How to recycle unusual stuff in Sonoma County

January as the month to lighten up and unload, whether it is to lose pounds, a bad habit or stuff cluttering up your home or garage.

Most people now have curbside recycling, but it has its limits. There are a lot of other places to offload stuff either for recycling, upcycling or for use by someone who needs it.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency puts together a comprehensive Recycle Guide that goes far beyond the do’s and don’ts for curbside recycling and where and what you can bring to the county’s Central Disposal Site at 500 Mecham Road in Petaluma.

“A lot of ideas come to us through various needs that come to our attention from callers to the Eco-Desk,” said Karina Chilcott, a waste management specialist for the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.

The Eco-Desk is a helpline, run under the auspices of the agency, with information and referrals for disposing of everything from household toxics to computer ink cartridges. (Try Staples stores, Lazerjet Tech at 899 Gravenstein Hwy S. or Rapid Refill Ink at 571-1965.)

It was from callers that she realized that people really want to know where to take cooking oil they may have used for deep frying. The guide now lists at least half a dozen restaurants that accept used cooking oil.

Weirder calls include the citizen who wanted to know how to dispose of a collection of taxidermy birds dating back to the 1880s. Agency staff found a willing recipient in the California Academy of Sciences.

The guide also offers a host of surprising ways to make smart use or re-use of stuff we all have sitting around, everything from old eyeglasses to vacuum cleaners.

“People love this whole idea of being able to get rid of tools or things you bought at one time or another and are no longer using and you’re just storing it for years. We don’t need to put it in landfills” said Thomas Gonzalez, who manages ReStore, which resells donated building materials and appliances to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

The Sonoma County Recycle Guide is updated each year, with the latest expected to come out in April. In the meantime, the 2014 guide is available in printed form at most county library branches and online at

The guide is full of tips for where to take e-waste, rechargeable batteries, yard waste, medical supplies and equipment and even old smoke detectors.

Here is just a sampling of some of the places where you can safely disposes of some items and find good homes for others.

Concrete, Asphalt and Brick: Do you have an unsightly pile of old concrete, asphalt or brick left over from when you removed a walkway, driveway, steps or foundation? Local quarries and rock and soil companies will take it off your hands for a modest price, substantially lower than the county refuse disposal sites, which charge $115 a ton. Among them is Wheeler-Zamaroni in Santa Rosa (3500 Petaluma Hill Road), which grinds it back into road base. They will also accept clean drywall, which has a high concentration of gypsum that, if ground up and mixed with soil, is desirable for vineyards, Manager Tony Bamico said. Wheeler charges $65 a truckload for concrete and asphalt or $31.50 per ton for drywall. Stony Point Rock Quarry in Cotati also accepts asphalt and concrete as well as bricks, porcelain tiles and even asphalt roof shingles. Cost is $10 for a pick-up truck load and $20 for a small trailer load. 7171 Stony Point Road, Cotati. Kjell Kallman, a spokesman for the company, said over the last five years, they’ve diverted over half a million tons of rubbled material from the county landfill for recycling.

Books: One of the big sources of household clutter are books. It is so easy to collect them, so hard to store them or get rid of them. Box up anything you’ve read and will never read again and pass them along to a worthy cause. Friends of the Library in many towns collect books and books on tape, which they then re-sell to raise money for new books and programs. In Santa Rosa, leave boxes on the dock behind the main branch in downtown Santa Rosa. Check with your local branch for further drop offs. Another charity is the Free Bookmobile. The non-profit group collects donated books and donates them as gifts to schools, community centers, homeless shelters and other needy people. Check out or call 520-4536. Both the Goodwill and the Salvation Army accept old books. Outdated texts and encyclopedias are recycled.

Cell phones: We’ve all got them, taking up space in drawers and cabinets. Offload them safely at Best Buy, Mead Clark Lumber, 2667 Dowd Drive, Santa Rosa and Bennett Valley Ace Hardware, 2739 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, are among many places that take old phones and batteries.

Cork: If you live in Wine Country, you no doubt have a drawer or bag filled with corks you don’t quite know what to do with. Even if you don’t have a growing stash, you might feel a twinge when you toss one of those precious little stoppers into the garbage. Don’t. Whole Foods collects used corks for the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, which upcycles them into cork flooring and other products. Most stores will have a collection bin.

