Animal shelters and homeless shelters need certain items, but you must follow strict guidelines before donating in order to avoid imposing disposal costs on worthy organizations and taking their staffs’ time.

Specifically, some “used” items can be donated to homeless shelters, but only in new, unopened condition. For example, the free toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste you received from your dentist following a cleaning can be donated, but only if it is still sealed in packaging. Similarly, if you did not open the complimentary shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion and shower cap in your hotel room, donate those, too.

Used clothing is almost always better donated to a thrift store than a shelter; however, shelters generally can accept used, freshly cleaned sweatshirts, hoodies, and sweat pants. Similarly, donating used shoes imposes a burden on shelters, but one related item frequently discarded by everyone is desired by homeless shelters. Used, cleaned shoelaces can be donated to a homeless shelter.

Prior to delivering donations, call the Oxnard shelter directly at 805-247-0335. The shelter currently hosts over 100 people, has limited staff and organizes many activities, so they are not able to carefully screen donations or give tours.

Donations of used blankets and towels are welcomed by the Ventura County Animal Shelter. The shelter, in Camarillo, is collecting materials to meet the needs of the 500 animals being hosted. People can drop off items at the shelter: 600 Aviation Drive, Camarillo; 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday.  The shelter is closed on Mondays, but people can also drop off items from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on Mondays if they are unable to come during open hours, according to Jennifer Thaler, Supervising Animal Control Officer.

Other items seemingly unrecyclable and not reusable can be given a new life through mail-in recycling programs. One surprising reusable item is used mascara wands. The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge uses these to clean animals in distress. The tight bristles enable volunteers to remove oil, larvae, fly eggs, mites and mud from rescued wildlife. The brushes also work great for animal medical care and wound treatment, according to the organization’s website. The refuge asks donors to clean used mascara wands with liquid soap, place wands in a clean plastic bag and mail them to P.O. Box 1211, Skyland, NC, 28776.

Terracycle provides sponsor-subsidized mail-in recycling programs for products ranging from Burt’s Bees “lip care products” to Solo cups. Additionally, Terracycle has many non-sponsored programs. For example, for $102, you can purchase a small shipping box (11 in. x11 in. x20 in.) and a postage-paid return shipping label to send Terracycle your used chewing gum. According to Brian Hanck, a Terracycle spokesman, “Chewing gum is made from polymers, which are synthetic plastics . . . The . . . gum is sanitized and blended, then converted into plastic pellets. These specific plastic pellets are usually used in creating new products made of rubber or plastic.”

Among other items, the company also has mail-in recycling programs for coffee capsules, pens, plastic gloves, detergent booster pouches, ready-made pasta bags, contact lenses and the blister packs containing the lenses.

Locally, the Surfrider Foundation participates in Terracycle’s mail-in program for recycling cigarette butts, the most common form of litter. Through its “Hold On To Your Butt” campaign, the city and Surfrider have purchased and installed 103 metal containers in areas where cigarette butt litter was common, despite a city ordinance banning smoking in public areas. Volunteers empty approximately 4,000 butts per month from these receptacles; combined with the butts they collect from beach cleanup events, they have sent over 270,000 butts to Terracycle in a little over two years, according to Juli Marciel, Surfrider’s coordinator for the program. A bench made from cigarette butts is on the Ventura promenade next to the pier.

For more information, visit www.terracycle.com/en-US/. Additional items needed by the Ventura County Animal Shelter can be found at www.vcas.us/amazonwishlist. Additional items needed by the Oxnard Homeless Shelter include a large coffee pot, microwave oven and heavy-duty three-prong extension cords. Before delivering, call 805-247-0335.