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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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