Dear EarthTalk: Where do I recycle old ski boots (hard plastic)? My recycling center does not take hard plastic. — Beth Fitzpatrick, Stamford, CT

Americans recycle more plastic than ever these days, but there are still plenty of items that are not accepted by municipalities, including many hard plastic items like ski boots.

If such items are still usable, consider donating them to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army store, which can sell them and put the money earned toward housing and feeding those less fortunate. Another option would be to sell or give them to a second-hand sporting goods store, which might even give you trade-in credit toward an upgrade. If you can’t find somewhere local, you can ship them to Colorado-based Boulder Ski Deals. The company accepts ski boots (along with skis, bindings, poles and snowboards) for recycling, donating usable equipment to charitable programs and shredding the rest for re-use in making new products.

The fact that it is so difficult to recycle hard plastic items is a growing issue as we all try to minimize our impact on the environment. Everyone involved with the lifecycle of a given item—from manufacturer to retailer to consumer—can share the blame when something ends up taking up precious space in a landfill instead of being recycled in one way or another. Concerned consumers should make sure that a given item is easy to recycle when its usefulness runs its course before buying it in the first place. It also can’t hurt to let a manufacturer know that you didn’t purchase a given product because it didn’t meet your recyclability standards. Manufacturers want to make products that people will buy and such feedback can go a long way to getting them to re-think their practices.

Likewise, municipalities need to hear from residents if there is a need to expand the types of items accepted for recycling. If enough people are willing to recycle a certain type of item, it may be worthwhile for the municipality to expand capacity and move into new markets.

The good news is that there are plenty of firms that are happy to take back otherwise difficult-to-recycle stuff. The non-profit Earth911 offers up a free searchable online database of different types of recyclers keyed to the user’s zip code anywhere across the United States. If no local provider comes up, the site will refer users to a place that accepts shipped items. Another good resource is the consulting firm Eco-Officiency’s concise yet comprehensive online list of companies around the country that accept different types of hard plastic and other hard-to-recycle items.

Consumers should keep in mind that they may have to pay for the privilege of recycling certain items, as well as shipping costs. If you can swing it, think of it as a tax for buying something less friendly to the environment. Maybe next time you’ll look for one made out of easier-to-recycle materials.

CONTACTS: Boulder Ski Deals, www.boulderskideals.com; Earth911, www.earth911.org; Eco-Officiency’s Recycling and Donation Resources, www.eco-officiency.com/resources_recycling.html.

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