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What can be recycled?

You probably already know you can recycle cans, bottles, paper and some other things. But how about... mattresses? Holiday lights? Carpet? Toilet paper tubes? Learn how even unusual materials can avoid the landfill and benefit Minnesota's economy and environment through recycling. When you click on the name of a material, it will expand and information about that material will appear below. You may "open" any number of materials at the same time. Some materials have even more information to share; for those, simply click on the "Read more..." link at the end of the description.


The Usual:

Click on any material to learn more.

Cans view

Almost all metal food and beverage cans can be recycled, whether they're made of aluminum (beverages) or tin or steel (canned soups, vegetables, etc.). Some recycling servicers will accept clean, empty paint cans and empty aerosol cans; others may not. If you have partially full paint cans or aerosol cans, or metal containers that held hazardous chemicals such as paint thinner or automotive fluids, these should not be included with your everyday recycling. Rather, these containers can be properly disposed of at your local Household Hazardous Waste facility.

Glass view

Glass bottles and jars that hold beverages, foods (pickles, olives...) and liquids (spaghetti sauce, ice cream toppings...) are generally recyclable. Generally, drinking glasses, mugs, dishes, cookware, incandescent light bulbs, pottery and vases are not accepted for recycling. Neither is plate glass, like broken windows or mirrors. Glass bottles that held hazardous products (such as nail polish or hobby paints) should be disposed of properly at your local Household Hazardous Waste facility. CFL (compact fluorescent) light bulbs contain mercury and must be disposed of properly; do not put them in with your recycling. Your HHW facility will accept these for proper disposal, and so will some local retailers (see the special category below).

Plastic view

Plastics can be a little bit tricky to recycle properly. You must pay attention to the "resin identification code" stamped into the plastic itself -- that's the little three-arrow-triangle recycling symbol with a number inside it, from #1 to #7. The most frequently recycled plastics are #1 and #2. Read more...

Paper view

The demand for recycled paper is currently greater than the supply. Recyclers and manufacturers in Minnesota and the Midwest can't get enough of it! Recycled paper turns into new paper, of course, but also insulation, egg cartons, padding for padded envelopes, animal bedding, even grass seed starter mix. Read more...

Corrugated cardboard view

Most recycling programs accept corrugated cardboard -- the kind of cardboard with paper on both sides and a wavy rigid layer in between. Some counties have even initiated a ban on throwing away cardboard, to keep this easily recycled material out of landfills. Different counties will have different guidelines as to what is or isn't accepted. Read more...


The Unusual:

Click on any material to learn more.

Aluminum foil / tin foil view

Some recycling centers or service providers can accept clean aluminum foil, others can't. Select your county on our "Where" page to see if aluminum foil is mentioned in the recycling guidelines. If it's not, call or e-mail your county or hauler to find out for sure.

Appliances view

Most appliances (refrigerator, oven, washer/dryer, etc.) are recycled and disposed of properly; even if the appliance is no longer working, there is cash value in the metal components. There are many options for recycling and proper disposal of old appliances. Read more...

Batteries view

Batteries come in many types and some are more hazardous than others. Generally, non-rechargeable alkaline batteries are safe to throw away in your garbage, while lithium, rechargeable and "button" batteries should be recycled. It's easy -- batteries of many types are accepted for recycling at numerous retail stores in Minnesota. Read more...

Books view

Finished with that bestseller? Many local libraries and schools accept donations of used books -- maybe not for their stacks, but for fundraiser used book sales. If your books are in too poor shape to donate and reuse, many counties allow you to recycle the paper content. Read more...

Bottle caps (plastic) view

Plastic bottle caps can be recycled along with the bottles themselves in some curbside programs. Check with your service provider to see if they accept them. If they do not, Aveda, a cosmetics and beauty products company based in the Twin Cities, operates a recycling program for plastic bottle caps and lids. They can be dropped off at any Aveda retail store (not salons, only retail stores), or sent in by mail. For more information, visit Aveda's website.

Bubble Wrap view

Bubble Wrap™ is actually a trademarked name for one type of "sealed air" packing material made to cushion items in shipping or transport. These plastic packing materials are typically made of a combination of different resin types, and are therefore not readily recyclable. But you can keep it out of the landfill by taking it to a business or service provider to be reused. Read more...

Carpet view

Carpeting is often made from fibers which can be recycled into new plastic or plastic derived products. There are emerging markets for commercial quantities of used carpeting, even here in Minnesota! Large remnants of new carpeting can be donated for use by another homeowner. Read more...

