Reuse / Upcycle

Batteries Can Be Tossed

I often get asked what to do with stuff.

What do I do with plastic bags since they can’t go in the recycling blue bin? Where do I take pillows? And sheets and towels? Textiles that can’t be used? Salvation Army or Goodwill?

Recently my dad asked me if he has to recycle alkaline batteries, and not long afterward, a friend texted me the very same question.

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Back in the day, your regular TV remote battery couldn’t be put into the municipal trash because they contained harmful mercury that could leach into waterways. Nowadays, batteries do not contain mercury, which is good.

In Chicago, alkaline batteries are accepted in the garbage cart, while rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste due to nickel cadmium and must be recycled accordingly.

These batteries can now safely go in the trash/landfill, which isn’t necessarily that great.

Yes, they can be thrown out (like a lot of things), but you can also go one extra step and find a place that recycles them. You can look up where to recycle your batteries here, and for the most part, it is going to depend on where you live and what your town or city collects.

So check it out and do something with that pile of dead batteries in your junk drawer.

Resources:

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Salvation Army Vs. Goodwill

When we clean out our closets, move, are making way for new things, or are deciding which items in our lives “spark joy,” there is bound to become a donation bag.

It may be the giveaway pile or donate box, whatever you call it, it has to go somewhere.

The old books you’ve already read can be handed off to a friend looking for a new summer read, sold on Craigslist, or posted on the many Buy Nothing Project groups for someone else to enjoy.

More often than not though, with our busy lives, it becomes just too much work to try and find a new home for your items and coordinate a time to have it picked up. So the items get dropped off at a donation center because you want the stuff out of your house NOW.

Recently, I was asked which was a better place to donate your pre-loved items, Goodwill or Salvation Army? I didn’t have a clear answer, so obviously this became a good blog topic.

Salvation Army

According to their mission statement, “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

They work to meet all sorts of human needs from helping disaster survivors and stopping domestic abuse, to combating addiction and assisting the unemployed. Learn more about what they do here.

Donating clothing and goods to The Salvation Army helps fund addiction rehabilitation programs. You can donate at their Family Stores and drop-off locations or schedule a free pickup. We had The Salvation Army come to pick up our couch once. It was nice that they could take care of that.

According to CNN, the Salvation Army spends 82% of donations on aid and you can check out Salvation Army’s sustainable development goals here.

Goodwill Industries International

Goodwill is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is “to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” They seek to help all job seekers and in 2017, Goodwill helped more than 288,000 people find employment.

Donating your items to Goodwill helps create job opportunities by funding job training and services and they also claim it keeps billions of pounds of textiles and clothing from meeting their end in the landfill. You can calculate the impact of your donation on their website which is pretty cool. For instance, if I donate 5 shirts, that provides 31 minutes of on-the-job training.

But is that what really happens? This Huffington Post article does a good job of explaining what happens to your clothes when you drop them off at Goodwill. In reality, after the good stuff has been picked out and the unusable has become rags, the rest gets shipped overseas. I was not able to find anything that directly explained what they did with stuff when it didn’t sell, but here is a blog about their sustainability initiative.

What’s the Verdict?

It is up to you! Both are keeping materials from the landfill and helping others in the process. I am sure there are parts of each that some may not agree with, but both are better options than tossing your clothes in the garbage. To avoid having to go through all your clothes and donating every few months, be conscious of your purchases and only buy what you actually need, buy secondhand, or attend a clothing swap.

What are your thoughts?

Moving Box Madness

Almost immediately after our wedding, and then our honeymoon, K and I packed up our tiny apartment and said goodbye to our first place together.

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I was pretty sad about it because I get emotionally attached to things and places. There were so many good memories in that apartment!

What was even sadder though was the amount of waste that could have been if I had not been conscious of it the entire moving process.

The Boxes

We had some boxes saved in the basement from the previous move and purchased many, many more to pack up our belongings. On top of those boxes, we had tons of boxes from all of the registry items that we could finally fit into our apartment.

Just so many boxes.  Everywhere!

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Just a small sample of the amount of boxes

Luckily, I was able to give away pretty much all of the moving boxes for them to be reused again. I gave some to my mom to pack up all those lanterns for our wedding, I posted some on Craigslist and gave some to a friend who was moving shortly after us.

The Plastic Bags

What was worse than the boxes, was the plastic packaging! As we opened new small appliances from our registry the amount of plastic bags just piled up to the point where I filled an entire gigantic bag with them.

