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How can I recycle an old piece of fitness equipment?

Q. We have a 2001 Nordic Track elliptical exercise machine that is in perfectly fine and working order except that the axle has begun to crack. It cannot be repaired, but I just can't stomach throwing the entire unit away with so many working parts. I've called Nordic Track, exercise repair companies, local recycling companies and even health clubs. Nobody wants to try to recycle our used equipment. Any suggestions? I don't want to end up carting it off to the landfill. – Greg and Kjersten Oylear, NY

A. Time to cue the Sanford and Son theme song and find a junkman. A professional salvager will be take apart your weary machine, retrieve all the steel, aluminum and mixed metal, and sell it to a large metal recycler. Try looking up “metal salvage” in your local Yellow Pages—you may be able to negotiate a free pick-up, or even collect a little money if you drop it off yourself. Or call 1-800-Got-Junk, a national junk hauling chain which will send a truck to come pick the beast up. They do charge a fee (which varies from city to city), but the company promises to recycle as much as possible—they’ve set up a special incentive program to reward its franchises for minimizing landfill. No matter which option you choose, you’ll surely feel a sense of relief knowing that your non-so-trusty trainer is getting a proper burial. 

- Sarah Schmidt

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Can I recycle or give away my packing peanuts?

Q. We just moved, and as I unpack, I’m wondering what we should do with all of these packing peanuts?  They’re still perfectly good, but they take up too much room to store in the closet until I need them again. Can I recycle or reuse them? –Wanda Lee, Columbia, MO

A. If you had enough extra room in your closets to store loads of packing peanuts, Wanda, we’d be all up in your grill about green homes and not owning (read: heating/cooling/maintaining) more space than you need. So don’t feel bad about not saving them for next time. Unfortunately though, very few recycling programs accept packing peanuts. Worse, most brands of peanuts are made of polystyrene-based foam, which doesn’t biodegrade, and can remain intact for hundreds of years.  

Come to think of it, packing peanuts are so durable that we’d never need to manufacture another one in our lifetimes, if only we could find a way to keep passing them along to the next person in need of packing supplies. Enter: Peanut Hotline, a directory set up by a trade group representing packing-peanut-makers. Just punch in your city or zip code and you’ll get a list of nearby retailers that collect the little buggers for reuse. Or go to Earth 911’s similar search tool and type in packing peanuts. For some reason, the two directories seem to have very little overlap, so try both to get plenty of choices.

And next time you need to pack anything fragile, go for biodegradable packing peanuts. They’re made of cornstarch, which magically dissolves in water, and they’re widely available at places like Staples and Office Max.

- Sarah Schmidt

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Do all power strips and surge protectors save energy?

Q. Do all power strips cut power at the source, so that you're not draining phantom power when appliances are off, or do I have to buy one of those special ones advertised as energy-saving? – Marie, MN 

A. Happily, you don’t have to invest in the latest electronic wizardry to banish “phantom power” (the electricity that plugged-in electronics continue to draw from sockets, even when they’re turned off) from your home. Regular power strips are usually lots cheaper and can also be really useful in reducing phantom power, as long as they have an on/off switch. The only hitch, of course, is that you have to remember to turn it off, otherwise your toaster, television, printer, and what-have-you will be drawing (read: wasting) as much energy as they would if they were plugged directly into the wall, says Amanda Korane, a research assistant for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  “For example, I have my printer, fax, and shredder all plugged into one strip that’s within easy reach—when I need one, I just flip the strip on—easy.” 

Crawling beneath your television stand to flip a switch whenever you’re finished watching Dancing With the Stars would obviously not be so easy. Nor would remembering to switch it back on so you can Tivo it on nights when you’re out on the town (that would kind of defeat the purpose of having the Tivo, in fact.)

Here’s where one of those gadgets you’ve seen advertised could come in handy. Strips like the Smart Strip and the Watt Stopper can sense when appliances are actually on and in use, and will cut the power to all or some of the sockets when they’re not. Pretty nifty, but also pretty expensive; the Watt Stopper will run you $90, and the Smart Strip is yours for a modest $40. So unless you have an atrocious memory and money to burn, you might be better off outfitting most of your home with ordinary strips, which cost around seven or eight bucks, and just being diligent about flipping them off whenever possible. It’s like they say: Every time you hear a power strip being clicked off, a power phantom loses his fangs. 

-         Sarah Schmidt

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How do I recycle old blue jeans?

Q. Is there somewhere I can send my old, ripped jeans for recycling? I've seen home insulation made from denim, but don’t know how to donate. – Kristina, NJ 

A. There is indeed. Bonded Logic makes insulation out of old denim, proof of which is that Newsweek profile of Adrian Grenier. The tree-hugging Entourage star is caught posing suggestively in front of his recycled jeans wall at his eco home in Brooklyn. Hot.

Most of the fabric Bonded Logic uses comes from factory floors, but some does come from jeans-wearing consumers, as well. Send yours to Green Jeans Insulation, at this address: 

Fair Indigo Denim Drive
c/o Green Jeans Insulation Inc.
1109 W. Milwaukee St.
Stoughton, WI 53589

Once you’ve got the old things off your hands, consider replacing them with sustainable, organic ones. The denim industry—what with all that toxic blue dye, stone washing, and chemical-intensive cotton—has been known to really do a number on rivers, soil, and Mama earth at large. Fortunately, enough companies are now making sustainable jeans that you can green your pants without sacrificing style. We love Sling and Stones and J Brand's new green line. Nothing comes between you and your sustainable slacks. 

-         Tobin Hack

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Recycling electronics

Q. I have an old computer that’s too archaic to give to a school. What’s the best way to get rid of it without putting all kinds of toxins and chemicals into soil and water via landfills? I heard something on NPR about an electronics recycling program in New York, but I don’t know where to go for that. – Meredith, NYC 

A. The program you’re thinking of is Green Screens weekend, which will take place on November 15th and 16th in all five boroughs of New York City (e-waste Mecca that it is). That means that whether you live in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, or Queens, there will be a drop-off center set up somewhere very near your home that weekend. Green Screens’ friendly helpers will be waiting there for you and your e-waste, so rummage through your closets and bring old TVs, cameras, phones, VCRs, and any other tech-y junk you can find. Kudos to you, by the way, for caring. Most Americans don’t worry too much about what they do with their e-waste, which is why about 88 percent of it winds up in landfills. Gross.   

As part of our ruthless campaign to make e-waste recycling embarrassingly easy for you, here are all the details you’ll need: 

Saturday Only: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building Plaza
W. 126th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. and Malcolm X Blvd.
Sunday Only: Cooper Square
Cooper Square between E. 6th and 7th Sts.

The Bronx
Saturday & Sunday: Joyce Kilmer Park
Grand Concourse between E. 161st and 163rd Sts.

Saturday & Sunday: McCarren Park
Bedford Ave. near N. 12th Street

Staten Island
Saturday & Sunday: Staten Island Mall
2655 Richmond Ave. at Parking Lot F

Saturday & Sunday: Cunningham Park
Union Turnpike between 196th Pl. and 197th St 

The program only runs from 8am to 2pm each day—because you’ll obviously have been out raging into the wee hours the evening before, make sure you set your alarm. What the heck, make an e-waste event out of it. Get a group of friends together, and organize a tech-junk brunch: hit the drop-off center with your toxic rubbish, and then head to your local eatery for waffles and even more toxic daytime cocktails. 

If you don’t live in NYC but have e-waste you’d like to get off your hands, don’t fret. There are tons of resources for you, too. The EPA’s eCycling webpage is a great place for anyone to find information on recycling programs near them. - Tobin Hack 

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