How to Recycle Your Outdoor Gear

Don't be so quick to throw that worn-out equipment in the landfill


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According to the EPA, recyclable materials like rubber, leather, and textiles comprised about 11 percent (or 19.3 million tons) of the waste thrown in American landfills in 2015. Yeah, it’s easy to toss a worn-out piece of gear in the trash and forget about it, but its usefulness doesn’t have to end there. Consider these options instead.

Turn Tent Scraps into Backpacks

(Courtesy Pitroviz/iStock)

The nylon or polyester material of tent bodies can easily be sewn onto other tents or camping gear to patch holes or tears. If you want to get more creative, turn it into gym bags, grocery bags, or wallets for yourself or friends and family. If you’d rather ship the tent off to someone else to repurpose, programs like Green Guru accept donations and reinvent them as backpacks or even beer-can holders for bikes.

Punch Holes in Fuel Canisters

(Sage Friedman/Unsplash)

When it comes time to recycle a fuel canister, use the the Jetboil CrunchIt tool to release all remaining fumes from the top nozzle. Once there’s no propane left, use the same tool to puncture a small hole in the canister using the integrated wrench. This allows it to be recycled properly, as machines can’t process pressurized containers. After making the hole, write “Empty” on the canister in bold black marker to give the workers at the recycling facilities a clear indication that it’s safe. If they question that it’s empty, its safer for them to throw it away than investigate. And check your local recycling regulations, since most canisters are made of stainless steel, which many curbside pickup services don’t accept. You may need to drive spent canisters to a special drop-off location.

Craft with Bike Tubes

(Courtesy REI Co-op)

Here in New Mexico, we have tons of goatheads—spiny demon seeds of an invasive weed that puncture bike tires and stab the bottoms of unshod feet—on our roads and trails, leading to endless flats. Thankfully, there are many options for recycling old bike tubes: both REI and Green Guru will take them via mail-in or drop-off. (Though with REI, call ahead to make sure your local shop participates in the program.) There are also many tutorials on crafts you can do with old bike tubes, like create earrings or wallets.

Host a Clothing Swap

(Nick De Partee/Unsplash)

Keeping apparel in use just nine extra months can reduce the related carbon, water, and waste footprints by 20 or 30 percent. But most people throw clothing in a garbage bag and bring it to their closest thrift store, many of which receive more donations than they can realistically sell. (So much, in fact, that only about 20 percent is actually resold.) Instead, organize a clothing swap with your friends. Or if you’re holding on to old Patagonia clothing specifically, the brand offers trade-ins at its stores and resells the used clothing in the Worn Wear online marketplace. Also, San Francisco–based Marine Layer is launching a program called Re-Spun at the end of April, and it will pay you $5 per old T-shirt from any brand (up to $25) and then make new ones out of them. 

Collect Energy-Bar Wrappers

(Courtesy TerraCycle)

OK, these don’t really count as gear, but I’m sure you go through a few energy bars now and then. And each one comes in an aluminum-coated, single-use wrapper. TerraCycle will take them off your hands if you rinse the wrappers off and mail them in. The company cleans and melts them into hard plastic that can be remolded into shower curtains, bags, and even shoes. Plus, Clif Bar will donate one cent per wrapper to the American Forests American ReLeaf Program for all qualifying shipments over five pounds to the TerraCycle program.

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