The CHaRMed Second Life of Your Hard-to-Recycle Materials

A jumble of broken small appliances in a cardboard box, a mattress in the basement, an expired fire extinguisher in the garage, empty ink cartridges in a junk drawer, broken electronics in the back of a cabinet . . . Do any of these “junk” piles sound familiar? 

All these materials have one thing in common: They may no longer be useful in your home, but they’re still valuable resources that can be recycled at the Eco-Cycle Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM). At the CHaRM—the nation’s first facility of its kind—Eco-Cycle accepts over two dozen categories of hard-to-recycle materials,  including mattresses, fire extinguishers, ink cartridges, e-waste, and much more, such as scrap metal, plastic bags, block foam, vegetable oil, books, and even toilets! 

Perhaps you’re wondering, Can anything really be recovered from that 1980s television or busted air conditioner? The answer is yes! The more we recover to be reprocessed into new items, the less we need to extract finite virgin natural resources from the earth. In the case of items like TVs and ACs, responsible recycling is even more important because they contain hazardous materials such as heavy metals (one CRT TV can contain up to 5 lb of lead!) and chlorofluorocarbons (aka CFCs, from refrigerants) that must be handled with care by certified recyclers to avoid contaminating our environment and impacting the health of people and wildlife.

What becomes of the hard-to-recycle items brought to the Eco-Cycle CHaRM?

Common Household Items

Fire extinguishers are evaluated for reuse by our partner business, then they are either refilled or sent on for recycling as scrap metal. Porcelain and ceramic, from small items like broken mugs to larger drop-offs such as whole sinks and toilets, are recycled into an aggregate used to replace gravel in road base. Plastic bags are turned into composite lumber used for outdoor furniture and decks. Food scraps and other light organic matter (like a wilted bouquet of flowers) is composted. Plastic storage bins and other large items made from #2 or #5 plastic are recycled into new storage bins, weatherproof railroad ties, and car parts. Cardboard is recycled back into more cardboard. 

Reusable Items 

Bikes, books, and clothing collected at the Eco-Cycle CHaRM are distributed throughout the community for reuse whenever possible. For example, working bicycles are donated to Community Cycles, a local nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization. If bikes are beyond repair, the metal is scrapped and the tires and tubes are used to make crumb rubber, commonly used for athletic fields, as an asphalt base, or as an alternative fuel source for cement kilns. Gently used books are donated to local schools and organizations, while damaged or out-of-date books are recycled into cellulose insulation. In our newest community partnership, Eco-Cycle sends wearable clothing to be sorted for resale at Pig and Pearl Thrift Store in Boulder. 


Eco-Cycle partners with Spring Back Colorado to recycle mattresses of all sizes. Once they receive a delivery of mattresses from the CHaRM to their warehouse in Commerce City, Spring Back Colorado employees deconstruct each mattress into its core components. The foam and fibers are used to create carpet padding. The metal is recovered as scrap metal and recycled into kitchen appliances and the automotive industry. An incredible aspect of this organization is not only its recovery of valuable materials from the landfill—which helps address the issue of 50,000 mattresses going to landfill in the US each and every day—it also intentionally hires people in recovery from addiction or who were formerly incarcerated, providing a sustainable pathway to employment and a supportive culture for employees.


Eco-Cycle partners with a local chapter of Blue Star Recyclers to recycle electronics, including cell phones,  TVs and monitors, laptops and computer towers, and small appliances like coffee makers and vacuums. By partnering with an e-steward certified company, your e-waste is not only recycled at the highest standards of environmental responsibility and worker protection, but also provides local green jobs to people on the autism spectrum and with other “disAbilities.” 

The next time you’re clearing out your clutter, visit the Eco-Cycle Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials located at 6400 Arapahoe Rd. in Boulder to ensure your items get a second life! For more information on where your recycled stuff ends up, check out our comprehensive chart below. 

The Recycling Journey of CHaRM Materials

MaterialUsed to Make
Appliances with Freon/Refrigerants (like air conditioners and freezers)Refrigerant is removed and the metal is recycled
Large, Durable #2 & #5 Plastic ItemsRecycled into new plastic goods
Bike Tires & TubesTurned into crumb rubber used for athletic fields, as an asphalt base, or as an alternative fuel source for cement kilns 
Bikes & Bike PartsDonated to Community Cycles, if usable. If not, metal is scrapped and tires are salvaged.
Books & ManualsOften donated or sold. If outdated or damaged, used to make cellulose insulation.
Cables & WiresCopper is extracted from plastic housing and recycled
CardboardRecycled into new cardboard
Clothing & ShoesDonated to Pig and Pearl Thrift Store
CompostablesFinished compost
Electronics (like computer towers, TVs and monitors laptops, cell phones, plastic appliances)Metals (including heavy metals), leaded glass, and plastics are extracted and responsibly recycled.
Fire ExtinguishersRefilled or recycled as scrap metal
GlasswareNew glass
Mattresses & Box SpringsFoam and fibers are used to make carpet padding. Metal is recycled.
Scrap MetalRecycled into metal goods such as kitchen appliances and automotive parts
Documents for ShreddingShredded and made into brown bags, toilet paper, tissue, and newsprint
Plant-Based Cooking OilTurned into biofuel
Plastic Bags & Bubble WrapSold to Trex to make composite lumber used for decking, porches, and outdoor furnitures
Porcelain & CeramicUsed for road base
Solar PanelsEvaluated for reuse or responsibly recycled
White Block Foam #6Used to make switch plate covers, crown molding, and ballpoint pens