Unexpected Ways Chicago Families Can Recycle


Note: If you are cleaning out and teaching kids about recycling and conservation during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, save your large recycled items to drop off when stores and centers reopen. Please check each location to see if it’s open or accepting donations. 


Sure, we recycle newspapers and cans to help save the planet. But raising today’s green child not only focuses on environmentalism but on altruism as well.


There are endless ways to repurpose items. Check out these ideas where green = good. Some are unexpected; others offer a twist on an original. The important thing is to skip the landfill, promote awareness of the earth during this 50th anniversary of Earth Day and help lead your child toward a life of responsible renewal.


Everyday items




Working Bikes Cooperative gives “new life to old bikes and independence to those who ride them.” Each year, 5,000 bikes are diverted from the waste stream and rehabbed for local and international distribution. Five hundred bikes and wheelchairs go directly to Chicago city programs, refugees and day camps. You can make a purchase, donate old bikes or volunteer. Drop off at one of the city and suburban locations or at its warehouse/store, 2434 S. Western, Chicago.




Donate your gently used shoes to benefit children and adults in the world’s most impoverished areas. Numerous Chicagoland drop-off boxes are available or go to Share Your Soles, 11201 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago.


Shoes too worn to wear? Through Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, they can be recycled into Nike Grind, a material used to help build sports surfaces and playgrounds. One local example of this technology can be seen at Chicago Public Schools’ Hanson Stadium. You can drop off at Nike stores in Chicago and Rosemont.




Hand-me-downs and Goodwill donations promote sustainability, but what if you have a denim dilemma? Jeans that are too worn and, ahem, on their last legs, can find new life and be recycled into insulation for homes and businesses. How cool is that? Check out BondedLogic.com for more information.


Looking to retire your business attire? Dress for Success offers career wear to low-income women to assist in their search for employment and self-sufficiency. Two Chicago locations.


Donate your old formal and bridesmaid dresses to Chicago high school students who can’t afford a prom dress. The Glass Slipper Project also provides accessories for the perfect ensemble. Though the project has been postponed in 2020, follow the Glass Slipper Project’s Facebook page for updates when events will continue.




Sales of your donated books can help promote literacy programs for Chicago students of all ages. CDs and DVDs in good condition also accepted. Open Books is located at 651 W. Lake St. and 905 W. 19th St., Chicago. Also check your local library for drop-off of gently used books and media.


Community gardens


Have a green thumb? Go beyond your backyard and get involved at one of Chicago’s more than 600 community gardens. The Peterson Garden Project (at Peterson and Campbell in North Park) is located on land from an original World War II Victory Garden. As Chicago’s largest community-allotment vegetable garden, there are more than 157 plots tended by community members. Volunteers and students also tend several garden plots and donate their produce to local food pantries and homeless shelters.


Unexpected items




A new cut for you can help provide a hairpiece to a financially disadvantaged child suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. Visit LocksOfLove.org for more information.


Hair is a “booming” business with its natural, organic fibers that collect oil. Help protect the shorelines and local waterways. Donate your hair to Matter of Trust, which is made into booms for containing and collecting oil spills.




Be a champion again. Awards Mall offers a trophy recycling program to benefit charities. It will refurbish the trophy, re-engrave the plate and supply it to nonprofits for their deserving athletes.




As of December 2012, Crazy Crayons has saved more than 120,000 pounds of crayons from landfills and employed developmentally disabled individuals through this recycling program. Find one of the drop-off bins or mail in broken and unused crayons (you pay shipping and handling).


Coffee grounds


Organic and rich in nitrogen, coffee grounds are an ideal way to fertilize rose bushes and other vegetation. Sprinkle on the base of plant, tree or lawn and water area.


Have something not on the list?


Excess Access links surplus with needs. If you have something specific to donate, they’ll find a home for it.


Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.


This story originally published on April 18, 2013. It has been updated with the most recent information.


- Advertisement -


How to Get Your Kids to Do Chores

Kids are never too young or old to get involved with cleaning the house!

Watch This, Do That: Space Jam: A New Legacy

'Bugs Bunny knows who I am!'

- Advertisement -