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Because You Asked

How Are Mixed-Material Items Recycled?

By Recyclebank |

Here’s how complicated items like mattresses or cellphones are recycled.

Dear Recyclebank,

How are complex mixed-material items recycled?

Judy C., Bridgeport, CT


As we’ve touched on in previous columns, items that contain multiple kinds of materials (such as mattresses) are more difficult to recycle than, say, a piece of paper, because the recyclable components must be separated and sorted from the unrecyclable parts. Useful materials can be extracted from items like circuit boards and rechargeable batteries.

Sometimes the components of an item are too difficult to separate, so the entire thing is shredded up first. After the item has been shredded, some materials can be separated, as is the case with recycling Christmas lights.

Sometimes recycling an item actually means reusing it. For example, some items, especially high-value ones, can be refurbished and resold to new owners. This is often the case with electronics, or “e-waste.” There are a number of programs out there for cellphones in particular, often through service providers such as Verizon or T-Mobile. You can find more information on electronics recycling and donation on the EPA website.

Most mixed-material items cannot be recycled through your curbside recycling program. You may have to find drop-off or mail-in programs, or see if your community has special instructions for certain items. Always check with your local recycling facility to find out the correct procedure for a given item.

Waste Management


How do you recycle mixed-material items that don’t go in the bin? Let us know in the comments.

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  • C S. 5 months ago
    At home we use corded phones. They never run out of battery and always work even with no elec. No reason to have cordless . cell phones when we no longer use them for work we will use a flip phone! For emergencies and calls we Don t need txt or any of the other nonsense people can t live without now days
  • randy f. 5 months ago
    ( they go into . . . that OTHER bin . . . the bad bin )

    ( the one we dare not speak )

    >>Re: How do you recycle mixed-material items that don’t go in the bin? Let us know in the comments<<
  • Barbara W. 5 months ago
    My old cell phone was a re-furbished I-4 ( the original one). I got it used, had it for Years! The lady at the store said that NO Body would even want it and she was surprised anyone would use it for so long. Oh Well!
    Finally this summer I got another refurbished phone, this time it's an OLD ATT-used Flip phone. I did Not have internet put on it, I use it mainly to carry in the car more for emergency use. I have a fairly recent laptop with internet in my home office. Works for me!

    Also, I have a cordless Home Phone that I have used so long some of the buttons don't work well. My friend knew I like the Panasonic one I have, then gave me her newer one when doing away with their home line. Therefore I upgraded from Ancient to Old, but new to me. I use it the majority of the time for home/ yard.
    So now I have upgraded both phones and am content with what I have.
    • Javier J. 5 months ago
      A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine had to get a new cell phone because her old phone runs on 3G, which is going away soon, apparently. Some of her apps would no longer work when the change happens. (She resisted apps for a long time, but now relies on a few of them)
    • Barbara W. 5 months ago
      My newer/ old Flip phone is G4. Who knows what the Ancient I-4 was, maybe G3?????
    • Barbara W. 5 months ago
      Javier, now you have me worried, I THINK the Flip phone is a G4 maybe not??
    • Barbara W. 5 months ago
      Javier, will it matter IF it IS a G3, if I do not have the internet on it?
      I make calls, get texts, ( I could do without the text), and take a few pictures.
    • randy f. 5 months ago
      From what I hear, a lot of home security and personal fall monitors & lanyards ("I've fallen and I can't get up") run on 3G and will essentially be worthless landfill in a few months as well : (
      I know 60+" flat screens benefit bigger and faster streaming bits but does everything else? A person can loose their identity, live savings, reputation in 0.000000230 seconds already. What's 5G gonna get us! ? ? ? (Besides More Antiquated Electronics)
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  • Donna D. 5 months ago
    additional points earned 12/3/21
  • Liam G. 4 years ago
    It's sad but true: every gadget on the market will be E-Trash soon
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