Recycling isn’t just about newspaper, aluminum cans, glass jars and those little numbered plastic bottles you put in your recycling bin every week. There are many other things that can be recycled, and often you don’t have to go far out of your way to get them into the right hands.

As educators, we can have a broad impact on the environment by discussing recycling and sustainability in the classroom. Beyond the standard lesson of “reduce, reuse, recycle” you can have an entertaining discussion by talking about unusual things that can be recycled.

Recycling Lessons

Athletic Shoes

If you’re shoes aren’t in good enough condition to donate them to a place that can give or sell them to someone in need, you can recycle them instead. The Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program puts the rubber soles to use making all sorts of products, including synthetic tracks and playground surfaces.

Cooking Oil

If you’re a fan of fried food, this one is for you. Many people and organizations will accept used cooking oil, clean it and put it to use as a fuel. This gives the valuable oil another chance to be useful. Plus, you don’t have to worry about safe disposal if you’re recycling it instead.

Miscellaneous Electronics

Just about anything electronic can be recycled, and all you have to do is find a center to drop it off or mail it in. While garbage collection may not pick up your e-waste on your trash or recycling days, the company and many others do offer drop-off sites and special pickup days in many locations. Computers, keyboards, mice, cell phones, speakers, printer cartridges and calculators are all recyclable. Some organizations refurbish devices and give them to a new owners, whereas others are focused on recycling plastic to make new products.

Packing Peanuts

Although many people are transitioning toward more eco-friendly packing materials, like large plastic air pockets, old newspaper or biodegradable puffed corn products, you still sometimes run across traditional packing peanuts. The good news is that you can recycle them through organizations like the Plastic Loose Fill Council. Or you can just save them and use them next time you pack up a package.


When you’re ripping your old carpet out of your home, don’t throw it away. Instead, recycle it by donating it to an organization like CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort). Your carpet will go to good use, and you won’t have to figure out how to dispose of those huge rolls of it.


Any parent knows that most kids only use the first third of a crayon before it gets too short or worse, gets broken in half so there are two tiny pieces instead of one large one. Luckily, there are organizations that collect crayon stubs and turns them into fun, re-usable multicolored crayons. If you’d rather, you can make them at home by melting together small pieces of crayons.

Wine Corks

If you go through wine, you probably already know that the glass bottles are easy to recycle. But did you know that the corks are recyclable too? Many people who make crafts will buy them from you to use in their projects, or you can send them to larger organizations that break down the corks to use them in other products.

Work with your students to find recycling centers in your area to drop items off. More ambitious teachers can encourage students to actively collect items to recycle and start a school-wide or neighborhood campaign to raise awareness! Every little step you and your students take to be greener will add up to a big impact in the long run!

By Kelly