Until recently, anyone who peeked into our storage shed might think we had a paint-hoarding problem. The shelves were stacked with literally dozens of paint cans, many of which we’d inherited from the previous owners of our house, and which I suspect they may have inherited from their own predecessors.
It wasn’t that we thought we might need the paint one day. Our hoarding problem stemmed more from the fact that we weren’t quite sure how to dispose of the paint — we only knew we shouldn’t just throw it in the trash.
It turns out there’s a pretty fine line between wanting to minimize waste that goes to the landfill, and being what we like to call a “Green Hoarder.” My editor’s husband has amassed a heap of glass jars since he read that recycling glass isn’t very easy for some recyclers. Another friend has piles of egg cartons in a closet, assuming that one day she’ll upcycle them into a cute project. Sound familiar?
Well, we’re here to help! When you’ve let items pile up simply because you don’t want to contribute to the landfill problem but you’re not sure what else to do with it, ask yourself these questions:
How can I reuse it?
Hoarding can sometimes work to your benefit, since often, multiples of something act as the basis for a great project. I’ve got a drawer full of chopsticks that come with my Chinese take-out, but I always use my reusable ones. Now, I’ve almost got enough to make this cool trivet. If glass bottles are something you just can’t throw away, keep saving them until you have enough to make a bottle wall. Pinterest and other craft sites are a great resource for finding clever uses for your household waste — the trick is to find something that you will be proud to incorporate into your home… and then actually carve out time to work on the project with care and attention.
Can someone else use it?
Those egg cartons my friend collects far outnumber the projects she could do with them (honestly, there are only so many seed starters a gal can plant!). But, if she passed them along to a Girl Scout troop or a local preschool, they’d be excited to find a way to put them to use, and they’d be particularly happy to be gifted with enough for everyone in their group. If you’ve got an out-of-control collection of craft-worthy recyclables (baby food jars, Altoids tins, or cardboard boxes, for instance), spread the word among your social media network, on the Freecycle Network, or call the art teachers at local schools to see if they want to take them off your hands.
Where can I recycle it?
Even if certain household items aren’t accepted through your curbside recycling program, there are special facilities that may accept them. Remember my paint can collection? Our city councilperson sponsors an annual e-cycling event at a local facility called the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials. During the event, the facility accepted paint, electronics, tires, Styrofoam, chemicals, and more. One packed car later, and we’d gotten rid of all those paint cans, as well as some old lawn chemicals (also inherited). The paint that’s still usable might get passed on to one of their building partners, while paint that is no longer viable will be disposed of in a way that minimizes harm to the environment. With a little research, you can find places that accept unusual or difficult to recycle items. For instance: New York City has shredding events, and Chicago has a facility to recycle electronics (so there’s no excuse for that drawer-full of obsolete remotes!).
To make it easier to take advantage of these programs, collect these special recyclables in a designated area (like a corner of your garage or under your desk), and set a reminder in your calendar for upcoming recycling events. To find upcoming recycling events, check the sanitation or waste services sections of your municipality’s website; they’ll likely list some there.
Is there anything else I can do besides throwing it in the trash?
Maybe you’ve gone through the first three questions, and you’re still stuck with a pile of stuff that can’t be reused and can’t be reasonably recycled. Then it’s time to bite the bullet and trash it. After all, clutter can limit your ability to focus on more important things, and isn’t your mental health worth getting rid of those items that are weighing you down?
If you’re feeling some green guilt at the prospect of contributing to the landfill, do something good for the environment to balance it out. Buy some carbon offsets, or donate to your favorite environmental charity. And then resolve to change your shopping habits to cut down on your hoarding triggers — buy more in bulk, for instance, or tell the Chinese restaurant that you won’t be needing chopsticks with your order.