Cartons - Milk and Juice Boxes view

Milk cartons and juice boxes can now be recycled in some communities in Minnesota. Contact your local service provider to see if they collect these items. More communities are being added daily. The Carton Council also provides more information.

Cell phones / PDAs view

Cell phones and PDAs can and should be recycled when no longer being used. Many retailers accept old phones, PDAs and phone batteries for recycling; alternately, a number of charities accept these items to redistribute them to communities that can reuse them. Read more...

Christmas and holiday lights view

Last year's lights have transformed into a tangled, wadded mess of snarled wires with missing and broken bulbs. What now? Most people just throw them in the trash, but not anymore. You can help reclaim glass, aluminum and copper by recycling those lights! Read more...

Clothing view

Cleaning out your closet? The best option for clothing you consider the wrong size or style is reuse -- donate it to a thrift shop, or drop it in a collection box. Read more...

Computers: desktops, monitors, keyboards, speakers, other equipment view

Old computers, monitors, printers, drives, keyboards and other computer peripherals are all considered "e-waste". Electronics do not belong in the garbage -- in fact, it's against Minnesota law to dispose of certain electronic items in the trash. E-waste must be properly recycled or disposed of, to keep dangerous chemicals and heavy metals like mercury out of our water and air. Read more...

Computers: laptops view

Old laptop computers and other computer peripherals are all considered "e-waste". Electronics do not belong in the garbage -- e-waste must be properly recycled or disposed of, to keep dangerous chemicals and heavy metals like mercury out of our water and air. Luckily, a laptop computer is one of the most straightforward electronic items to recycle. Read more...

Corks (from wine bottles) view

Cork is a 100% natural, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable material -- so why toss your corks into the trash when you can recycle them? Wine corks are collected at Cork ReHarvest kiosks/bins in all Whole Foods Market locations. Corks collected here in the Midwest will be made into cork floor tiles by a company in Missouri. For more information, visit Cork ReHarvest or the Whole Foods website.

Crayons view

Yes, even crayons! Crazy Crayons, based in Wisconsin, accepts used and broken crayons from schools, restaurants and earth-friendly individuals, and they reprocess them into new multi-color "crazy crayons" and other products. It's a great way to get kids involved in recycling. Visit the Crazy Crayons website to learn more -- they'll send you a free sample for your participation.

E-waste (Televisions, stereos, other electronics) view

Old televisions, stereos, VCRs, DVD players, fax machines and video game consoles are all considered "e-waste". Electronics must be properly recycled or disposed of, to keep dangerous chemicals and heavy metals like mercury out of our water and air. Read more...

Eyeglasses view

Every year, thousands of pairs of eyeglasses, reading glasses and sunglasses are recycled, refurbished and provided to those in need worldwide. If you have eyeglasses you no longer wear because your prescription has changed, or even if they're just not your style anymore, you can help others by donating them. Look for drop-boxes at any LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Walmart Optical or your local optician. Collection boxes are also located in many churches, community service centers and schools.

Food scraps view

So much of our everyday food waste could be recycled - fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, stale bread, egg shells - through a process called composting. Think it's too messy or too much of a bother? Think again! Read more...




Hearing aids view

Every year, thousands of hearing aids are recycled, refurbished and provided to those in need. If you have unused hearing aids, you can help others by donating them to a service organization or business such as the Lions (info/directory), the Sertoma Club or the Starkey Foundation.

Keys view

Put your old keys to good use by donating them to charitable organizations. Keys for Kids collects, sorts, and recycles old keys and donates the money earned to organizations that benefit children. Keys to Recycle employs individuals with developmental disabilities who sort the keys for recycling.

Light bulbs view

Energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are very popular now, but they do contain mercury and must be disposed of properly. There are many collection options for these items. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are also gaining popularity and though they may contain lead, there are no disposal requirements for them. Read more...

Mattresses and box springs view

Currently only two recycling/reprocessing facilities in Minnesota process mattresses and box springs, but response has been remarkable. The Duluth facility processed almost 60,000 items in its first five years of operation -- that's enough mattresses to stretch from Rochester to St. Paul! Read more...

Packing peanuts / packing filler view

Foam packing peanuts are typically made of #6 plastic resin and are therefore not readily recyclable. You can keep them out of the landfill by dropping them off at a collection site where they will be reused. The Plastic Loose Fill Council maintains a database of businesses that accept packing peanuts; there are over a dozen in the Twin Cities and over ten more across Minnesota. Call their toll-free hotline (800-828-2214) or visit their website to locate a drop-off site near you. Alternately, use biodegradable starch-based packing peanuts whenever possible!