Eyeglasses and hearing aids: Has your prescription changed or do you feel your frames are out of date? Have you upgraded your hearing aid? Lions Clubs International accept old eyeglasses and hearing aids for their Recycle for Sight Program. Lucille Hynes, who oversees the program for the Lions Club in Windsor, where about 1,500 pair are collected each year, said they take the donated eyeglasses to be tested for their prescription. They are then taken to poor and developing countries where they are matched with a needy recipient with that same prescription. In Windsor, look for boxes at the Windsor Senior Center, the Post Office and Raley’s. Some optometrists (check the guide) will also accept old glasses. If you live elsewhere in the county, Hynes is happy to tell you where other clubs have collection boxes. Call her at 838-4531.

Paint: Most homeowners probably have cans of paint or varnish in their garages or sheds from old DIY projects. You can’t throw it in the garbage. But under California’s PaintCare program, there are now 500 drop-off sites for leftover paints, stains and varnishes. The only restrictions are that it must be water- or oil-based, in the original container with legible label, sealed, at least partially full (dried latex okay) and in a container that is 5 gallons or smaller. Many Kelly-Moore and Sherwin-Williams dealers accept old cans of paint as well as OSH Hardware in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, Cloverdale Ace Hardware and Dunn-Edwards in Cotati, among others.

Sewing Machines and Vacuum Cleaners: Do you have an old sewing machine you inherited from mom? How about a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t suck? Asef’s Appliances in Santa Rosa is happy to take them off your hands and refurbish them.

“They’re popular items, they’re expensive and everybody needs them. So we recondition them and some of them we sell and some we give to nonprofit organizations that have limited budgets and can’t purchase their own,” said Owner Farid Asef, who has run the shop for almost 30 years. He will also take old lamps. 709 Fourth St., across from Barnes and Noble.

Mattresses and appliances: In recent years the Salvation Army has expanded its enterprises, going well beyond collecting items for re-sale in thrift shops. The non-profit collects almost everything except toxics and chemicals, and recycles it. They will take scrap metal, cardboard boxes, computers, books, appliances and other electronics rejected by other thrift shops, and then sell it to recyclers for additional income. They make offloading the big stuff easy. Even old mattresses. Some may be just too filthy to accept but most they will take. They will even by appointment come to your home to pick it up. Much of this stuff is not being sold, but disassembled and recycled.

“We’ve come to the era where recycling has come to be so high we have an avenue for product that is not reusable. The average person might get a penny a pound for cardboard but we can get 4 cents a pound because we have such high volume. We either reuse or recycle 98 percent of everything we get,” said Ryan Camp, who just stepped down as production manager for The Salvation Army in Sonoma County. The two main, staffed drop-off locations are at 200 Lytton Springs Road in Healdsburg and at 160 Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa. To arrange for a pick-up, call 800-728-7825. The County Refuse Disposal Sites accept donations for a fee of $20 per appliance with freon and $10 without.

Bikes and bike equipment: In this age of cycling, the number of hobbyists is growing and they frequently update their gear. Do you have an old bike, either yours or left by a child long since fledged, taking up space in your garage? Community Bikes can use them. They will refurbish them and re-sell them inexpensively. Drop off at 4009 and 4019 Sebastopol Road. Call for hours or information at 579-5811.

ReStore Habitat for Humanity: If you’ve recently remodeled, upgraded or had a DIY project, you might have the old stuff now sitting in your garage or shed. If it’s re-usable, in good condition and cosmetically attractive, Habitat for Humanity will try to sell it in their unique thrift shop dedicated to household building supplies. Appliances, bath fixtures, cabinets, ceiling tiles, counter tops, doors, electrical supplies, fans, flooring, furniture, HVAC, landscaping and outdoor supplies, mirrors, windows, window coverings, tools, working appliances under 10 years old and more. Visit for information. Donations accepted at the ReStore store, 1201 Piner Ave., Santa Rosa.

Tools: Maybe you’ve inherited your dad’s tools, or you’ve upgraded some of your own. Weed out the good, working hand tools and donate them to the Santa Rosa Tool Library, which loans out tools to the public for short-term use. For information call 576-0590 or visit

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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