New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions

New Year's Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Re(Solutions) Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the New Year, I believe many of us have dreams of simplicity, homes de-cluttered and made minimal yet functional. Can this be achieved in a sustainable manner? Yes!

Sustainably reducing our junk brings a sense of freedom and joy, and I can tell you from experience that it’s entirely attainable, without trashing the environment. The key is to take simple steps toward offloading your excess items. As a byproduct, you’ll find real pleasure in seeing the value in your things and the joy they can bring others, rather than just tossing them into the landfill.

Here are 9 of our favorite New Year’s (Re)Solutions to help you reduce the stuff weighing you down:

I suggest you take a week to truly de-clutter and reduce.

STEP ONE: Each day of the week choose one room to focus on, so you don’t wear yourself out on day one. Do a decluttering pass through the room, carrying a box which will hold the items you’re ready to offload.

STEP TWO: Can any of your unwanted stuff be reused? Join your local Buy Nothing group, a gift economy where people share what they have with their neighbors. Keeping our stuff in our local materials economy is one of the greatest gifts you can give your own community, connecting you to the people around you and helping us all to reduce our consumption. See if there’s a group near you or ask the founders team to start a group in your area if you’re willing to be a local admin.

You can then post each of your items in your group. Don’t be shy! Your stuff is another person’s treasure. People give cement blocks away in our group, sticks, even used bubble wrap, extra pans of homemade lasagna, chicken feed, and unwanted jewelry. There’s no such thing as “trash” in our groups as you may find an artist who could use your discarded item or a small business owner who needs bubble wrap for packaging their items for shipping. If you don’t have a Buy Nothing group in our area, then move on to step 3.

STEP THREE: Have a few spare boxes ready to hold your leftover unwanted and unused items in your garage, basement, attic or spare room where you can then separate the pile into distinct categories:

1) Stuff to Donate to an Animal Shelter: Do you have old blankets, towels, or extra pens and pencils hanging about? You’d be surprised to learn what items most animal shelters could use. Here’s a typical wish list for a local shelter.

To find an animal shelter near you, click to The Humane Society‘s website where they have links to the best resources for locating local animal shelters. All you need to do is input your zip code to find a local shelter. Most have a wish list online, but you can call to find out their specific needs.

2) Stuff to Donate to a Charity That Will Come and Pick Things Up: There’s nothing better than people who come to you and take away your unwanted stuff. Donationtown has a website where you can input your zip code a find a charity that will come to your home and pick reusable household items up. But if you have a local charity, like GoodWill where you can drop off your items, that’s another great option.

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff sustainably isn't so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff, sustainably, isn’t so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Electronics Recycling: Take stock of your e-waste — your electronics that no longer work or that you haven’t used in a year or 2, and take them to Best Buy! Best Buy is one of North America’s top e-waste recyclers and you can easily find one near you. This task is a simple one: load up a cart with your old TV, computers, vacuum cleaner, and wheel it through the front door and there will be a place by the front door to leave your electronics for recycling. Done.

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

4) Metals can go to a nearby scrap metal facility: We save our metals in a special box to be taken periodically to our scrap metal bin found at the local transfer station. Metals of all types have value and can be repurposed into new items made of metal. Saving things that are primarily made of metal can benefit your scrap metal facility greatly and keep those precious materials out of the landfill and in our materials economy for years to come.

5) Do you have a cupboard filled with plastic containers? Reduce it by half and you probably won’t miss what you’ve removed. Save your favorite ones for storing dry goods in and then go through your jars and do the same thing. If you have extra lids, recycle them. Or if you’re missing lids, recycle the jars or containers themselves. The new year is a time to take stock and simplify! I reduced my jars by half and passed the good ones with lids on to our local senior center that collects them for projects. Check with your senior center to see if they can use them or post your jars on your Buy Nothing group. Someone will have a use for them.

6) If you’re trying to reduce old stockpiled boxes of random stuff, make a pledge to go through one box at a time. Give yourself time to go through it and separate the items into recyclable items and those that can be given away and reused. I try to remind myself that we’re stewards of our stuff on this planet and our job is to, at the end of your stuff’s usefulness to you, dispense with it responsibly.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One Per Week is Do-able.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One at a Time, Even One a Day Makes the Task Do-able.

7) If you have old family photos you want to reduce, you can always check with family members to see if they want them. By scanning them digitally, you can save them on a small thumb drive and then you have the photo paper waste to think of. There are some great ideas out there for photo reuse, like turning them into tile coasters or donating them to a scrap art store. Remember, your old family photos do have potential value, especially for your family’s future generations.

8) Books: If there were ever an easy item to help you get rid of, it’s books! Most libraries want your books as do many non-profits worldwide.  We have a local “Books and Beer” get-together every few months in our Buy Nothing group where we can meet neighbors and share our books.

9) Make a promise to yourself to be mindful of what you acquire. Promise that all new things going into your home this year will be used and loved extensively, not squirreled away in yet another box to be offloaded at the end of the year. If you don’t take my advice, you might want to listen to a slightly different perspective on reducing. It all results in the same thing, however, less waste and less unnecessary clutter in your life for stepping out into a new year.

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo © Liesl Clark

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo© Liesl Clark

Post-Holiday Zero Waste Living

Carefree Holiday Fun in Zero Waste Style

Carefree Holiday Snowball Fun in Zero Waste Style © Liesl Clark

Some reliable sources say Americans produce 25% more waste over the year-end holidays than we do the rest of the year. I’m not surprised, given the household waste-management we’re undergoing this time of year. Our consumption, through gift giving/receiving and party-throwing, is at an all-time high.

