This year's Earth Day has officially come and gone, but it's not too late to incorporate some environmentally friendly practices into your life. Over the next few weeks, we'll look at some quick and painless ways to get organized while lending the Earth a hand at the same time. First up: safe and responsible disposal.
To trash or not to trash
A big part of creating and maintaining organization in a home or office is culling things you no longer want or need, which results in piles of stuff to either be disposed of or given away. Some of the items in the disposal pile are easy to know what to do with: for example, most communities now have some sort of mixed paper recycling program, so the stacks of old newspaper you're giving the boot can be dumped in your recycling bin for pick-up.
Other items, though, aren't nearly as clear cut: can old prescription drugs go in the trash? Can empty paint cans be recycled? What's the best way to dispose of broken glass?
Rather than taking the risk of putting something potentially hazardous into your local landfill or recycling center--or trashing something that safely could be recycled--find out what your community waste disposal program recommends (or requires) for each type of item. Most communities have detailed guidelines on how, when, and where to dispose of things like drugs, household cleaners, batteries, paints, insecticides, and other potential toxins.
In addition, recycling programs vary widely, so what's recyclable in one community may not be in another. By taking a few moments to call your town hall or waste disposal company (or doing an online search), you'll get the lowdown on how to safely dispose of the stuff you're ready to part with.
Making the most of giveaways
Of course, not everything you decide to get rid of will be destined for the trash can or recycling bin; much of it will likely be in good shape and could potentially be useful to someone else. Giving--rather than throwing--things away is a great way to clear clutter and give your items a new life at the same time.
For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of making donations is a large organization such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Groups like these are often a great way to pass your stuff on: they take a wide variety of things, have central drop-off locations in many towns and cities, and even offer to pick up large items such as furniture. However, they're by no means the only way to find new homes for your stuff.
If you want the assurance that things you donate will be used directly by the recipient (rather than sold as a means of fundraising), consider donating them to other service organizations. For example, gently used toys, games, and stuffed animals are often welcomed by after school programs, battered women's shelters, and other groups providing services to underprivileged children. Sample sized toiletries are great for homeless shelters, as are outgrown clothes that are still in good condition. And many hospitals, long-term care facilities, and retirement homes will gladly accept donations of books and magazines.
Another reuse option that's gaining in popularity is using online bulletin boards to make free offers of items you want to get rid of. The two largest and best-known of these boards are Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) and Craigslist (www.craigslist.org).
Freecycle, which now boasts over 2,600 participating communities around the world and more than a million members, lets members post e-mail messages offering whatever it is they want to give away--from curtains to gas grills to luggage to old remote controls; other members can then respond to the offer. Your stuff finds a home with someone who can use it, and you avoid relegating it to the landfill.
Craigslist's Free category (part of the For Sale lists) follows a similar model: folks with stuff to give away post an offer on the Craigslist Web site, and those who are interested respond. As with Freecycle, almost anything goes here (with a few exceptions, such as firearms, adult materials, and live animals), so even items that seem to odd to be desirable (yucca plants, old washing machines, owner's manuals for 1977 VW Rabbits) have a shot at finding a home.
Take the time to investigate the disposal, recycling, and reuse resources available in your area; you'll likely find that with a modest amount of effort, you can reap the benefits of both clearing out the stuff that's cluttering your life and knowing that you're doing something good for the planet.