Spring Cleaning: Recycle Smart Style

Overwhelmed by your spring decluttering project? You are not alone.

American homes are filled with more than 300,000 items,[1] and this only includes visible objects. It does not include everything tucked into dresser drawers and cabinets or stored away in boxes — and tuck away and store we do! House sizes have doubled since the 1950s, most garages are now used as extra storage space instead of for parking, and the self-storage rental industry is booming.

Over our lifetime it is estimated we will spend 3,680 hours (or 153 days) searching for misplaced items.[2] It is no wonder there is a $10.5 billion industry for organizational products to help us organize all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated!

The good news? The Recycle Smart MA team can help you sort through the clutter.

Donate Smart

Whether we are spring cleaning, undergoing the 5-step KonMari Method, or cleaning out a loved one’s belongings when they are downsizing or have passed away – we want an easy, convenient, and guilt-free way to offload our unwanted items.

Just as many of us were once guilty of wishful recycling (before Recycle Smart MA, that is!), many of us are also practicing wishful donating.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

As Adam Minter, author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, says: “Like many aphorisms, there’s some truth there. But in my experience, not much. Generally, one man’s trash is another man’s trash.”   It turns out we are not great judges of which items have value to a secondhand reuse store and which don’t. Our broken appliances and old trophies end up creating more work for thrift store staff to sort through. They further add to the organization’s ever-growing trash bill, cutting into their  bottom line or mission-driven work.  

To ensure that your unwanted items are not just going for an extra-long ride to the landfill or incinerator, we have a few tips for how to donate smart.

For each item you’d like to donate, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is it in working condition? (E.g., If it’s an electronic item, does it work when you plug it in? If it’s a chair, does it have all four legs?) 

  • Is it clean? (No mold, odor or pet hair.)  

  • Do you have all the parts? (E.g., Are there 100 pieces for your 100 piece puzzle? Did you include the power cord in the box with the printer?) 

  • Is it on the organization’s list of acceptable items? (Most reuse organizations have this posted on their websites.) 

  • Is it in season? (E.g., If it’s a Halloween decoration/costume, is it close to Halloween?) 

  • If you needed this item, would you buy it in its current condition? (Be honest.)

What about all the rest?
While you likely need to accept that some of what was in your donate pile should really just go in the trash (that used sponge, really?), there are items that could be ripe for a second life even if they are not suitable to donate to a reuse organization. The gifting economy is an excellent place to both ask for and give items (See the Buy Nothing ProjectFreecycleCraigslistNextdoor, or Everything is Free Facebook groups). You never know, your neighbor may be looking for a Superman costume that Goodwill doesn’t have the storage space to hold onto until next fall; or the local voc-tech school may want your broken toaster to practice repairing. Offering up your unwanted goods (and any stories that go along with them) is an excellent way to build connections in your community and know that your items will be appreciated by a neighbor. And if no one bites? You can throw it away – guilt-free.
✋ Remember: Don't Forget to Recycle Smart!

We know that our readers do not like to waste valuable resources, and that you might be tempted to put your would-be donations in the recycling, but STOP yourself! While junk mail and empty shampoo bottles are great to recycle while you are purging, many items do not belong in the recycling bin and are dangerous for the workers who handle your recyclables. Hangers, pots & pans, propane tanks, broken hoses – none of these should go in the recycling. When in doubt – check the Recyclopedia.

Less Stuff = Less Spring Cleaning = Win!
While you are admiring your newly-organized, clutter-free cabinet, it is a great time to think about how you can keep it clutter-free. There isn’t one “right way” to embrace the first two R’s (Reduce and Reuse) ­­­­– think of it as a journey, not a destination.  Whether you take the zero-waste challenge and try to fit all your trash for the year into one mason jar, follow the KonMari Method and see what “sparks joy,” or embrace the minimalism movement, just remember that less stuff = less to spring clean next year! Experts say that the best way to reduce/reuse is to ask yourself two simple questions before you buy:  Do I really need this? and Can I find this secondhand?  You can also use our handy Zero-Waste Shopping guide.
[1] Arnold, J. E., Graesch, A. P., & Ragazzini, E. (2017). Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors. Los Angeles, CA: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.
[2] Lost something already today? Misplaced items cost us ten minutes a day | Daily Mail Online

Celebrating Local Reuse Heroes

According to a recent study conducted by students at the Tufts University in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) program in partnership with MassDEP, the reuse economy in Massachusetts contributes about $7.3 billion or $1,067 per capita per year in sales that support the local economy. Based on 2020 data, there are 6,438 secondhand retail, repair, and rental businesses in MA. They make up nearly 2 percent of all statewide businesses and account for 32,828 jobs (about 1 percent of the state’s employment).  You can check out the full study here: No Waste to Spare: An Economic and Spatial Analysis of Massachusetts’ Reuse Economy. We wanted to highlight a handful of these reuse organizations that are leading the way.