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Recyclable plastic bags can be brought to your local grocery store and usually are not accepted in curbside recycling because the bags get caught in recycling machinery. So I just saved all the little bags until I filled up a big one and kept it in my car until I went to the grocery store next.

The Bubble Wrap

On top of the boxes and the plastic bags was the bubble wrap. So much if it. I have given some away, but still have plenty that I have posted on Buy Nothing Facebook groups. There have been a few leads, but no follow-ups so far. Any readers need some bubble wrap?!

While we usually purchase furniture pieces secondhand (we already bought a desk from Craigslist), we did get some new pieces that reminded me of why I hate ordering stuff.

For instance, our new bed frame was delivered 2 days early when K was out of town and was for some reason put down this unfinished set of stairs in the front of our apartment. It was so heavy that I couldn’t get it out alone and had to call in reinforcements. Thanks, Amazon.

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At least the bed frame came early because our new mattress didn’t show up at all. Through countless calls and legitimate hours on the phone with UPS, we ended up having to pick up our mattress from the customer pickup center. Not ideal.

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As destroyed as the box was, fortunately, the mattress itself was okay. Ugh, eye roll.

I am so glad that we are basically done with finding pieces we were missing for our new apartment. The boxes, the plastic, the styrofoam, it was just so overwhelming.

If you aren’t convinced yet, read Buzzfeed’s recent piece, “The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping.” I for one am not a Prime member and happily accept the standard shipping.

Who is Bea Johnson?

While most people involved in reducing their waste have heard of her, most of my friends and family who read this blog have no idea who Bea Johnson is.

Well, Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, started the whole Fit-My-Entire-Family’s-Annual-Waste-in-A-Mason-Jar trend.

That’s right.

Her family of four can fit all the waste that they produce annually in one jar.

 

This is her family’s waste for 2017. Source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/bea/

The reason I am bringing her up is because I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Monday at the Shedd Aquarium thanks to an event put on by my buds over at Zero Waste Chicago.

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I have not been to the Shedd in ages, mostly because I am terrified of fish and only like free museums, but they are super involved in conservation through their Great Lakes Action Days and plastic waste reduction through their Shedd the Straw campaign.

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The evening started out with an action expo of numerous local organizations and businesses striving to reduce their waste. I knew most of the organizations in some way or another and got to see a lot of familiar faces.

I did get to pick up some low-waste powder laundry detergent from Meliora Cleaning Products, which I am super excited to test out. That’s a post for another day.

After the expo, we filed into the auditorium to hear Bea speak about living without waste.

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Bea’s journey to a zero waste lifestyle started in 2006 when her family first moved to be closer to town and it’s walkability. She outlined her failures with making her own cosmetics, shampoo, and even toilet paper.

She and her family follow the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot, which I have posted about before.

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Her family refuses what they do not need and say no to single-use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, and more.

Then they reduce what they actually need. One thing that she said really struck me, “Once we pass our comfort level, anything beyond that becomes excess.” That is absolutely true. She has 4 kitchen cooking utensils, uses only white vinegar and Castille soap to clean, and her entire wardrobe can fit in a carry-on suitcase.

The family approaches reuse by swapping out disposables for reusable alternatives, which means glass jars for food, an old pillowcase for bread, and buying secondhand.  Everything they buy is from a thrift store or from E-Bay for super specific purchase you can’t easily find.

After that, they recycle what they cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Contrary to what people believe, living a zero-waste lifestyle encourages you to recycle less. Whatever is left is composted, or rot.

Overall,  Bea Johnson finds the best benefit of her lifestyle is the simplicity, which is something I can get behind. Although I understand and support her lifestyle, I know that for some people, it is just not attainable, which is totally fine.

You may never be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a jar and that’s okay (I know I won’t). Every small step or implementation of one of the R’s is a step in the right direction.

 

 

I advise you to learn more about Bea and Zero Waste Home. It is really interesting. And with that, I leave you with these two pieces from Monday:

“When you live with less you have more time to do what is important to you.”

“It’s a life based on being instead of having.”

 

Your Single-Use Water Bottle Probably Isn’t Recycled & If It Is, It’s Not Helping

Once a single-serve plastic water bottle is consumed it does not just disappear when it is tossed into a garbage can.

 

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Source: Treehugger

 

Of the 80 million single-serve bottles of water consumed daily, 30 million end up in landfills. That stat is old data as of 2009. As of 2018, I can assure that it is much much more.

