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My Corner of the Landfill

How to reduce clutter at home without increasing clutter in the environment

By Linda Goor Nanos

Somewhere in the local landfill is a section for my belongings. I would like to keep it modest and don't want it marked with a plaque stating, "Here lies a lifetime of accumulated stuff that once belonged to Linda Nanos." I admit having accumulated too much, and as I work on getting out from under it, I want to do it in the way that is most friendly to the environment.

A person properly disposing of electronic waste. Next Avenue
The writer dropping off a printer at an electronic recycling center  |  Credit: Nick Nanos

My dresser drawers and closet were jammed with unused clothing. I have a favorite donation bin tended by a reputable charitable organization. I called to ask if they accept undergarments and was told that they accept those that are wearable, otherwise, I should find a drop off for textile recycling. The term was new to me, so I began to educate myself about it.

Textiles Are Trouble

My husband and I conscientiously sort our recyclable plastics, glass and paper and leave it out for weekly pick up, but my town doesn't recycle textiles. The buildup of fabrics in the landfills is rising at a shocking rate, and the worst part is that many materials do not break down.

I found a home for worn and torn towels at a pet shelter. I was told dogs and cats particularly welcome fleece blankets.

As I suspected, my bestie, Spandex, is a culprit that breaks down into beads of microplastic, but I was surprised to learn that one of the worst offenders is plain old cotton (unless grown organically). The toxins that mass agribusiness uses to grow cotton linger in the environment.

I sorted the clothes I chose to give away into two piles: wearable garments to donate and worn-out apparel to recycle. I found a list of textile donation sites on a website run by my state government. In my area, it seems I was supposed to toss everything into a single bin and let charity workers sort it into usable and disposable.

What Would Mother Say?

When I prepared the donation, I had to confront my mother's indoctrination about wearing decent underwear in case I ever was in an accident. Apparently, I was as mortified for the bin sorters to see old underwear with stretched out, brittle elastic as I would an EMT at the scene of an accident. I labeled it for recycling to be clear that I wasn't offering it for someone to wear. I wasn't pleased with the number of bags lying unattended outside the drop-off bin.

I found a better option at a Farmers' Market in Manhattan, where my son lives. The city is further along in dealing with mountains of textile waste. I brought a bag of textile recycling when I visited my son, and he salvaged a vintage T-shirt before disposing of the rest.

Separately, I found a home for worn and torn towels at a pet shelter. I was told dogs and cats particularly welcome fleece blankets. An old quilt with matching dust ruffle went to a thrift shop, because I no longer wanted something that proclaims its purpose is to hold dust, but it might suit someone else.

Moving on from textiles, my next clutter-busting task was excavating piles of paper from my home office. Once again, the stacks of unfiled papers were out of control.

Recycling Dos and Don'ts

I don't consider myself a hoarder and blame my inordinate amount of clutter on a busy lifestyle. I went from caring for children to tending to aging parents always while managing a career. Household management was low on my list.

The most ironic gifts, meant to encourage a donation, come from conservation groups, which should not be glutting landfills with junk mail solicitations.

Once I made clutter-busting a priority, my initial round of paper shredding produced seven grocery bags of paper. They went out on my curb with the weekly recycling.

After the sanitation pick up, my bags of shredded paper were still there. I called the town sanitation department and learned it had switched to a single stream system that sorts recyclables, and shredded paper jams the equipment. I was forced to put most of it in the garbage cans as trash, but some went into a compost bin we maintain for gardening because the paper is biodegradable.

I developed a new method of disposing of any paper that contains identifying information. Depending on how much sensitive information is involved, I either use a marker to obscure the information or cut off and shred only the name, address, and account number. The remaining sheets can go into the regular recycling.

Controlling Catalog Clutter

Stopping the glut at its source is another tactic. I switch to paperless reports when they are offered. Every day I receive address labels, greeting cards, and calendars from nonprofits to which I've donated and catalogs from companies I've patronized.

The most ironic gifts, meant to encourage a donation, come from conservation groups, which should not be glutting landfills with junk mail solicitations. I've contacted organizations and companies that send catalogs or solicitations and asked them to remove me from their mailing lists.


What to Do With e-Waste

A pile of electronics in my home office required my attention. My old laptop presented the problem of safeguarding sensitive information. I called my tech support person to remove the hard drive, and then made a trip to the dump, which has set aside an area for disposing of computers, televisions, and other electronics.

A person at a clothing and shoe recycling area. Next Avenue
Textile recycling drop-off in Manhattan

If there is no dedicated electronic drop off in your area, many companies that sell electronics now offer recycling, and even encourage it because they can salvage the valuable precious metals they contain. Best Buy, for example, says it has recycled 2.7 billion pounds of electronics and appliances since 2009 and is committed to protecting the environment from its own electronic products. They will accept three products per day from a customer.

For all the belongings we already possess, donating clothing and household goods to thrift stores and other charitable organizations keeps our stuff from  landing in landfills — or at least postpones their arrival.

Next Challenge: Buy Less Stuff

It's easiest to put unwanted possessions in the trash when you no longer need them, but finding a more responsible disposal solution is worth the time you dedicate to it.

We can address the vast world of yet-to-be purchased items by eliminating impulse buying. I pledge to shop online or in a store with intention to replace, update or meet a new need, and not to buy an item tantalizingly placed near the checkout or on my computer screen based on my most recent search.

I'll leave the shiny objects for the crows, and hope my legacy won 't be having the largest pile in the landfill.

Linda Goor Nanos
Linda Goor Nanos is a practicing attorney, author, wife, mother and grandmother. Her writing credits include a memoir "Forty Years of PMS," professional articles and published essays on life lessons. Read More
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