Cleaning Out The House

Since it is my first post of the 2013, happy new year to any and all readers! There are many topics I wish to discuss, including highlighting certain portions of Governor Cuomo’s recent State of the State address, but I will reach them in the future.

Today, I am going to write about cleaning house, and not in the political sense. Instead, as I have enjoyed my winter break from school, I have been working on a number of home improvement projects and making long-term purchases. These projects and purchases, like anytime something new is installed or bought, results in leftover waste. Oftentimes, of course, waste ends up in landfills unless it is one of the relatively few items picked up for recycling. I prefer to contribute the least amount possible to the garbage and, while I could probably go further, my storage space (like anyone’s) is limited. Therefore, I would like to contribute to the ever-increasing Internet guides of how to dispose of products without adding to the trash, but with a focus on New York City.

The biggest and perhaps easiest of all recycling events is the NYC Department of Sanitation’s SAFE Disposal Event. SAFE stands for Solvents, Automotive, Flammable, Electronic. They happen once or twice a year with a location in all five boroughs, but the 2013 dates have yet to be announced. Nevertheless, the Department of Sanitation’s website for the event has a list of what items are accepted, which includes many materials that are illegal to put in the garbage such as motor oil, mercury thermometers and rechargeable batteries. Last year, I was able to get rid of old paint, household cleaners, an old car battery left around the house and a number of expired medications. The items are then supposed to be properly handled and disposed of by the Department. The Department alerts New Yorkers of upcoming events by mailing out notices–however, possibly too late in the year since many people will toss items when they are no longer needed. The main difficulty with the SAFE Disposal Events is getting to them. The one in Queens last year was at St. John’s University, which is near a number of Parkways and not far from Interstates, and in a relatively central Queens location. However, it is far from mass public transit and required the use of a car to be wholly effective. Still, I was pleased to see a long line that took at least half an hour the day I went, and included people bringing in carts full of old computers and televisions. In addition to the SAFE Disposal Events, one day every week people may bring the same items to Household Special Waste Drop-Off Sites in each borough.

Things like auto batteries can be taken to auto repair and retail shops that sell new batteries. The old batteries may be fixed to be reused in the future, or they may be properly disposed. There are furthermore a number of electronic recycling events put on by the Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC) at different locations throughout the city every season of the year (see the upcoming events here). Additionally, LESEC now has a permanent drop-off location in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Many retail shops that sell CFL lightbulbs, like Home Depot and IKEA, accept them for recycling, often near the entrance to the store. A large number of other shops in NYC are required to accept returns of plastic bags for recycling, again often at the front of the store. I like to keep a bag full of plastic bags to return them easily. Other times, I use them for indoor trashbags. Best Buy stores accept old cell phones, rechargeable batteries, CDs/CD cases/DVDs/DVD cases, and wires and cables for recycling. Whole Foods also collects old cell phones. The Union Square Whole Foods has a book recycling center, while the Columbus Circle Whole Foods now has a cork recycling program.

Build It Green in Astoria and Gowanus will accept almost any old construction materials, including cut wood, to be resold. One thing I recently purchased was a new mattress, and when I asked what would be done with my old mattress after it was hauled away by the company from which I purchased the new one, I was told likely thrown in the trash. Mattresses do not easily compress in landfills and their springs often clog machines in landfills. Moreover, there are many people who could use mattresses without having to pay full price, but many secondhand stores like Goodwill will not accept bedding because of things like bed bugs. My research into how to recycle mattresses in NYC led me to FreeCycle, which appears to be a Craigslist-like site that lets its members give away or request items for free. Another way to dispose of mattresses, I have seen and heard, is to wrap them in protective plastic sheets and leave them on the curb during the day, and they will be picked up by groups who will use them for their purposes. Since this latter option sounds sketchier, FreeCycle might be the way to go. However, there is always old fashioned word of mouth, asking people you know if they need your items.

GreenDisk lets customers send in miscellaneous technotrash, including old film at a small price. I find that my headphones and earbuds tend to wear out after a number of months, but finding the proper place to recycle them can be difficult. Now, I am a fan of ThinkSound, who will let you mail in your old products for a discount on future headphones. (More information about ThinkSound may be found here.) Earth911 is a guide to how and what may recycled, and has features that let a user search based on item and location. GrowNYC also has a guide on ways to reduce the amount of household waste placed in the garbage. I particularly like the compost option, which may be done in many ways. Many community gardens have drop-off points, as do many Green Markets. Build It Green runs projects that accept compost drop-off in many locations, and the Lower East Side Ecology Center accepts compost at its community garden site on the East River and at Union Square. Of course, one may also easily compost at home indoors or outdoors. More information, including where to purchase compost units and to attend short “how-to” workshops may be found here. After I attended one and started composting, I was able to take the trash out only once or twice a week since I rarely had rotting food scraps that smelled. I also now have free, nutrient rich soil available.

I hope this guide helps anyone who access it, and allows them to keep some things out of the garbage.