If those > than 30 million bottles do not make their final resting place in a landfill, they could either be incinerated or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. I see them all the time!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be so reliant on bottled water, but we are.

We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.  While not purchasing bottled water is the best option, recycling the bottles is the second best option because it reduces demand for landfill space.

Unfortunately, it does not help reduce the demand for oil because bottlers are not using recycling content anyway (Royte, 2008). Ironically, it is cheaper for bottlers to use virgin PET than recycled PET.

Great…

In an effort to combat criticism of high environmental and energy costs, some companies have turned to a new approach. The new approach, called ‘lightweighting,’ reduces the cost of production, the energy required for shipping, and the mass of plastic in landfills (Gleick, 2010).

These are the new eco-friendly water bottles with the flimsier plastic and smaller shape.

Regrettably, lightweighting does not increase recycling rates or reduce the number of bottles in landfills (Gleick, 2010). It definitely does not decrease the amount of bottles American purchase; it only helps them feel less guilty about it.

Double Duty on Wedding Purchases

Getting married is hard.

There are so many decisions, so much research, and so many opinions.

While making decisions on physical purchases, I have been keeping one question in mind:

What purpose will this serve after the wedding is over?

For example:

What purpose will this shirt that says “Future Mrs. X” serve after the wedding is over? 

The answer is none. Please, no one ever buy me this.

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What purpose will these gold lanterns we scoured multiple Targets for serve after the wedding is over?

I plan on keeping a few and then selling the rest!

What purpose will these koozie favors serve after the wedding is over?

None because there will be no koozies.

Don’t hate me for hating on the koozies. I have a million of them. They get tossed into a cabinet, and I never use them. So no they serve no purpose for me.

I want my purchases to serve double duty, so I am trying to avoid anything that blatantly says Mr. and Mrs, or is obviously wedding related. I want to wear my wedding shoes again! I want to be able to use the bulk thank you cards I bought on Amazon for any other situation post-wedding!

Some people might say, “But it’s your wedding! You only get married once!

Yes, and because of that I want to be able to have a regular use for anything from that day, so I can always be reminded of it.

Doesn’t that make more sense?

 


If you are interested in more, I’ve previously posted about renting versus buying wedding decor and buying wedding decor secondhand.

 

New Homes for Old Pillows Hard to Come By

Being that our household includes two later twenty-somethings who still have a lot of things from college and from our parents, we have acquired some items from family members that have an unidentifiable and questionable age.

While there is nothing wrong with that for pots/pans, or baking sheets, it’s helpful to know how long someone had been sleeping on that pillow you found in the closet at your parents.

I was recently waking up with a sore neck, which I attributed to my pillow. So for Christmas, I was given a new one (#adultstatus).

But now I have an old pillow that I don’t know what to do with.

We already have at least 2 extra pillows lying around for when the occasional guest stays over, and we don’t have the room to be piling up pillows.

I am not going to make it into a dog bed (don’t have a dog), or craft it into throw pillows (no room for those), and donation centers don’t take used pillows.

So what is a person supposed to do?

I wanted the pillow to avoid a landfill end and was intrigued by it keeping a shelter pet nice and cozy. So, I checked almost every Chicago animal shelter’s website to see if they were accepting old pillows.

None of them do, but many took sheets, blankets, towels, and comforters, which is very good to know since we will be getting all new versions of those when K and I get married.

Here are the Chicago animal shelters that take various old textiles, but not pillows:

So I have a home for all of that stuff, but not my delipidated pillow. Now what?

Since we don’t have a lot of seating in our place, I am thinking that I might get some fabric and make a nice floor pillow with the stuffing like this one here.

Otherwise, there are plenty of other options for what to do with sad pillows:

My First Clothing Swap

Have you ever looked at your closet exasperated and just said “UGHHHHHH!!”

Have you ever tried closing your dresser drawers only to have to shove a bunch of stuff down to get them closed?

This happens to me in cycles. I clean out my clothes, donate, and organize, only for several months later having to do it all over again. It is exhausting!

When I saw that the Sugar Beet Food Co-op was hosting a clothing swap, I was immediately on board.

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I tore apart my closet and dresser, pulling out everything that barely got worn, or no longer fit right. I had already had a pile of clothes that still were at my parents’ house, including multiple pairs of jeans I will never fit into again (sad day).  With the bags of clothes piled into the back of my car and I headed to Sugar Beet.