Trimming the Tree, Photo © Liesl Clark

What steps can we take to make this year a game-changer, reducing our impact at years’ end? Here are some easy zero-waste practices that should make you feel good:

  1. Recycle Your Live-Cut Christmas Tree: Most communities have tree recycling options available. Boy Scouts in some communities conduct drives to collect trees and chip them up into compost, for example. Other communities will allow you to put your tree in your yard waste bins.
  2. Reuse Your Live Christmas Tree: We throw ours in our brush pile and then cut it up for kindling once the wood has cured. But we’ve created a list of 15 reuses for your Christmas tree if you’re interested.
  3. Take a moment to turn off your power, enjoy a few hours of power disconnection with family for introspection and connection. We do this for an entire day and the appreciation for each other, and the magic of slowing down comes back  into our lives.

    Ace Hardware is Doing Good Things in Our Hometown © Liesl Clark

    Ace Hardware is Doing Good Things in Our Hometown © Liesl Clark

  4. Recycle your broken holiday/tree lights: When your lights stop working (and, sadly, these things are so poorly made their working life is not very long), don’t throw them away. Most communities have a local option for recycling string lights. Ace Hardware, for example, is our local drop point on our island. But if you can’t find a local venue, you can send your lights to Light Source, in Texas, where they sell used string lights for recycling and give the proceeds back to charity. Or, better yet, collect a few from friends and neighbors and send the tangled mess in a larger box so you know you’ve diverted more than your own from your waste stream. The Refining Company in Medford, OR also recycles holiday lights. Recycling string lights is a booming business in China and although the practices aren’t the most environmentally-sound, thousands of tons of string lights are kept out of our landfills. The Atlantic has a must-read article about the recycling of our string lights in China to mine out the copper wiring inside. After reading the article, I swore we’d never buy string lights again. We receive thousands of unwanted string lights at our local summer community auction, so our family retrieves a few of the unwanted strings from there each summer and use them until they stop working, which, sadly, isn’t very long. IMG_0769 copy
  5. Stockpile your styrofoam and recycle or reuse: Styrofoam is the single most prolific plastic material found on our beaches. In some communities, it has been banned. If you received styrofoam as part of a gift this holiday season, consider yourself the future steward of this highly toxic material. Finding your local recycling option for year-round styrofoam stewardship is the single best thing you could do for the environment this season. In the Seattle area, for example, a free drop-off location in Kent is the place. In the meantime, ask your local zero waste group if there’s a nearby store, like Bay Hay and Feed on Bainbridge Island, that conducts drives to collect the stuff so it doesn’t end up in our waters.
  6. Save your Christmas cards for repurposing: You can always recycle the cards you get from friends in your paper recycling bin. But a fun activity is to cut off the side with the writing and save the card with its attractive artwork for future homemade gift tags. Some people use them to create wreaths for next year, too. And I found a pretty bunting idea for displaying them on your hearth.
  7. Save all ribbon for reuse: Ribbons are made of plastic and survive in our oceans unscathed for years. We’re always surprised to find ribbon from birthday balloons wrapped up in seaweed (they are also known to entangle baby seals, sea otters and sea turtles) and once we break them free from the wrack line debris, the ribbon is as good as new. Save the ribbon you receive on gifts and give the gift of life to our marine creatures by not buying more of it. If you reuse what you have, and receive in the future, you’ll never need to buy more ribbon again. Giving and receiving is cyclical like that.
  8. Find a spot to store re-usable tape: This is a true insider’s tip. There’s plenty of tape and stickers that will peel right off a bag or shiny package and it, too, can be reused. The trick is to have a convenient spot in your home where you keep it. My friend Rebecca puts hers on the side of the fridge for the kids to access easily (kids go through gobs of tape.) We put our reclaimed tape on the inside of a closet door where office supplies are kept. Family members know that’s the community tape dispenser. We haven’t bought new tape in months.
  9. Save what wrapping paper you can for reuse: You don’t need an explanation for this. It’s yet another way to see how reuse can save you money. Most wrapping paper can’t be recycled because of the materials used to make it. Composting or burning it, too, isn’t recommended because of the toxins involved. Because we are committed to not buying new wrapping paper, what do we use? We make beautiful cloth gift bags and give them to friends and family for reuse. We recycle our children’s art as wrapping paper. We use pretty cloth as wrapping paper in the Japanese style of wrapping. We keep items in their shipping boxes and decorate the boxes with ribbon we’ve found on our beaches or plastic marine debris we’ve recovered as a reminder of our mission in the first place. These packages below are how our children creatively wrap their gifts in found items from our home or the beach:

10) Pass on your unwanted faux tree through The Buy Nothing Project or give to Goodwill: Thousands of plastic trees end up in the landfill after the holidays. These aren’t meant to be single-use items. If you need to get rid of yours, pass it on to Goodwill, sell it on Craigs List, or Buy Nothing it.

11) Don’t throw away your unwanted or broken items or toys: One of the single-most satisfying activities you can do with your family is create a workspace where you can repair the items you received over the holiday that were made to break within the first 6 months’ (or sometimes 6 hours) of use.

Send us your stories of what broke, and how you fixed it! We’re looking for inspiration from you, stories about how you defied the odds and came up with a smart solution to repair or repurpose an item so it could be diverted from a landfill and have a new life.

12) Thank your tree: And finally, a special thank you movie in tribute to the pesticide-free, sustainably grown US Forest Service tree we weeded from the dense thicket on the tree-laden slopes of the Olympic National Forest: