Home / Specialty Topics / Sustainability / Recycling Tips


Recycling Tips

Although finding ways to reuse materials is the best way to go green, recycling is an option for those materials you can no longer use. Over 87% of our survey respondents said that they recycle the materials used in their conservation practice when possible. In creating this webpage, we hope to provide easy links for recycling items that are not part of your municipality’s normal recycling collection service.

Paperboard Scrap

See the Sustainable Practices section of the AIC's wiki for a discussion of the categories of paper specific to conservation that can be recycled.

We are trying to determine whether matboard can be recycled. If not, there are probably lots of artists, craftspeople, teachers, and students out there who would love to have your scraps for creative projects.

You can either:

  • Try contacting local art teachers to see if they are interested in coming to pick it up.
  • Or post it on Free Cycle.

If you live in California, there are some great websites that will help you find takers for your used paperboard and other scraps.

Paper Towels

This may be a disposable product that conservators, as a group, can make a significant reduction in the use of. One of the simplest things that you can do, even if you have no decision-making power at your workplace is to bring in a hand towel and a cloth napkin, and use those in place of paper towels and napkins whenever possible.

If you do have decision-making power in your workplace, make sure to purchase paper towels made from 100% post-consumer waste. We have to support the market for all of the paper scraps we are generating!

Paper towels can be put into recycling if they are not greasy or wet. 

Light Bulbs

Best Environmental Choices:

  1. 1st choice: LED lights
  2. 2nd choice: Fluorescent, as long as it is recycled when no longer functioning. According to the New York Times, the lighting industry is working on more energy efficient incandescent bulbs, which should be on the market in the next few years. View More Info >>

Recycling Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury (an average of 4mg, according to the EPA), so they should not be thrown into the trash.  Taking the bulb to a recycling facility will prevent the mercury from contaminating the air or water. 

This page on the EPA website has more information:Frequently Asked Questions: Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury (July 2008) 

Where to Recycle Bulbs
The following websites will help you find a place in your area:

Computer/Electronic Equipment

Before you dispose of the equipment, see if you can find a second home for it.  Generally, if it works, someone can use it for something. If your device stores personal information, make sure you rid the device of all personally identifiable information that could be used for identity theft.  Unless you are extremely knowledgeable about computers, it is probably best if you consult an expert to make sure it is done thoroughly.

If usable...

If unusable...

Locate a responsible recycler on these sites:


Ink Cartridges

Most major printer manufacturers (eg HP) offer free postage-paid envelopes or labels to send back and recycle the cartridges. When you purchase your print cartridge, make sure you save either the envelope or label and box. When your ink runs out, put it in the envelope or place it back in its box, sticking the label on the outside. Then, just drop it in the mail.

Many office supply stores will take used cartridges in exchange for store credit.

 You can also try:



Cell Phones

  1. Sell your old phone. Place an ad on Craigslist or through ‘cash-for-cell phones’ sites. If you think your phone may be worth something, you may be able to get a little cash back for it.
  2. Find a retailer recycling program. The Environmental Protection Agency has links on their websites to retailers that will take back used cell phones for recycling.
  3. Donate it to charity. Give it to the American Cell Phone Drive or one of the many charities listed on the website of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
  4. Give it to an individual. Find someone who can’t or chooses not to purchase a new phone by using Freecycle.

Whatever you do with your old cell phone, you will probably need to erase the data on your phone. Get help with recellular.com.

If anyone has used any of these sites and wants to report on their experience, please let us know.


Environment, Health, and Safety Online has good information about the types of batteries available and may help you choose the most environmentally friendly for the job. Unfortunately, non-rechargeable batteries cannot be recycled. Rechargeable batteries are a better option environmentally, since they reduce the number of batteries that have to be purchased. They absolutely can and should be recycled when they are past their useful life, since they contain either cadmium or lead and acid.

Find a place to recycle rechargeable batteries that are past their useful life. Go to search.earth911.com.


Most plastics have a number printed at the bottom, and it is this number that determines their ability to be recycled. The Society of the Plastic Industry explains what the numbers mean.  The types of plastics that can be recycled vary greatly by locality. Please check state and local regulations, which can frequently change depending on demand. With the downturn in the economy, the market for recycled plastics is even smaller than it was before. If you have the choice of buying a recycled plastic product rather than a new plastic product, please do. We would love to collect suggestions on reuse and reduction of plastic use in conservation. Please email your tips to sustainability@conservation-us.org.

What does that number on the
bottom mean? Find out >>


While there may be a few places that recycle polystyrene (check local sources), in general, it is not easy to find recyclers for this material. For example, UPS Stores and Mail Boxes Etc stores will accept clean packaging materials for reuse.

For more information on how to recycle polystyrene, visit greenlivingtips.com. This is a material that it is better to limit or eliminate the use of in any way possible. We would love to collect suggestions on reuse and reduction of polystyrene use in conservation. Please email your tips to sustainability@conservation-us.org


Some North American fabricators of ethafoam have created the Recycle PE Foam Program. This link will help you find the nearest recycler. If your fabricator is not on the list, let them know that recycling is important to you.

You can also purchase Ethafoam HRC (High Recycled Content), which contains a t least 65% pre-consumer recycled content.

Quick Links

AIC books for sale