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Recycling and reusing the dirty and obsolete



Old carpet and rugs: In the mood to waste some money? Buy a kitty condo, which is merely carpet-covered wood that will set you back $100 so that your cat can claw the feline version of the Taj Mahal. Here's a clue: Cats don't care. They like paper sacks and cardboard boxes just as well.

But if your cat must have a condo, build one yourself using discarded carpet, rugs and wood.

If you don't have leftover wood, check Freecycle, your neighborhood listserv or the Reuse Warehouse in Durham. While tempting, trespass on demolition sites at your own legal and personal safety risk.

  • Photo illustration by Justin Cook. Styled by Maxine Mills.

With a carpet knife, cut the material to fit and staple it to the wood. Sprinkle with catnip. Watch as your cat ignores your masterpiece and curls up in a cardboard box.

Pillows: Few household items are nastier than a 10-year-old pillow. But to throw the slobber-coated germ vectors in the landfill is irresponsible—and they are not recyclable. I perused several websites to find out how to discard them, and here's the consensus: First, wash the pillow in the washing machine—use hot, really hot, water—and either put them in the dryer or place them in the sun. Use the pillow for a pet bed or as packing material (you can also use the stuffing for that purpose). Some websites suggested using the insides to make new pillows. Uh, that's where I draw the line at sustainability, making my own pillows. But if you're handy with a needle and thread and have a ton of time, go for it.

Electronics: The coffeemaker that died. The vacuum cleaner that lost its suction. The lamp with a short. Anything With a Plug ( will recycle electrical items, and even pick them up if you live in Wake or Durham counties.

Caution: Computer hard drives should be wiped clean before donating them to any person or organization. Triangle E-cycling ( will refurbish your computer and donate it to a teaching program that helps public school students learn information technology.

Reuse tip: Clean out the lidded canister from a carpet cleaner or vacuum cleaner. Use it to store discarded eggshells, vegetable stems, coffee grounds and the like, until it's time to toss them on the compost heap.

Textiles: Old clothes and shoes consume 12 percent of the space in the world's landfills. Synthetics don't decompose, and although wool does, it creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as it breaks down, according to Go Green in Raleigh.

Go Green ( recycles and repurposes clothing and shoes. The items that still have life in them go to developing countries; the too-far-gone are recycled into raw materials to be reused.

CDs/DVDs/cassettes/VHS tapes/other obsolete media: I own about 2,500 LPs, and nearly as many 7-inch singles and CDs. That's not counting the bins and bins of cassette tapes, which for some reason, probably related to an early childhood trauma, I cannot bear to part with.

To unload CDs and DVDs, either donate them to the library, or if they're scratched (or you're too embarrassed to disclose to the librarian that, yes, you did own a Night Ranger CD), then consult

Greendisk ( also accepts CDs, DVDs, VHS/Betamax and cassette tapes and floppy disks.

Vinyl records: The sleeves can be recycled along with other paper products. The actual LPs are a different matter. Sure, you've read DIY blogs that cheerfully instruct you how to make bowls out of your old albums. But I don't need 2,500 vinyl bowls. They would take up more space than 2,500 vinyl records.

I read on that the problem with vinyl records is that they are made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is extremely difficult to recycle. "PVC is chock full of poisonous chlorine gas and heavy metals such as silver and nickel, and few recyclers are willing to handle it or take a chance on melting it and turning it into something else."

So unless you want to incur very bad karma, don't throw your vinyl in the landfill. If you're really post-vinyl, recycle the sleeves and stack the discs on a shelf until someone thinks of a sustainable disposal method. Or buy a turntable and start playing them again.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Out of your house, out of the landfill"

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