Paint view

The best way to avoid having to dispose of paint is to not buy so much extra! Use a paint calculator to estimate how much you need to purchase. If you've got leftover paint, it should be taken to your county or region's Household Hazardous Waste facility. Read more...

Phone Books view

Phone books are used less frequently with the increase in use of the internet. If you don't use your phone book, opting out of receiving one is the best option. If you choose to receive a phone book, nearly all curbside programs in Minnesota will accept them for recycling when you are done with them. Visit Don't Trash the Phonebook for more details. Read more...

Pizza boxes view

Some recycling programs are collecting pizza boxes in their curbside programs. Boxes must not be covered in grease or cheese. Consult your county or local guidelines to find out whether pizza boxes are accepted in your program.

Plant pots / garden plastics view

You make the Earth beautiful by planting and landscaping, now help keep it beautiful by keeping these plastics out of the landfill! Plant pots and seedling trays are made of plastics that are typically not collected in curbside recycling. However, the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, in partnership with the Recycling Association of Minnesota, offers special collection sites for these garden-related plastics. Last year participants kept over half a million pounds of plastics out of landfills! Some sites accept these plastics all summer and fall; others accept them only on designated collection weekends. For drop-off sites and dates, visit GardenMinnesota.com.

Plastic bags, plastic wrap, 6-pack rings view

Plastic shopping bags are often collected at grocery stores, sometimes along with other #4 plastics like bread bags, shrink wrap and 6-pack rings. Look for collection bins/boxes at your local stores, or visit It's In The Bag for participating locations in eastern and central Minnesota.

Plastics #3 through #7 view

Plastic items marked with the recycling symbol #3 through #7 are infrequently collected curbside, but many recycling facilities do accept some of these types of plastic, either through drop-off sites or special collection events. Read more...

Printer ink cartridges / toner cartridges view

Ink-jet printer ink cartridges and laser printer/photocopier toner cartridges can be refurbished and reused. If you don't refill and reuse ink cartridges yourself, ensure that your cartridges are recycled. Read more...

Scrap metal view

This is one case where recycling not only pays off for the environment, it can actually pay off for your wallet too! There are many scrap metal yards throughout the state that accept scrap metal for recycling and will pay you market value for dropping it off. Read more...

Scrap wood view

Many county or regional recycling facilities accept scrap wood or wood construction debris for recycling into wood chips or other products. There may be a charge for these items. Check with your local facility for details. Wooden pallets in usable condition may be listed on the Minnesota Materials Exchange; visit their website for more info. Some treated lumber contains chemicals and pesticides which can be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) if burned -- never burn treated, stained or painted wood.

Shoes / boots view

Cleaning out your closet? Shoes in good condition can be donated and reused. Shoes in poor condition can be broken down into their component materials - rubber, leather, textiles - and recycled or remanufactured. Read more...

Styrofoam / packing foam view

Styrofoam™ is actually a trademarked name of just one type of insulating foam. The common name of the material that makes up disposable coffee cups, coolers and packing materials is "extruded polystyrene foam" or "EPS." EPS foam is made of #6 plastic resins, which are not easily recycled. However, there are recycling programs in place (including here in Minnesota!) to keep this material out of landfills. Read more...

Thermometers / thermostats view

Today, most thermometers and thermostats sold in stores are digital (electronic). However, many Minnesotans may still have older non-digital thermometers and thermostats in their homes, and these items likely contain mercury. To dispose of these items properly, they must be taken to your county or regional Household Hazardous Waste facility. Read more...

Toilet paper rolls / paper towel tubes view

Who forgot to change the roll?! Well, when you do, remember that the paperboard tube is recyclable! Same with paper towels in your kitchen, garage or workroom. Many recycling providers accept paperboard tubes (flattened) with boxboard or mixed paper recycling.

Vehicles view

If your car is not in good enough shape to sell, consider donating it to a local charity. Car donation programs often provide free towing and ensure that your car's parts are reused or recycled to the extent possible. You can also receive a tax deduction for your donation. Visit CarDonationGuide.com to search by charity type and location.

Yard waste view

In Minnesota, yard and tree wastes have been banned from garbage since 1992. Numerous options are available for composting yard waste and other organic trash. Read more...


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