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Cleaning House Green Edition

This blog was writ­ten by OES intern Mar­gette Bourne. Thanks!

Is your home over­flow­ing with over­whelm­ing amounts of ran­dom knick­knacks, clut­ter and unused pos­ses­sions that you have accu­mu­lated over the years? For many home­own­ers across Amer­ica, this is a real­ity. No, I’m not about to sug­gest that you apply for some sort of real­ity TV show where pro­fes­sional orga­niz­ers help you redec­o­rate your home and clear out your clut­ter. Rather, if you feel this clut­ter is over­pow­er­ing and exhaust­ing, and you can find the time to sort through some of it, there is a way to do so, while main­tain­ing a sense of help­ing oth­ers and the Earth.

Over the past year, I have taken it upon myself to moti­vate my fam­ily in clear­ing out our clut­tered home. Every home has its clut­ter, but we had accu­mu­lated a lot. Between my dad’s home improve­ment mate­ri­als, my mom’s col­lec­tion of ran­dom home décor accents, sen­ti­men­tal items and trin­kets, and my sister’s and my out­grown clothes and child­hood toys, every room and drawer was brim­ming with excess pos­ses­sions. We were able to hide a lot of the clut­ter; we could stash it away in clos­ets or the base­ment and try to ignore it, but we all agreed we would be bet­ter off with­out it.

After months of work, we whit­tled away lit­tle by lit­tle at the clut­ter, and now have an essen­tially junk-free house. It was not easy sort­ing through every­thing, nor was it sim­ple to find a new home for every­thing we decided to get rid of. We knew we wanted our old stuff to be put to good use by peo­ple who needed it, and we wanted to ensure cer­tain mate­ri­als that could not be donated were dis­posed of properly.

So to start, all our old clothes, toys, fur­ni­ture, antiques, dish­ware, DVDs, CDs, and sim­i­lar items were donated to a thrift store that gives its prof­its to ben­e­fit a local hos­pi­tal. By donat­ing these items, we are able to ensure their reuse and ensure they were diverted from land­fills. Start­ing this sum­mer, the Howard County land­fill has a Good­will trailer for col­lect­ing reusable house­hold items the 2nd and 4th Sat­ur­day of each month.

The dif­fi­culty, how­ever, came when deal­ing with dam­aged items, old chem­i­cals, and con­struc­tion mate­ri­als. My dad had an arse­nal of half-used buck­ets of paints, pes­ti­cides, and clean­ing chem­i­cals. He rec­og­nized that he really did not need all these items, but we knew we could not sim­ply put them in a dump­ster and def­i­nitely not down a drain. Doing so would release these nasty chem­i­cals into the envi­ron­ment. Instead, we went to the Alpha Ridge land­fill in Mar­riottsville and brought all our House­hold Haz­ardous Waste chem­i­cals for proper dis­posal. This ser­vice is avail­able Sat­ur­days April through Novem­ber. Addi­tion­ally, we brought all our old and bro­ken com­put­ers, mon­i­tors, key­boards, and radios, along with an assort­ment of unneeded wires and cables, and deposited them in the elec­tronic recy­cling container.

Old papers (impor­tant ones shred­ded first), mag­a­zines, and card­board found a place in the recy­cling bin. Cur­rently, we now are mak­ing the switch to greener clean­ing prod­ucts. There are many chem­i­cals on the mar­ket adver­tised as “green”, but many still con­tain chem­i­cals that are bet­ter avoided. Once you use up your tra­di­tional house­hold clean­ers, which may be brim­ming with pol­lut­ing chem­i­cals, buy organic clean­ers, or even bet­ter, make your own using non­toxic ingre­di­ents such as vine­gar and bak­ing soda. There are a great vari­ety of web­sites online that give you the recipes to make some of these. (Try http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm)

Our clean new home has granted our fam­ily some seren­ity in our hec­tic lives. We found great ben­e­fits in our home clean out, and we know that we ben­e­fit­ted oth­ers and the Earth through the pre­cau­tions we took through the process. Reuse of mate­ri­als and goods is a key piece of envi­ron­men­tal sustainability.

To find out what items are accepted for proper dis­posal and recy­cling of HHW and elec­tron­ics in Howard County visit, www.howardcountymd.gov/HHW.htm . To see what can be recy­cled in Howard County, check www.howardcountymd.gov/recyclingcollectiondetails.htm . It explains what can be recy­cled curb­side, at the land­fill, and offers other resources for things like light bulbs and batteries.

Also, there are a vari­ety of oppor­tu­ni­ties to ben­e­fit your com­mu­nity through dona­tion of your old items. Some that I have found help­ful include:

–Donat­ing books to orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port global lit­er­acy such as Bet­ter World Books

–Donat­ing old DVDs and CDs to sol­diers over­seas through AMVETS

–Donat­ing used bikes and bike parts to Bikes for the World

Mar­gette Bourne
Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity Intern
July 2011

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Use safe bottles.Opt for BPA-free bottles to avoid toxins in the body and in the environment.