Out of the Closet

Cleaning House without Sending It All to the Landfill
It’s that time of year when we start delving into overstuffed closets and pulling out miscellaneous goods to be separated into piles: storage, trash, donations. When I get into cleaning mode, I’m determined to clear out space and rid myself of clothes and old items I never use anymore, and it’s easy to forget where those trash bags end up. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencty, Americans generated over 250 million tons of trash in 2010, with only a 34% recycling rate. The 85.1 million tons of material that was diverted from landfills and recycled prevented the release of around 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of taking 36 million cars off the road for a year.

I recently cleaned a closet that hadn’t been touched in five years. Once everything was in trash bags, and clothes set aside to donate, I immediately felt a sense of relief at reclaiming that space. But after staring at the pile of black trash bags, I realized how many items were inside of those bags that would be sent off to a landfill or an incinerator and contribute to polluting the environment. I became determined to find alternate disposal routes for items aside from the gently worn clothes I already set aside to donate. What started out as three trash bags going out to the curb ended up being one trash bag—a small difference for my household, but a big difference if you multiply that by all the households in my neighborhood. There were items in my closet, like handbags, scarves and athletic equipment, that can be recycled or donated to organizations instead of being tossed with the regular trash.

Here are five items that might be in your closet that don’t have to end up in a landfill:

1) Denim: The Cotton From Blue to Green denim drive was first created in 2006, and the drive collected 14,566 pieces of denim nationwide. The denim is then recycled into insulation for buildings. The program will take old, ripped, and stained denim—worn items that you may not be able to donate to charities that take only gently used clothing.

2) Shoes: Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity that distributes your shoes to people in need around the world. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has delivered over 17 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to over 127 countries. Any shoes that are deemed unusable are sent for recycling. For more information:

3) Ice skates: There are a number of local organizations and ice skating rinks that accept donations of ice skating and hockey equipment. To start, you should call or go online and search for a local ice skating rink and contact them for information. In New York City, the organization Figure Skating Harlem provides young girls with skating classes that teach perseverance, teamwork, leadership and responsibility. The Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, DC accepts donations to support their Kids on Ice classes, that provide figure skating, ice hockey and speed skating equipment to children, free of charge.

4) Baseball equipment: Pitch In For Baseball is a charity that donates baseball equipment to communities in need around the world in an effort to give children the opportunity to play baseball and learn valuable life skills, such as teamwork and leadership. In 2011, donations went to children in Belarus, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Malta, Serbia and Slovenia. The organization takes new or gently used equipment, such as fielding gloves, youth bats, baseballs, helmets, uniforms, among other items.

5) Women’s accessories: Dress for Success is an international organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, and a network of support and career development tools to help women acquire jobs. Since its founding in New York City in 1997, Dress for Success has served more than 550,000 women around the world. The organization accepts donations of women’s suits and business attire, and also accepts donations of accessories, such as women’s belts, handbags, briefcases and scarves.