DON’T TRASH YOUR STASH!
As an Eco-friendly Organizer, I try to keep as much out of the landfill as possible. When I work with clients, they are often surprised by the things I say can be donated or recycled rather than trashed, such as cosmetics and partially used toiletries; any item that is still functional should be able to be donated somewhere, or recycled somehow. This page lists the variety of items that can be passed on rather than trashed.
ARTS & CRAFT SUPPLIES
These are usually the miscellaneous “bits and pieces” and consist of anything that can be used for crafting: colored paper (including colored covers from bound reports), extra scissors (dull pairs can always be sharpened), glue, scrap pieces of fabric, pieces of paperboard, lonely buttons, safety pins, ribbon, yarn, string, old gift wrap, magazines and catalogues (for cutting out pictures), unused paper plates, cups, small bits of wood etc. Often day care centers will collect the paperboard tubes inside of toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls. This is all in addition to “actual” art supplies such as used paints and brushes, knitting needles, sewing supplies and notions, scrapbooking materials, stamps, punches, crayons, colored pencils, markers, chalk, stencils, and ephemera such as feathers, fuzz, miniature & model pieces, etc. This list can be infinite, but you probably get the idea by now. These items may be accepted by elementary school art departments, day care centers, or any organization that runs child care programs or children’s art programs, as well as adult drug rehab centers that use art therapy as a part of their recovery program.
It used to be that almost all batteries were able to be recycled, but that is not the case anymore. The main reason for recycling a battery was to extract the heavy metals used, but now that most everyday batteries are alkaline, there are no heavy metals to extract, therefore no reason to “recycle.” Some stores will say they collect batteries for “recycling” but they usually charge a fee for you to leave your batteries with them. Unfortunately, tossing them into the trash is the only real option. If you are concerned about the number of batteries going into the trash, consider buying rechargeable batteries and a charger. Larger batteries that are still made with acid and heavy metals can, should, and in many locations, are required by law to be recycled and not thrown into the trash. These include marine and car batteries, which are often accepted by a city’s or county’s hazardous waste management department.
Books, including old school textbooks, will be happily accepted by any public library, and those that can’t be integrated into the collection will usually be sold at fundraising book sales. Books can also be given to any thrift store, non-profit family service center that engages in youth programs, senior center, women’s or family emergency shelter, orphanages or group foster homes, and any organization that is involved with tutoring youth.
Once you have upgraded your cell phone, please donate your old one to one of the many charity programs that recycles used cell phone to raise money for good causes, or refurbishes the cell phones and gives them a second life. From the March of Dimes to providing our troops with pre-paid phone cards, you can choose your charity from a complete list at www.recellular.com. Alternatively, Recellular.com also functions as a buy/sell depot for used & refurbished cell phones.
Cleaning Supplies will usually be accepted at places such as homeless shelters, food banks that also accept household items, animal shelters, and most non-profit organizations that are responsible for cleaning their own facility. The donated items can be opened or partially used. Animal shelters often use bleach to sanitize cages and litter pans, and need laundry detergent as well. Toilet cleaner, window cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, stain treaters, dryer sheets, surface cleaner, oven cleaner, floor cleaner, sponges, rags, mops, buckets, scrub brushes, sprayer bottles, dust sprays and cloths, steel wool pads, and any other cleaning item still in usable condition will usually be accepted.
Places that will accept cosmetics include homeless shelters, womens’ drug rehab centers, womens’ emergency shelters, and the Look Good, Feel Better cancer program (see hats & wigs below). Any items not having direct contact with the body can be donated, even if partially used: shampoo, detanglers, bottled body wash, lotion, facial moisturizer, powders, spritzers, hair spray, mousse and gel, bath bubbles or melts, etc. Makeup cannot be donated unless it is brand new and unopened, as well as any items that would come in direct contact with the skin, such as lipstick, chapstick, roll-on or solid deoderant, etc.
Some places will not take dishware or cookware if it has a lot of baked on residue, but some will. I do encourage anybody who wants to get rid of cookware, simply because it is dirty, to explore methods of cleaning off the offending gunk. There are a lot of cleaning products on the market today that can help with this sort of problem. At the most, you may decide to keep the item after all; at the least, you are doing a good deed for the people on the receiving end, and will help spare the item from being tossed into the trash anyway. Rusty or burnt cookware can sometimes be repurposed as whimsical garden planting containers…be creative!
There are several different agencies that will accept your used eyeglasses and pass them on to the needy. Donation sites are numerous and include Lenscrafters, many independent optical centers, Goodwill, and Lions Clubs, many of whose chapters put out collection boxes at other locations (In Lexington, there are Lions Club collection boxes at the Public Library Branches). Most agencies funnel these pairs of glasses on to developing countries. If you would rather they stay in the U.S., glasses can be mailed with a note stating so (in a padded envelope or small box) to New Eyes for the Needy, 549 Millburn Avenue, PO Box 332, Short Hills, NJ 07078. (www.neweyesfortheneedy.org)
Food items are the most commonly misperceived: unless they are opened or obviously infested, most non-perishable, packaged food items will be taken by a food bank or homeless shelter even if the item’s expiration date has passed. Usually this date has nothing to do with the food’s freshness. Many food banks will also take produce as long as it is fresh, day old bread and bakery products, and also may take food left over from the day’s cooking from restaurants. Some food banks will also accept frozen items; call first before you take something over.