Upon arrival, we were instructed to sort our clothing by category onto tables.

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After everyone had laid out their pieces, we were then able to browse and pick anything that caught our eye (and was our size). My intention of attending the swap was not to get new clothes, it was more to offload what I had accumulated over the years.

The whole experience was neat because I was able to see other people pick up my articles of clothing and be excited about them. That was much more fulfilling than dropping off a bag of clothes at a donation center. I loved knowing that my pieces were exactly what someone else was looking for. Even so, not everything was picked up, so what was left was donated.

I did leave with one article of clothing though. It was a knit vest and it is so cozy warm that I have worn it for the last two days.

 

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The only thing I allowed myself to take home from the swap! 

With my resolution of reducing my clothing purchases this year, hopefully, I won’t need to be attending too many more swaps!

 

Paper: Compost or Recycle?

A while ago, a friend asked me which was better, composting paper or recycling it.

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That is a really good question that required me to do a bit of research.

And the answer is that it depends.

Paper is not infinitely recyclable (unlike glass), it’s fibers eventually degrade in quality after being recycled 5-7 times. Printer and office paper require strong fibers, so its fibers have only been recycled a couple times. Newspaper, wrapping paper, and tissue paper, on the other hand, can use lower quality fibers.

Here is what should be recycled and what should be composted and in what situation:

Recycle

  • Glossy magazines, advertisements, and catalogs (these are more likely to contain toxic additives you won’t want in our compost if you are using it to grow produce)
  • Office paper
  • Sticky notes

In general, paper that is of higher quality should be recycled so that it can be used again, thus saving resources compared to virgin paper production.

Compost

  • Paper products that are soiled with food waste, like napkins, paper towels, and paper plates (they can’t be recycled anyway)
  • Newspaper
  • Tissues
  • Brown paper bags with food stains from takeout
  • Greasy pizza box
  • Shredded paper (even if it is shredded office paper, it cannot be recycled)

As for composting, it is better to add lower quality paper that is less likely to be recycled. In addition, adding paper is good for the health of your compost pile, helps keep it from being smelly, and absorbs water.

Unfortunately, some paper products can’t be recycled or composted and have to be reused or ultimately end up in the trash can.

Landfill

  • Plastic coated paper products like coffee cups
  • Glittery, glossy, and metallic wrapping paper
  • Glittery tissue paper

So there you go!

There are some other things to remember though.

  1. When buying paper products, opt for post-consumer recycled content to save as many trees as possible. There needs to be a demand for it!
  2. Soley composting high-quality paper keeps those good fibers from the production stream, meaning there is less recycled paper to work with, also meaning more virgin resources being used.

 

Resources

How I Did on Those 2017 Goals

I made a number of goals for myself to be less wasteful last year. Find a refresher of what I aimed for here.

Without further adieu, let’s see how I did.

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I am proud to say I crushed this goal!!! As of right now, without my December compost bucket weighed, we kept 272.91 pounds of food waste out of the landfill. Add in another 18-22 pounds from this month’s bucket and we almost doubled the goal! Holy cow!

In addition to composting at home, I am also planning on composting at my wedding in 2018.

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Another goal semi-crushed! We partook in a CSA box this summer and I challenged us to only purchase locally grown food for 24 weeks. That’s not the entire year, so that’s why I say this goal is semi-crushed. We definitely made an effort though and are more cautious of where our food comes from.

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I definitely still spent money this year, but I like to think that I did a decent job of not wasting money on frivolous purchases. From Craigslist buys to making a waiting list, I did employ tactics to keep money in my wallet. Having a tiny apartment also helps because I can’t buy things if I know there is nowhere to put them.

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Still working on this one…

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I still have a lot of clothes, plus there are still some clothes at my parent’s house. I am going to a clothing swap next month, so I am excited to see how that goes! As for repairing, I definitely tried mending a pair of jeans but failed miserably. At least I was able to give that pair a second life as housing insulation. My running shoes also get a second life as a track floor. I also pulled together resources for what to do with clothing and textiles that are beyond repair or normal use. Check that out here.

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In terms of biking, this was one goal I did not really accomplish at all, but in terms of walking, I definitely did some of that. Where I live and work are both very walkable and also have access to great public transportation options.  I really do want to try biking to work, but that will have to wait until after the winter.

So all in all, I think I did a pretty good job with my goals! Still working on a few, but that’s okay.

What are your goals for 2018?