hotglue.jpg Glue and other adhesives are made to stick to things. It is hard to separate them from the items they are stuck to, which would make them difficult to recycle in the first place. And no large company is going to collect little drops of glue and pieces of tape and turn them back into something. All of this means you cannot recycle glue, tape and other adhesives. Still, we have some good news. When you apply glue and other adhesives to something, you can often recycle that item. More on that later. You can recycle hot glue, although I am not sure I recommend it. There are a few ways to recycle the containers your adhesives came in. I also have several tips for decreasing your consumption of glue and adhesives at home, in part by making your own.

What are glue and other adhesives made of?

Gone are the days when horses and other animals were the primary ingredients in glue. Starting in the mid-20th century, companies figured out how to make glue from a variety of chemicals. Some are fairly benign; think Elmer’s glue or other white glues used by children in schools. Other glues can cause health problems if you spend too much time using them. Epoxy, which is a very strong glue, puts off strong fumes. Anything that contains toluene (including rubber cement) should be used with caution. The chemical has been known to cause nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, nervous system damage, skin damage and kidney problems. Hot glue or hot melt glue is made of thermoplastic adhesive. That means it is very sensitive to temperature changes. When it gets hot, it melts. When it gets really cold, it gets brittle. In between, it is a perfectly stable substance that does not feel sticky. If you are really interested in how tape is made, check out this YouTube video on the Discovery Network. Basically, a special type of glue is applied to cellophane, paper, fabric or another substance and heated. That glue quickly and effectively bonds to whatever surface it is placed on. Tape has varying levels of stickiness; Scotch tape can be very strong, while blue painter’s tape is made to come off of surface quickly and without pulling up the finish. Other common types of adhesives include spray adhesive (great for mounting paper on rigid surfaces like poster board), glue dots and glue sticks (used in craft projects and children’s artwork), wood glue (for carpentry), fabric glue and super glue.

Can you recycle items that contain glue and adhesives?

In many cases, the answer to this question is yes. The key question to ask yourself in this case are: 1) Does the item contain a lot of adhesive or just a little, and 2) Can the item be recycled? As long as you do not have an excessive amount of glue, spray adhesive, tape or other adhesives on items like paper and poster board, you can recycle them according to your community’s guidelines for paper recycling. Untreated wood products with a small amount of glue are fine to place in a wood recycling bin at your local recycling center. Wood that has been painted, varnished, pressure treated or otherwise finished cannot be recycled under any circumstances. Textiles and craft projects are difficult to recycle under the best of circumstances. Plan to place those items in the trash (or send them to a reuse center if appropriate) no matter how much glue or adhesive they have on them. If your glue dots or special tape comes on waxy-feeling paper, do not place them in the recycle bin. They cannot be recycled with other paper. 

How to recycle glue and adhesive containers

As you look around online, you might notice a lot of references to TerraCycle’s Glue Crew program. It was sponsored by Elmer’s Glue and TerraCycle but has been suspended indefinitely. However, the recycling giant has new options for recycling glue containers and tape dispensers. You can place all of your waste in a Zero Waste Box, which you buy from the company and mail back when it is full. Glue sticks and glue bottles are among the many items that can go in a Zero Waste Box. TerraCycle also has a Scotch Tape Brigade in partnership with the Scotch tape company. To participate, sign up on the TerraCycle website and start collecting small tape dispensers. You can also recycle the plastic rolls inside dispensers that hold the tape. TerraCycle requires you to collect about 60 pieces before mailing everything to the company, so it might be wise to get your office or your child’s school involved in your collection efforts. Not only will TerraCycle recycle these items for you, you can earn points toward a donation for the school or nonprofit of your choice.

How to recycle hot glue

As far as I know, this is the only type of glue or adhesive you can recycle. This YouTube video provides a tutorial on melting hot glue and reusing it. However, if you watch the video, you might think twice about doing it. The torch used in the video turns the hot glue black and sticky looking. I have fond memories of my mom using hot glue to attach cute charms to bunnies, baskets and other craft projects as a kid. I cannot imagine her using something that looked like tar on her pretty items.

How to decrease the amount of glue you buy

If you cannot recycle glue and adhesives, how can you throw less of it away? By consuming less, of course. Make sure you always recap your glue so you do not have to throw it away until it is all gone. Most glues contain water, which evaporates when exposed to air and leaves only the adhesives behind. If you leave the lid off the glue bottle or glue cap, all that water will evaporate and leave you with a lump of unusable material. Supervise children using glue bottles or glue sticks, and make sure you get in the habit of putting the lid back on every time you use the bottle. When you are taping pictures into scrapbook or gluing shapes to construction paper to entertain your children, try to use as little glue as possible. Minimize the amount of glue you use to hold together furniture, or find a different way to put together wood pieces. See if you can use wood or nails in place of glue when making bookshelves, cabinets and tables. If you are buying super glue or a similar product that dries out quickly, buy the smallest tube you can find. That way you will not have to throw away a large container if you do not use the entire thing. Even better, see if you can borrow the glue from someone else. If your kids love art projects, try making glue with them. They will be excited to use the final product in their craft projects. You can create a simple paste using common household ingredients such as flour, sugar, corn syrup and water (no horse hooves or pig ears required). Check out this link on Family Education for several recipes.