baskets.jpg Baskets have many uses around the home. They are great for storing knick-knacks, magazines, dirty laundry and kitchen supplies. They look pretty on their own, or they can be filled with silk flowers or stuffed animals. They make great toys for children. My niece is currently carrying a little red basket around as her “purse” wherever she goes. When the baskets you have in your home reach the end of their usable life – or you just get tired of having one more thing sitting around – is it possible to recycle them? The answer depends on what the basket is made of. Those made with natural materials can be fairly easy to recycle. Those made with synthetic materials like plastic, or a mix of materials such as fabric-covered rope, can be more challenging. We offer several tips below, including how to reuse or repurpose your baskets as a way to keep them out of your local landfill or incinerator.

What are baskets made of?

Baskets have been around for thousands of years and are found in nearly every culture. Early humans used whatever they could find – strips of wood, pine needles, animal hides, prairie grasses and more – to weave baskets. They were used for carrying food, firewood and other essentials. Archaeologists have found woven materials that could have been used in baskets that are 27,000 years old. Modern baskets also come in a wide range of materials, not all of them as natural as their early predecessors. Lots of baskets are still woven from wood, canes and other plant-based materials. Easter baskets and other low-end products are likely plastic. Metal and wire baskets are still very popular. Fabric strips and rope can also be used to craft baskets.

How to recycle baskets

If you want to recycle your old baskets, your first step is to determine what they are made of. Baskets made with untreated wood, cane or other plant-based materials cannot go in your curbside recycling bin, but if your recycling center has a wood recycling bin, see if you can place your baskets in there. There are communities that allow you to recycle plastic laundry baskets. Harford County, Maryland, and Johnston County, North Carolina, are a few examples. It is less likely that you will be able to recycle other types of plastic baskets, since it can be difficult to determine what kind of plastic they are made of. Look on the bottom to see if there is a number inside a recycling symbol. If there is, see if your curbside recycling provider accepts that grade of plastic. Metal baskets cannot be recycled in your curbside bin, but they can be placed in the metal recycling bin at your local recycling center. If your community picks up scrap metal through some type of bulky haul program, that may be another way to dispose of a collection of metal baskets. Textiles are generally very difficult to recycle. As a result, fabric and rope baskets will probably need to go in your trash can. If you have a basket that is made from a mix of materials – for example, a metal basket that is lined with cloth or a wood basket with a plastic handle – you will need to separate them and find ways to reuse or recycle the different components. People often ask if it possible to recycle the paper and plastic baskets that berries and other produce items come in. Rather than placing those paper baskets in your recycling bin, plan to put them in the compost (or your curbside compost bin if you have one). They break down really well. Some communities (for example, San Diego) will allow you to recycle the plastic produce baskets, but this is rare. Check your local recycling guidelines to see what types of plastic are allowed and which are not.

How to reuse baskets

If you no longer need your basket for its original purpose, trying repurposing it for something else. Baskets make cute flower pot holders in your yard. A large basket can help you organize your garden shed by storing tools, hoses, bags of potting soil and fertilizer and other items. Wood baskets can be painted, covered with fabric and otherwise altered to make all kinds of crafts and home products. Pinterest has dozens of photographs of baskets transformed into earring holders, storage containers, light fixtures, centerpieces and much more. Save your Easter baskets from year to year and use them again. Chances are your kids will not remember they are receiving the same basket they did last year. If you want to jazz up the basket, try some spray paint or decorations from a craft store. If you have an older metal basket, such as an egg basket or a washtub, you might take it to an antique store to see if it has some value. Metal items that match the red-hot “industrial” look are extremely popular and sell quite well. You can save any unwanted baskets and use them the next time you need to take a friend or family member a hostess gift or meal. Your gift will look beautiful, and you get to pawn your basket off on someone else. The next time you need a basket for something, head to a second-hand shop instead of your craft store. Thrift stores almost always have an abundance of high-quality baskets (many of them donated by eco-friendly people like you). Buying used is always a good and “green” thing to do.