Think Green: Ecofriendly Organizing

I regularly hear, “I don’t want to keep it, but I don’t know what to do with it.” Beneath this is a whole lot of guilt in letting go of unnecessary and dated items for fear of ending up in a landfill. I love that my clients care – and get excited when I can reassure them that I can find an outlet for their clutter. Below are tips to make your items valuable again and get you thinking green!

Tattered Clothing

The average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. Guess what? Someone wants it – and you’ve got options! H&M and The North Face both collect clothing at their retail stores. From there, they decide if it can be reworn, reused or recycled. Their initiatives benefit people in need and promote sustainability. Check out their websites or contact your nearest retailer for more info.

Not one to go the mall? Not a problem. Many of GR’s local Goodwill and World Mission Thrift stores also recycle textiles. Donate off-season, stained, heavily worn, and even torn clothing free of guilt. Make sure to contact your local thrift center to see if they participate.

Donate off-season, stained, heavily worn, and even torn clothing free of guilt.
Donate off-season, stained, heavily worn, and even torn clothing free of guilt.

Paper

It is estimated that over 40 percent of landfill space is made up of paper products. Paper can easily be recycled – but did you know it can also be used for fundraising?

PaperGator has become my primary outlet for unwanted papers, newsprint, catalogs, magazines, junk mail, phone books, and even hard and soft cover books. Using PaperGator not only helps the earth – it also benefits local nonprofits, including churches and schools. Visit the website to find a bin near you or to start raising money for your charity.

Food

As much as 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste every year. As consumers, we have to take some responsibility! This starts with making sound decisions in the grocery store and being more conscious of our buying practices. When grocery shopping – be true to yourself. Are you really going to enjoy eating it? Will you really get around to consuming it in a reasonable amount of time? Or is it slowly going to age in your cupboards until expiration?

Urban Roots offers a compost collection service.
Urban Roots offers a compost collection service.

That brings me to my next point – expiration dates are for the weak! Up to 90 percent of Americans waste safe, edible food due to confusing date labeling regulations. Expiration dates are driven by marketing and are used to ensure freshness. Think twice before throwing away expired goods and contact your local food pantry to see if they will accept them before throwing away. Find local pantries, soup kitchens, food banks and other food help on this great website.

Can’t quite bring yourself to eat expired goods? It’s ok, not everyone likes living on the edge. But what about composting? Check out Kent County Department of Public Works‘ free composting classes to get you started. It’s simple and will save you money!

Don’t want to commit to composting? Consider outsourcing through Organicycle. It provides curbside pick-up of organics for Grand Rapids residents, local schools and area businesses – including food, yard/plant, and paper waste. Urban Roots also offers weekly compost pick-up for minimal fees. Check out their website to see if you live in their service area.

Chemicals, Meds and Other Hazardous Materials

Hazardous waste can cause substantial threats to our health and the environment. And we produce a lot of it – more than 400 million tons each year! Kent County Department of Public Works Safe Chem Progam will take your oil paint, auto fluids, aerosol cans, fluorescent bulbs and more. Visit the website for a full list of accepted items, as well as drop-off scheduling and locations. Be sure to pull your latex paint – they don’t want it. But RepcoLite Paints Inc will take it off your hands for a minimal fee.

Have you decluttered your medicine cabinet lately? Keep meds out of the water supply and get them properly disposed of through the Safe Med Program. Participating pharmacies will accept most of your expired prescriptions and some over the counter medicines. Note that they do not accept controlled substances – these can be dropped off at your local law enforcement.

What about sharps? Kent County Health Department will issue a sterile approved container that users may take home and return full, in exchange for another. Unused syringes that have not expired and are fully sealed can be donated to the GR Red Project to reduce risk and promote health.

Technology

Technology is advancing faster than our landfills can keep up. Did you know e-waste also contains hazardous chemicals including mercury, lead and arsenic? Comprenew follows a strict zero-landfill policy for all electronic waste and does not export hazardous materials to other countries.

School age kids participate in educational programs about recycling at Comprenew.
School-age kids participate in educational programs about recycling at Comprenew.

What it is unable to resell is recycled. Its claim to fame is “anything with a cord.” Most items are free, but some incur minor fees – including box televisions. But don’t worry, Advanced Technology Recycling will gladly take your televisions for FREE, no matter how large or small. Rest assured, both follow strict guidelines as it relates to data protection, so your personal information won’t be compromised.

There’s a Place for That

Still don’t know what to do with it? Consider posting the item on The FreeCycle Network – it’s likely someone will find a use for it. If that doesn’t work, check out Earth 911, which has one of North America’s most extensive recycling databases and will point you in the right direction.

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