Because my wife and I have yet to receive our COVID-19 vaccinations — we’re under 65 — we continue to stay close to home, doing our best to stay safe and healthy. During the past year or so we’ve been very careful about going out in public, only going out when it is absolutely necessary (groceries, doctor visits, … and my weekly walks, of course!). One of the trips that until now we’ve deemed non-essential is a trip to the recycling center. We of course use our blue bin for the recyclables that are approved for that container, which takes care of the majority of the recyclables that we generate. But a lot can be recycled that can’t go into our blue bin, and so over the past year I’ve simply accumulated it in my garage. Normally we would have taken this stuff to a place such as the Shoreway Environmental Center (on Shoreway Road, just north of the San Carlos airport) much sooner, but the combination of the places that take this stuff being closed for a time, and our reluctance to make any trips that aren’t absolutely necessary, kept us from doing so. Until very recently, that is, when the accumulation reached the point where making such a trip could be deemed “necessary.”
My finally getting rid of the accumulated detritus caused me to realize that I am overdue to unearth and update a post I wrote nearly five years ago about the ways we all can recycle some of the more esoteric items in our modern lives. This includes clothing and household items that are still in good shape and thus can be donated, dead batteries, fluorescent bulbs, outdated or broken household electronics, and even styrofoam. While my wife and I try not to bring stuff into our house that will eventually have to be recycled (or worse, tossed into the trash), there is only so much one can do; there will always be some, it seems.
Because my house has a two-car garage, I’ve set aside a small space for a “recycling center,” where we accumulate those things that require special handling. Paper, cans, bottles, and such of course go into our blue bin, but my little homemade recycling center has boxes and bins for electronics that can’t be sold (many recent-model electronic items in good shape can be sold either to individuals or to companies like Gazelle), including dead fluorescent light bulbs, outdated medications, coat hangers, old eyeglasses, household batteries, and empty printer ink cartridges. When a couple of the boxes or bins get full, I know its time to make a trip to wherever those particular items are recycled.
Just what are those items, and where do I typically recycle them? Here is my list:
- Usable clothing and household items: this is easy, since there are plenty of places that will take this kind of thing. I usually take mine to Savers (downtown, on Main Street — although the drop-off is in the back, on Walnut Street). You might prefer The Salvation Army or perhaps Goodwill Industries (there is a Goodwill drop-off in the Chavez Supermarket parking lot on El Camino Real at Fifth Avenue). Regretfully, the St. Vincent de Paul Society shop on El Camino Real below Woodside Road has closed. However, the nearby St. Francis Center accepts donations of new and gently used clothing (and other items; see their website) at their main office (151 Buckingham Avenue, Redwood City) during office hours.
- Electronics, household electrics and cables: these can go to the Shoreway Environmental Center, or can be donated to an electronics drive at a local school, church, or other non-profit. If you are getting rid of stuff with hard drives that may contain sensitive information (and what information isn’t sensitive these days?), I highly recommend Green Citizen. For a small fee, they’ll destroy any data on any hard drives you give them (those drives can be inside old computers) — and they’ll do the same for cell phones. Their drop off recycling center is in Burlingame, at 1831 Bayshore Highway. Note that in addition to wiping hard drives, they also take other types of electrical and electronic items — some for a fee, and some free. Check their web page for more information.
- Old cell phones: Ours are iPhones; I’m taking those back to Apple. But cell phones of any brand (including Apple’s) can either be dropped into the appropriate bin just inside the door at Best Buy in San Carlos, or can be treated like a dead battery and putting into a clear bag and placed on the lid of your black trash bin.
- Used printer ink cartridges: Best Buy (in San Carlos) has a nice drop-off bin for these just inside the door.
- Expired smoke detectors: these can be tricky. Some can be recycled with other small electronic items, I believe, but I always check with the manufacturer first: many have to be sent back to where they were made. In the past I’ve mailed them back to the manufacturer. That didn’t cost me anything, fortunately: I called them and they emailed me a postage-paid mailing label.
- Dead batteries: I put mine into a clear food storage bag that I put on top of my black trash cart. Alternatively I could have taken them to the Shoreway Environmental Center.
