PM

I just choose a better rubbish clearance in London to take care of my garbage.

Feb 03, 2013
2:44 AM

Thanks for this…I hate waste and even though I have tried to limit my consumerism there are some things you can’t avoid…for example the whole change of television to digital in Australia has caused a huge waste of old tvs. We had a perfectly good tv that no one wanted because of this change to digital. I know you can buy a digital box to go with it, but we didn’t want to as we don’t really watch much tv and didn’t see it as being worth it. There were so many tvs just wasted in this change… you’d see them everywhere just sitting on the side of road for dump days. Anyway, I appreciate and respect any organisation that is trying to minimise this waste issue

Feb 01, 2013
8:06 AM

Serious lover of your blog, a considerable number of your blog posts have really helped me out. Looking towards updates!

Jan 22, 2013
4:52 PM

poorly named article. there’s a lot more stuff people use on a daily basis that can be recycled, and recycling everything is actually a lot harder than this. if you have money and a car, you can PAY people to come pick up your recycling junk, or you can drive all over town dropping each piece of at its specific depot. batteries, lightbulbs, clothing, small appliances -all go to different places in vancouver anyway. too bad this article, like most people’s guilt and fossil fueled fake reducing and recycling efforts, hardly touches on just exactly how difficult it is to actually take on the task of not buying new things, reusing everything you can, and recycling the rest.

Jan 16, 2013
9:36 AM

Where and how can we recycle styrofoam??????? I find it on the roadside all the time and pick it up but our local recycling doesn’t take it.

Jan 15, 2013
8:44 AM

hello! there is actually a local company that manufactures their own CD’s/DVD’s who have their own in-house recycling program. All you have to do is mail your old CD’s to them, or drop them off to them, they are located in Surrey, BC.

Also, there is a local company that is a one stop place to recycling many of the things that local city recycling will not accept such as: styrofoam, plastic laminates (chip bags, candy wrappers, etc…that crinkly plastic that a lot of food is packaged in), batteries, any and all plastics that don’t have a recycling logo on them, tetra pak (including juice and soup tetras — encorp will take the milk tetras but not juice or soup tetras) and compost.

As for compost, in addition to WCS recycling, both Vancouver and North Vancouver offer composting options as part of their curbside programs. Just look it up on the internet to find out the details. Not sure about surrounding areas, I didn’t look into it. There are actually really comprehensive composting programs here in North Vancouver, which takes into consideration that we live amongst bears up here. There is a way to compost which will not attract bears if done correctly.

Jan 15, 2013
1:43 AM

Just adding to your Electronics section of the post Tovah, you also have the likes of who provide a comparison for old gadgets. I have personally used them and you get to make the most cash back as well as doing your bit for the planet.

Jan 14, 2013
5:36 PM

I have just read a piece on recycling that a Facebook friend shared. I would like to be more up-to-date with recycling tips.

Jan 14, 2013
4:38 PM

Queen of Green: What to do with this…#4 shavings bags from a poultry operation? They may compare to a milk bag! We have many! Would appreciate your opinion! Brenda

Jan 14, 2013
4:13 PM

Also, the group freecycle is great. You give things away and people take things from you. FANTASTIC group.

Jan 14, 2013
3:37 PM

I get asked a lot how parents can recycle car seats. I’d love some info I could pass along to my clients. Thanks, Sarah prenatal to parenting

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