Gently used hearing aids may be donated to one of several different agencies that will pass them on to the needy. These include Lions Club chapters, Knights of Columbus chapters, and some Sertoma clubs. As with the eyeglasses, most are refurbished and passed on to developing countries, but if you would like the donation to be received by a U.S. citizen, the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s Hear Now program services the U.S. specifically (www.starkeyhearingfoundation.org). In Los Angeles, the John Tracy Clinic (www.johntracyclinic.org) will use donations to help local people.
LINENS – STAINED OR TORN SHEETS, MATTRESS PADS, BLANKETS, TOWELS, & OLD PILLOWS
Believe it or not these items can live one more lifetime of use for our furry friends by being accepted at some animal shelters. Since they are used to create bedding for the animals or used for bathing or cleaning, there is no issue if they are stained or torn. Old stuffed animals can also be given to the animals to play with. Please make sure the linens are clean before donating. Make sure to call the animal shelter before donating pillows and mattress pads; some shelters do not take them. Some homeless (people) shelters will take older pillows and mattress pads, as long as they are clean, not stained or torn and in at least fair condition.
First consider donating these to a local medical clinic, domestic violence shelter, senior home, or even a high school library (if they are age appropriate). Many child-care centers also use magazines for art projects (cutting out pictures, etc). Libraries will often accept old magazines if they have a “bargain basement” for fundraising.
Newspapers are easily recycled, however other options include dropping them off at your local animal shelter or rescue organization (call first to make sure they use newspapers, some shelters are switching to alternate materials for kennel lining). Also, many avid gardeners use newspaper as a weed barrier under mulch. Check with your gardener friends to see if they need some, or give away via freecycle or craigslist. A unique DIY project is to make fire logs from old newspapers! (do an internet search for numerous tutorials).
OFFICE SUPPLIES, COMPUTERS & COMPUTER PROGRAMS
Most office supplies are gratefully received by your favorite non-profit organization. Do you have an old computer that still functions but you are going to replace? Even if you think your computer is old, it may still be usable by a struggling non-profit for administrative purposes or even for conducting computer classes. Believe it or not, while mainstream society is operating on Windows XP and Vista (and now moving into Windows 7), many non-profits are still functioning on computers with Windows 95 and Office 2000. These organizations would benefit greatly from the opportunity to upgrade their computers, operating software, and programs. Call your favorite charities to see if they need what you have.
PAINT, TOOLS, & BUILDING MATERIALS
Partially used paint can often be donated to local non-profit theatres, schools, a graffiti removal program or to construction charities such as Habitat for Humanity. Building supplies such as scrap lumber, doors and windows, hardware, leftover spackle and caulk, and sometimes even old tools may also be accepted by these organizations. Check with your local government, public school drama department or local small theater to see if they will accept these items.
Used pet supplies are often accepted by non-profit animal rescue organizations. Many of these organizations are dependent on donations both financially and materially and will accept any items that will help to house and care for various animals. Cages (including rodent and bird cages), cat litter, litter pans, food dishes, pet wipes, nail clippers, collars and leashes, old combs and brushes to use for grooming, and pet food (even open bags or sealed packages past their expiration date). Don’t forget about animal baby bottles, formula and baby food! Even old heating pads may be accepted to help keep baby animals warm. Some organizations will accept the items even if they are dirty – they will clean and sterilize the items before use (however they ALL appreciate the donation of cleaned and sanitized items!). If you’re not sure about what your local animal shelter or rescue organization will accept, give them a call.
PLASTIC GROCERY & SHOPPING BAGS
In addition to dropping your plastic grocery bags at most grocery store’s collection bins for recycling, there are many non-profit thrift stores that will gladly accept your clean plastic bags to use for packing purchased items.
Stained shirts, especially large button up shirts, can be used as art smocks by any facility that teaches art classes to adults or children. Stained or torn 100% cotton t-shirts can be cut up and used as cleaning rags by any animal rescue organization or any non-profit organization that has a facility they must clean.
Food banks and social service organizations often accept any kind of toiletries, even if they have been opened or partially used. Examples of such items would be toilet paper, hygiene supplies, first aid supplies, over-the-counter medications, toothpaste, dental floss or picks, mouthwash, etc. Don’t forget about travel and hotel soaps and shampoos. Items that come in direct contact with a person’s body would have to be brand new an unopened (examples: deodorant, lip balm). These used items as well as medications prescribed to an individual are not accepted at all.
Often people think that if multiple pieces that make up a toy are not all present, the toy cannot be donated. This is true only in the case of a set that cannot function without all the parts, such as a game, puzzle or other parts-dependent game or toy. If it is a collection of items that can function independently, then these items can certainly be donated.
WIGS, HATS, SCARVES, OTHERS & GENTLY USED MASTECTOMY BRAS
These items can be donated to the Look Good…Feel Better program which services cancer patients. There is one location in Madison County, Ky and several locations in Fayette County, Ky to take donation items. For more information about the program and a directory of drop-off locations, visit www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org.
Check with your local dry cleaner to see if they will take wire hangers; many of them do, and some even have incentive programs such as donating toward a charity for each hanger received. Wire hangers can be used for consignment sale clothing: many churchs offer semi-annual consignment sales, and there are numerous consignment or resale shops that require all items being sold are prepared on hangers. For the DIYers and crafters, wire hangers can be refashioned into plant trellises.