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Waste Not, Want Not: Seven Greener Ways to Get Rid of Things

Pint-sized ball or marble run

Written by Green Mama (edited 6/3/12)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—we hear it all the time, right? But, even though many towns have moved to single-stream recycling, we can’t just throw everything into the blue bin. So, what actually goes in there? And what are other alternatives before the landfill? (Can you recycle batteries? Shrink wrap? How do I dispose of expired medications? Electronics? How difficult is composting?)

So, herewith:

Seven Ways to Dispose of Your Stuff Besides Tossing it in the Trash

#1 (Let Someone Else) Reuse

Have things you want to get rid of (clothes, toys, household goods)? See greenHaven’s Second Time Around for a list of consignment and resale shops in our area, or consider selling via Craigslist. Is your stuff a little too worn to sell or maybe in need of a small repair? Throw a swap meet at your house, offer items on Freecycle, or donate to one of the many area thrift shops. Donate books to your local library or to New Haven Reads.

#2 Recycle: The Basics

What is recyclable in your town? Are you sure? Towns change recycling policies all the time, and word doesn’t always get around. You might be pleasantly surprised that all numbered plastics are now recyclable or a type of paper that wasn’t previously now is. Be sure that you are recycling everything you can (and not putting in things you shouldn’t) by checking greenHaven’s Recycling Town-By-Town. Many town sites also offer information about disposal of bulk trash, leaf and brush waste, and electronics (see also #4, below).

#3 Repurpose

Channel your inner crafter! Pieces of cardboard make great bases for collages, onto which your kids can glue every scrap of leftover wrapping paper, string, or fabric that passes through your home. Save empty tissue boxes, then work with your kids to make them into blocks by simply taping paperboard or pieces from other boxes over the holes. Toilet paper and other cardboard rolls can be used in so many ways—play telescopes, binoculars, or what we call “toot-toot horns,” or try making a ball run like ours (top photo), inspired by a trip to the Eli Whitney Museum.

If you just don’t have the time or inclination, make a collection bag for potential project material to offer to your child’s school!

#4 Electronics

Many towns accept electronics at their recycling or transfer stations (for example, Bethany, East Haven, and Hamden). See Recycling Town-By-Town to see your town’s regulations. Or try . . .

  • Goodwill: With the Reconnect Partnership, take your unwanted computer equipment and accessories—any brand, any condition—to a participating Goodwill site. The program will refurbish, reuse, or recycle the equipment, benefiting communities and putting people to work. Select locations also take TVs, cell phones, and appliances. See: for participating sites in our area (including Orange, Branford, Wallingford, and Westville) and be sure to call first for any details.
  • Best Buy (with locations in North Haven, Orange, Milford, and Meriden) will now recycle—FOR FREE—up to three items per household per day. Best Buy accepts most consumer electronics regardless of where they were purchased. For more information, see:
  • WeRecycle!, with a location in Meriden, is the only e-Stewards certified electronics recycling location in CT. They take computers and peripherals, cell phones, stereos, TVs, game systems, and more. See their website for more information on drop-off and mail-back programs.

#5 Safety First

Mail away unused/expired medication for safe disposal

Did you know there is a safe way to dispose of household chemicals and other toxic waste? HazWaste Central, located on Sargent Drive in New Haven, down by Long Wharf and IKEA, is open on Saturday mornings starting May 19, 2012 for the season. Don’t pour paint thinner or antifreeze down the drain! Don’t toss batteries or fluorescent lightbulbs in the trash! Open to all residents of Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, East Haven, Fairfield, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven, and Woodbridge.

Note that HazWaste does not take unused medication, but this stuff can equally end up in our groundwater or drinking water. (Most treatments do not remove all drug residue from our water supply, so it can come right back into our house.) At the drugstore I found “TakeAway: Environmental Return System.” For $3.99, you get a prepaid envelope to use to send your expired meds to Texas where the company (which also disposes of used needles from labs, etc.) deals with it safely. You are asked to send the original packaging, but I was still able to get a decent amount into the 8″ x 11″ envelope. (Apparently some pharmacies will take your meds and send them directly to TakeAway–mine does not–so you might want to ask.) Note that you can’t send controlled substances. (So what do I do with my three leftover two-year-old Percocet from my very unexpected c-section?)

Another option for unused meds is to wait for a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. The most recent event was April 28, 2012 with anonymous drop-off locations all over the Greater New Haven area. (A record 276 tons were collected!) Keep your eye out for the next one, which could be as soon as next fall. (I will certainly post it. ~Green Mama)

The final option for medications is to follow the guidelines in this flyer from the CT Department of Environmental Protection for disposing of meds in regular trash (click on the first link, “disposal guidelines”). Tips include adding water to pills to dissolve them or salt or flour to liquids to absorb them, and sealing and concealing the medications in their original packaging.

#6 Plastic Bag Recycling — Not Just for Plastic Bags!

Did you known that the plastic wrap around a package of diapers or toilet paper is recyclable? But don’t stick it in your blue bin or haul it to your transfer station. All of the following can be recycled along with used grocery bags at most supermarkets.

  • newspaper bags
  • dry cleaning bags
  • bread bags
  • produce bags
  • toilet paper, napkin, and paper towel wraps
  • furniture wrap
  • electronic wrap
  • plastic retail bags (hard plastic and string handles removed)
  • plastic food storage bags (clean and dry) – (e.g. Ziploc® Bags)
  • plastic cereal box liners (if it tears like paper do not include)
  • Tyvek (no glue, labels, other material)
  • diaper wrap (packaging)
  • plastic shipping envelopes (no bubble wrap/remove labels)
  • case wrap (e.g., snacks, water bottles)
  • All clean, dry bags labeled #2 or #4.
  • NO food or cling wrap or prepackaged food bags including frozen food bags.

Reuse the plastic in any way you can first (I use extra plastic as packing material and keep bread bags for dirty diapers when out on the town), then collect all your bags and film—you’ll be amazed at how fast this adds up—and take it along with you on your next trip to Big Y, Whole Foods, Shop Rite, or Stop & Shop. Check out this informative and easy-to-use resource for more information:

#7 Compost

Even if you don’t ultimately want to use compost in a garden, you can greatly reduce your food waste by making some of it practically disappear. In addition to produce scraps, some of the many things you can compost which you might not have realized are coffee grounds and used tea bags, clean cardboard and newspaper, hair, and even dryer lint. And as long as fats, meats/fish, and animal waste don’t sneak into your compost, it should not smell unpleasant!

A how-to on composting could easily be its own article, but since there are plenty of resources out there, I’ll point to a few:

  • Compost Instructions is a comprehensive resource with pages on what can be composted, composter designs, worm composting, and more. Check out the one-page quick-start guide here.
  • Earth911 (a fantastic site!) has a number of articles on composting. A good place to start is with this one on summer composting. Search the site’s articles database for more.

ALSO: The City of New Haven offers residents a small free compost bin for your backyard. Call 203-946-7700 for information.


Seven tips not enough? Hungry for more? Check out, a local business which will salvage building materials from your home’s construction (or deconstruction or reconstruction);, a mail in program that also takes DVDs, VHS and cassette tapes, and cell phones; and the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe Program, which recycles old sneakers (any brand) and has drop-off locations in Clinton and Farmington. There’s also the fun “10 Things You Never Knew Were Recyclable” on Earth 911.

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