Grist’s Katharine Wroth and Chip Giller appeared on NBC’s

Today show
on Tuesday, Nov. 6, telling Meredith Vieira how to recycle some of the
odd and awkward items that you can’t put out in your curbside bin.

Athletic Shoes

Got a pair (or a pile) of old sneakers that are too gross and grotty to
give to charity? Nike will recycle any brand of athletic shoe through
its Reuse-a-Shoe program. Run your shoes over to any Nike store, or mail them straight to the company’s recycling center — details here.
Nike processes and recycles the footwear to make sports surfaces for
basketball courts, tennis courts, running tracks, and playgrounds.
Right now, they’re collecting shoes to make athletic surfaces for New
Orleans, to help get kids back out on the courts even as the city
rebuilds. To date, about 20 million pairs of athletic shoes worldwide
have been recycled through the program.


Computers are full of toxic nasties, so you definitely shouldn’t put
them out with the trash — and yet recycling them can be a challenge.
For years, activists have been pushing computer manufacturers to assume
responsibility for their products by taking them back at the end of
their useful lives and recycling them conscientiously, or, better yet,
putting the old parts to use in new machines.

Finally, some major manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with recycling programs. Dell’s program
is the best so far: the company will recycle any of their computers at
no cost, and if you buy a new machine from them, they’ll recycle your
old one no matter what the brand. Other major computer companies have
come up with programs too — including Apple, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba
— but they generally charge a fee, require you to purchase a new
computer, or have other restrictions. The Computer TakeBack Campaign
has put together a handy, info-packed rundown of manufacturers’ take-back programs.

The Computer TakeBack Campaign can also point you to independent recyclers
who meet high standards for eco-friendliness and labor conditions. Less
reputable recyclers ship electronics to the developing world, where
they’re dumped in huge heaps and disassembled under dangerous conditions by untrained, unprotected workers and even children. Some recyclers also send goods to be dismantled by U.S. prisoners in unsafe conditions.

Better than recycling, of course, is finding someone who can use your old computer; the National Cristina Foundation helps put donated computers to good use.

Cell Phones, Pagers, and PDAs

Small electronics are full of big toxics too, so they also need to be recycled properly. The nonprofit CollectiveGood
collects and recycles old phones, pagers, and PDAs. When possible, the
group refurbishes them and puts them to use in developing countries.
Otherwise, the items are broken down in an eco-friendly process and the
metals are separated out for reuse or proper disposal. You can mail
your old phone to CollectiveGood and get a tax credit for the donation,
or you can just drop it off at any Staples store in the U.S.

To find out more, dial up a Q&A with CollectiveGood’s president, Seth Heine.

CDs, VHS Tapes, and Other Techno-trash

Computers and cell phones aren’t the only techno-trash cluttering your
cupboards; think of all those CDs, VHS tapes, game cartridges, digital
cameras, MP3 players, cords, cables, cassettes — not to mention bigger
items like VCRs and computer monitors. Fortunately, there’s one company
that will take it all off your hands and reprocess it in an
eco-friendly way: GreenDisk.
Just mail your e-waste to the company and they’ll take care of the
rest. The cost starts at $6.95 for 20 lbs. of equipment — a small
price to pay to relieve your conscience (and your closet).

Mattresses, TVs, and Other Hard-to-Get-Rid-of Items

In most areas of the U.S., you can’t recycle your mattresses, and
they’re even hard to give away — charities like Goodwill often refuse
to take them. Old TVs can be tough to unload too. But if your items are
still in functional condition, consider that other R, “reuse,” instead
of just “recycle.”

One of the best ways to give new life to your old belongings is through the Freecycle Network, an online community with chapters all over the U.S. and around the world, through which people offer up items they no longer want and other people happily snap them up. (Read an article about Freecycle’s founding.) The online bulletin board Craigslist,
which also has hundreds of local versions, has a section where you can
offer things up for free too. You can get rid of just about any usable
item (and some items you didn’t even think were usable) via Freecycle
and Craigslist, and you can find great free stuff too.

Dry-Cleaning Hangers and Plastic

Hung up on what to do with those wire hangers from the dry cleaners?
Some dry cleaners will take them back and reuse them, and some tailors
and alteration shops will take them as well — so just ask. What about
all the plastic that comes back from the dry cleaners too? In some
cities, you can recycle it right along with other plastic bags, so
check your local recycling guidelines. You may also be able to return
the plastic to the dry cleaners to be recycled.

But really, just try to ditch dry cleaning altogether. The hangers and
plastic are the least of its eco-problems — the more serious matter is
the toxic solvent used in the process, perchloroethylene or “perc,” a
suspected carcinogen. (California
and other areas are requiring cleaners to phase perc out, but that will
take years.) Try to find a “wet cleaner” or other eco-friendly cleaning
company in your area; has a database. You can also hand-wash some garments, and avoid buying clothes that say “dry clean only.” Read more about dry-cleaning dangers and alternatives from Grist advice columnist Umbra Fisk.

Beer Bottles With a Lime Wedge

Can you recycle a beer bottle even if a lime wedge is stuck in it? Or a
cigarette butt? What about a peanut-butter jar with sticky goodness
still in the bottom? Yes, yes, and yes: just put it all in with your
regular glass recycling; the recycling plant should be able to remove
most contaminants. Umbra explains all about it.

There’s More Where That Came From

Looking for additional ways to green your lifestyle and protect the environment? Take a gander at Grist’s new book, Wake Up and Smell the Planet. It’s chock-ful of friendly advice, and 100% free of preachiness and pomposity.

Also check out energy-saving tips from Chip’s Nov. 5

Today show appearance.