- Fluorescent bulbs: In the past I’ve taken them to Hassett Hardware (in Woodside Plaza); I handed them to a cashier on my way into the store. This time, though, since I was already going to the Shoreway Environmental Center, I took them there. They take not only the long tubes (household only, up to 6 tubes, must be less than 6 feet), but also Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs).
- Unused/outdated medications: These aren’t listed as being accepted at the Shoreway Environmental Center, but they are: they have a secure bin into which you can deposit both prescription and non-prescription medications. Alternatively, you can take them to the Police Station (Redwood City’s is on Maple Street on the Bay side of Highway 101), to the Sheriff’s office (in the 400 County Center building), or to Redwood City’s Kaiser Medical facility.
- Sharps: the Shoreway Environmental Center has a secure bin where these can be dropped off.
- Old eyeglasses: LensCrafters in Menlo Park (on El Camino Real) apparently takes these. I still need to get rid of a couple; in the past I’ve simply given them to our optician.
- Wire hangars: When we accumulate enough of these (we get them whenever we take clothing in to be dry cleaned) I take the accumulated stack to Broadway Cleaners (on Main Street, behind Harry’s Hofbrau).
- Sensitive documents: We have a household shredder which we use for day-to-day stuff; I then recycle the shredded remains. But recently I did a major clean-out of some boxes of old documents (old bills and such that I no longer need to back up my tax returns), and found myself with more paper than I wanted to feed through my small shredder. I took the boxes of paper to my local UPS store, where they charge per pound to shred them.
- Household Hazardous Waste (cooking oil, paint, used motor antifreeze, used motor oil and filters): with some limits, the Shoreway Environmental Center takes this stuff, too. Be sure to check their list of acceptable items (click the plus sign next to “Public Recycling Center is Open” on this page for any limits) before taking it in, however. If you have a lot of this, or if what you have doesn’t meet their requirements, the county has a couple of drop-off locations for which you can make an appointment: see their website here. I’ve done that in the past, when I had a lot of paint and gardening chemicals to dispose of, and it proved to be very convenient.
- Styrofoam: Thankfully, Green Citizen (the same folks in Burlingame who take electronic items) takes the most common kind: EPS #6 styrofoam! You have to pay, but not very much: $5 for as much as you can fit into a 30-gallon bag (they provide the bag). The styrofoam must be clean, but can be of any shape. I had a bunch of it, and all of it was of the allowed type (it is stamped with a triangle with “PS 6” inside).
- Plastic bags: these are tough, and I have to admit that at the moment I don’t know of a good place where I can recycle them. They cannot be put into our blue recycling bins, unfortunately (they jam up the machinery used to sort our mixed recyclables). In the past I’ve taken them to various grocery stores, but the last one that I knew of that took them — Lucky’s, in San Carlos — was no longer accepting them the last time I was there. My wife and I try very hard to never accept plastic bags: we have a lot of reusable shopping bags, and if we must we’ll take paper. Sometimes, though, we end up with plastic bags anyway. For instance, some items, like loaves of sandwich bread, are prepackaged in plastic bags. And some delivery services seem to insist on using plastic bags (which causes us not to use those services). So they do slowly accumulate. I continue to hope that I’ll someday find a place that will take them. If you know of one that is currently accepting these, please let us all know by leaving a comment!
Except for the shredding and the styrofoam, it cost me nothing (other than time) to get rid of the past year’s accumulated specialty recycling. I was particularly happy to pay to recycle the styrofoam: I truly hate having to throw it away, knowing that it’ll just end up in a landfill. If someone can reuse it — I presume that it gets broken down into small pieces and either turned into packing peanuts or made it into new styrofoam shapes — I certainly have no problem making the trip to Burlingame.
Hopefully this helps some of you: it is amazing how much stuff you can recycle if you just make a bit of an effort. While it isn’t clear whether everything we are submitting to be recycled actually is getting recycled at any given time, I have little or no control over what happens down the chain, so I don’t worry about that. Although at times the recyclers may end up simply trashing what we give them, if we follow the rules and recycle as much as we can, just maybe the increased volume will make it worth the recycler’s while to actually process it properly.
Finally, never forget that “reduce” and “reuse” come before “recycle”; reducing what you take in automatically means you have less to recycle (or trash). And if you or someone else can reuse what you no longer need, that is far, far better than recycling it. Recycling may be better than throwing something into the trash, but it still should be thought of as a last resort.