Since we’re spending more time in our homes, spring cleaning is inevitable. As we clean, ridding our homes of the old clothes that don’t get worn, the toys the kids grew out of, and the dishware set that we just replaced, it is important to think about where these items end up when we throw them in the trash.
Connecticut only has one functioning landfill left, located in Putnam, and it only collects ash; all of the trash that gets sent here gets incinerated beforehand. More than 575,000 tons of ash a year from trash-energy plants are sent here according to the Hartford Courant. This landfill currently takes up 60 acres and is looking to be expanded to make it last another 25 years or so. We are taking up space that could be used as public recreation space or forests, to store all of our trash, a lot of which could have been reused, recycled, composted, or upcycled.
It is very important to think twice before throwing something in the garbage. Can it be recycled? Can it be donated? Can it be given to a friend? Can it be composted?
Today, there are quite a few companies out there who are focusing on ways to recycle things that have never been recycled properly before. TerraCycle is a wonderful example. TerraCycle gets manufacturers to take responsibility for the trash they create by sponsoring national collection and recycling programs. This makes it possible to recycle almost anything: single use coffee pods, pens, cigarette butts, shoes, shaving razors, the list goes on. Terracycle has boxes that you can purchase to fill with certain things and then send back to be recycled. They also have some free recycling programs that you can sign up for.
ThredUp is another example of a company that is working to recycle. ThredUp focuses on addressing the billions of tons of textile waste found in our landfills each year and slowing down fast fashion. The EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste each year, but this only accounts for approximately 15% of all post-consumer textile waste. ThredUp gives people the opportunity to send in the clothing they don’t want (in good condition with no holes, alterations, tags missing, etc.) to be sold to someone else who will wear it, and you get some money from the sale. The premise is that since someone purchased your lightly worn blouse, they saved this blouse from the landfill and also did not buy a brand new blouse, saving the carbon emissions and likely the synthetic fibers that would have been used to make a brand new blouse.
My favorite option is available right here in Easton! If you are an Easton resident, you can join the Buy Nothing Easton, CT Facebook group. The idea behind this group is that residents in town can give, receive, share, and lend things to each other. Instead of running out to the store to buy more sewing needles, ask the group if anyone has any they are not using. Instead of leaving an old side table on the curb, post a photo to the group to see if anyone could use it. If someone wants what you’re offering, leave it out on the front stoop or in the mailbox and they will come pick it up. Groups like this find responsible homes for unwanted items so that these items can continue their life instead of ending up in a landfill along with slowing down the demand for new products that usually come in plastic packaging.
There are smart ways to find new uses and new homes for things you no longer want or need. Another important thing to point out is that more things can be composted than you think. I’m going to take a second to advocate for household composting; if you are not yet composting, you should be!
According to the EPA, landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions. This is caused by the anaerobic decomposition caused by organic matter being trapped in plastic. Composting can remove 20-50% from your household waste stream. Instead of taking the garbage out every other night and filling five or six plastic bags a week, my family has cut our garbage bag amount down to two per week on average just by introducing composting.
Not only does this reduce some of the burden on landfills, but it leaves you with amazingly nutrient rich soil to nourish your garden, lawn, trees, houseplants, you name it. When people think compost, they think kitchen scraps and plant debris. Anything made of natural fibers, such as wool, wood, or cotton, can be composted. This includes old cloths, natural corks from wine bottles, bamboo skewers, paper towels, wood dish brushes (with the bristles removed), etc. Before tossing your unwanted items into a plastic bag to be incinerated or dumped in a landfill, make sure it can’t be donated, recycled, given to someone else, or composted.
It’s time to be more conscious with our trash and spring clean more responsibly.