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The Top 5 Most Recycled Items

For most of us, recycling is about the items we toss into our recycle bins: paper, plastic and aluminum. What might surprise you is the items found in these recycle bins are not, with one exception, the most recycled items across the nation. The recycling website Earth911.com reports these are the most often recycled items:

1) Computers – The rapid evolution of computer technology means that our PCs get replaced more often than other electronics. The problem with this is computers and other modern electronics contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead. Recycling computers allows these elements to be recovered and has a potentially more important benefit: keeping toxic metals out of the environment. Heavy metals are highly dangerous even in very small amounts, causing a range of problems including brain damage, birth defects and death.

2) Batteries – According to Earth911.com, Americans throw out 180,000 tons of disposable and rechargeable batteries every year. But don’t throw those batteries in the trash because, like computer parts, batteries contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury. When these batteries go to the landfills these metals end up poisoning the environment and are not available for recovery and reuse.

3) Televisions – If computers have heavy metals, then it’s not surprising to hear televisions have them as well so need to be recycled to recover the materials and prevent them from getting into the local ecology. It’s encouraging to see that the top three items on this list are electronics-oriented because that implies Americans are getting the message that electronic waste, or e-waste, is a real threat so are trying to dispose of the items responsibly.

4) Paint – Paint doesn’t have lead in it anymore, but it does have a lot of other chemicals which shouldn’t end up in the environment. Of course recycling is about reuse and old latex paints can be reused in one of two ways. They can be mixed with virgin materials to make new paint, or can be blended with other recycled paints. Oil-based paints can’t be recycled in this manner but can be disposed of in a way that won’t damage the environment.

5) Aluminum Cans – Bringing up the rear is an item often found in commercial and residential recycle bins. Aluminum cans were one of the first items targeted for consumer recycling and is still a popular item because the cans are easy and inexpensive to process into new metal.

Most recovery programs put out recycle bins focused on paper, plastic and metal but this list shows there is a demand for other kinds of recycling. Imagine how much more could be recovered if every computer store took old computers from customers for proper disposal, or every shopping center had recycle bins for dead batteries. Look past the big three residential recycling materials and think about other items that need to be collected.


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