Boston Building Resources — Boston, MA

The recently renovated Reuse Center at Boston Building Resources (BBR) is now open for business! This 9,024-square-foot warehouse located on Terrance Street near the Roxbury Crossing T station in Boston was updated with help from a grant from the MassDEP. Started in 1993, The Reuse Center diverts good-quality, reusable building materials that would otherwise be thrown away to homeowners at an affordable price. They additionally provide further discounts for “Plus Members” that meet set income requirements. Improvements to the center include a rooftop solar array, better lighting, and a more efficient layout that allows BBR to accept and display more donated materials. Check out all the great items the Reuse Center has to offer from kitchen cabinets to vintage doorknob sets at: Used and surplus products at bargain prices — Boston Building Resources

Related: Renovated Reuse Center now open for business; celebration week set for April 19-24 — Boston Building Resources

The Great Exchange — Devens, MA​

Hosted by the nonprofit Devens Eco-Efficiency CenterThe Great Exchange is a reuse haven in Devens, MA. With over 400 types of items from craft supplies to classroom educational resources, The Great Exchange helps schools, municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses access affordable new and like new items rescued from commercial and industrial facilities that otherwise were destined to be trashed. MassDEP provided a grant to help raise awareness of The Great Exchange through developing new marketing tools, operational efficiencies and outreach to new businesses. The theme of the two-year outreach and educational campaign was “Use It, Reuse It, Recreate It.” One of the components of the grant program was their new website where you can book an appointment to visit and shop.

Related: Devens’ Great Exchange business recycling program expanding | Worcester Business Journal (wbjournal.com)

The Furniture Trust — Arlington, MA

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School test drive the foosball table created by East Bridgewater Public Schools at the 9th annual Eco-Carpentry Challenge 2019 © Frank Monkiewicz, The Furniture Trust

The Furniture Trust is the ultimate furniture matchmaker – helping businesses decommission their furniture assets in the most economical and environmentally friendly way. By focusing on reuse and recycling of unwanted commercial furnishings, The Furniture Trust connects local schools, non-profits and community organizations with the high quality office furniture they need. MassDEP provided a grant to support this incredible non-profit to raise awareness about furniture reuse and update their metrics on the economic and environmental impact of their work. In 2018 alone, the Furniture Trust received $2 million in donated office furnishings which they were able to provide to 200 local schools and non-profits, diverting 2,500 tons of furniture from landfills and incinerators.
In addition to their day-to-day furniture reuse work, they also host an Eco-Carpentry Challenge each year where local high school students compete to transform old furniture into creative new products. This is a great opportunity for students to develop and show-off their carpentry skills while learning about reuse and recycling.

Get Involved!

Beyond donating smart and shopping secondhand, there are other great ways to support initiatives here in Massachusetts. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Volunteer at your local Swap Shop.
  • Support your local reuse or repair organizations – either through volunteering, making a financial donation, or directing business their way.
  • Join the MassDEP’s Reduce & Reuse Working Group. Learn more here.

Partner Spotlight: Lexington Public Schools Green Team

Student volunteers during lunch at Clarke Middle School (2018)

What began as a way to educate students within the school district has spread to community-wide action to reduce waste and improve recycling and composting in Lexington. The Lexington Public Schools Green Team began as a small group of dedicated volunteers but their work has expanded, impacting not only students but parents, teachers, businesses, and even town bylaws.

The LPS Green Team teaches students to connect everyday actions to waste reduction and climate change, hoping that they’ll share these practices at home. Small initiatives like lunchtime recycling and composting began with the goal of getting these actions to become second nature to students, and eventually led to an 80% reduction in cafeteria waste! Presentations and Zero Waste discussions became common in the schools, and as word spread, the district committed to a Green Policy. Now volunteers even run Zero Waste stations at town events to educate attendees and start a conversation about waste in Massachusetts.

“Our success is a result of persistence and a constant drive to bring more parts of the community into the discussion,” said LPS Green Team volunteers Cindy Arens, Lin Jensen, Tina McBride, and Diane Pursley. It’s clear that what initially started as a program for the schools has inspired the entire town to take a walk on the “green” side, as there are now over 1,600 households that are composting at home or through a curbside subscription service. And by collaborating with Girl Scout Troop 65411, the LPS Green Team helped pass a bylaw eliminating the use of Styrofoam and plastic straws throughout the town. 

It’s truly inspiring to see the work that this Recycle Smart Partner has done in just a few years and we’re excited to see what the future holds for the passionate LPS Green Team!

📚 What We're Reading

🌱 Happy Spring Cleaning, Friends.

Keep Calm and Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle On,

The Recycle Smart MA Team at MassDEP