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Earth Day: Five Things You Didn't Know You Could Recycle

Toothbrushes, shoes, human hair? Believe it or not, these (and more) can be recycleable.

With Earth Day approaching, our minds are focused on protecting and preserving the world around us.

When we think of recycling, we think of papers, plastics, and glass, of lugging our old soda containers to the supermarket's bottle return. But there's so much more that can be recycled. Below are a few less thought of, but no less recyclable examples.

1. TOOTHBRUSHES: Yes, you can recycle a toothbrush, at least the ones made by the people at Preserve Products. Made of recycled yogurt cups, these brushes are not only dentist recommended (trust me, my parents are dentists) but completely recyclable. After you’re done with your toothbrush, mail it back to Preserve. It’ll be ground up, turned into plastic lumber, and be reused in a new, environmentally friendly way.

2. SHOES: The Reuse-a-Shoe program from Nike transforms your old sneakers into running tracks as well as playgrounds and athletic flooring. The shoes are separated into three parts – midsole foam, outsole rubber, upper fabric – upon receipt and broken down into different forms of “Nike Grind.” The foam grind is used to create tennis and synthetic basketball courts, the rubber grind becomes soccer fields and athletic tracks, and the fabric grind is spun into wooden basketball courts. Either mail your old footwear to the processing plant in Memphis or leave a pair off at the nearest drop-off location, the Nike Store at the Roosevelt Field Mall. Since starting the program in 1990, Nike has collected over 25 million pairs of shoes.

3. HAIR: Think of how much hair makes the move from the barbershop floor to a landfill each and every day. What if I told you that that same hair could actually be recycled? Human hair has been proven as an effective additive to compost or garden soil; it can both help plant life and keep pests away. Why does it work? Human hair is made of protein and releases nitrogen into the soil as it breaks down, helping your plants grow. (But you should still use a fertilizer alongside it.) It also suppresses weeds and keeps animals – notably deer – away from your precious plants.

4. DIAPERS: Did you know that the average baby uses 6,000 disposable diapers before being potty trained? That billions of diapers reach landfills each and every year? The simple (and cheaper) solution is to use cloth diapers, but it’s neither the solution for everyone nor the only solution. The British company Knowaste has made headlines for its diaper recycling program – one which claims to reclaim or convert 100% of diaper material into recycled products (such as plastic wood and roofing tiles) or energy. Even though a company like Knowaste has not yet made its way across the pond, you can still buy flushable, biodegradable gDiapers (the ‘g’ stands for 'green'), which are said to break down within 150 days as opposed to the 500 years it takes plastic diapers.

5. MEDICINE: On the off chance your medicine cabinet is filled with unexpired, unopened medication, you may be able to recycle it. The laws differ from state-to-state, but in New York, unused medication can be donated back to the pharmacy from which it was originally purchased as long as it it is unopened and in original manufacturer’s and tamper evident packaging. The drugs cannot be expired and must have a verified future expiration date. If all of these conditions are met, your old meds can make the move from your cabinet to those of eligible New Yorkers in need.

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