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Donating, recycling, proper waste disposal reduces environmental impact of major house clean-outs

Article Originally Appeared in The Columbus Dispatch – Steve Stephens

Like losing a few pounds or being civil while driving in rush hour, keeping a clean and tidy basement, attic or garage is a laudable goal that we all, too often, fall short of. But it’s usually worth the effort.

Although throwing everything into a Dumpster and being done with it is tempting, the “trash it all” road to tidiness is, alas, both wasteful and environmentally unsound.

The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) advises that a little forethought and care can not only help the environment, but also might put a few bucks in your pocket, help people in need or, at the very least, give your faithful old end table a new and loving home.

“There’s the potential for lots of things to end up in landfill that shouldn’t be there,” said Andrew Booker, programs manager at SWACO. “Our biggest objective is to keep what can be reused out of the landfill, and what can’t be reused, to handle (it) properly.”

There are many ways to clean up without sending everything to the dump, Booker said.

“In my mind, the best possible scenario is to have a garage sale and get a little money for what you can sell. What’s left, donate. And only what can’t be donated do you throw away.”

Donating items to a charitable resale shop is always a good way to get rid of unwanted items that still have some life left, Booker said.

“The list of what we don’t take is really rather short,” said Lynne Leger, senior vice president of retail operations and business services for Goodwill Columbus, which operates supported-living services and job-training programs. “Goodwill accepts everything from clothing to housewares, blenders to decorations.

“And our stores are not just keeping things out of landfills, but the donated items we receive are the economic engine of our mission.”

Leger added: “There’s that famous saying, ‘One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.’ When you clean the basement, you can save the planet and get someone a job or the training needed to get employed.”

The SWACO website has a list of places that accept donations for resale, as well as places that will take those problematic items that no one — including the landfill — wants.

Finding a final resting place for some items is especially difficult.

“Tires are tricky— they’re regulated under a state regulation,” Booker said. “When you get new tires, let the tire shop keep old tires because they become a real problem otherwise.”

Expired or unused prescription drugs are another challenge.

“Thankfully, now many retail pharmacies, and even some police departments, offer drop-off containers for old medicines,” Booker said.

Many common household items also need special handling.

“As we dig deeper in the basement or garage, we find things we all tend to have that we call household hazardous wastes,” Booker said. “Things like old gasoline and used oil, pool chemicals, lawn chemicals, oil-based paint, insecticides, old fluorescent lightbulbs.”

Franklin County residents can drop off, for free, many of those hazardous items at the permanent Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off site at 645 E. 8th Ave. in Columbus.

“We would love to have people take advantage of that facility,” Booker said. “It’s there for an important purpose.”

SWACO’s website has a list of what is (and what isn’t) accepted at the drop-off location.

“The best thing to do is look at that list,” Booker said. “And if you’re not quite sure, you can always call the facility and check with them.”

SWACO also offers several mobile-collection events in Franklin County each year for household hazardous waste. Residents of other counties should check with their trash-hauling company or local authorities for proper disposal of hazardous items. 

Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing categories of trash, and SWACO offers an E-Waste Diversion Program to keep old electronic devices out of the landfill. Goodwill is one of the agencies that the waste authority contracts with to process the waste.

“We have e-waste drives in various parts of the city a couple times a year,” Leger said.

Goodwill will sell some items, such as keyboards and monitors, in their resale shops, she said.

Items that might contain personal information, such as computer hard drives, are sent to an authorized e-waste recycler, which shreds them and salvages usable metal. Some computers are sent to Goodwill Zanesville, an authorized remanufacturer.

When tackling a big clean-out job, planning ahead is important, Booker said, and that’s especially true when someone might be cleaning up in preparation for moving out.

“It’s human nature that the basement, attic and garage are last things to look at when it comes to packing,” he said. “We’ll get phone calls from people who’ll say, ‘I’ve got all this stuff to get rid of — and I’m moving tomorrow morning.’ ”

Columbus residents must call ahead to schedule bulk pickup of large amounts of trash or big items.

Or, one could leave the cleanup to professionals.

“For one thing, if they call us, it’ll get done a lot quicker,” said Merrie Green, co-owner of 2 Women With A Pickup Truck and Trailer Too, a Columbus company that specializes in basement, garage and whole-home clean-outs.

“I have a unique outlook on the business,” Green said. “I was homeless, and in my first apartment I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I did scrap metal, picking cans out of dumpsters to get money.

“You don’t get a lot of money for scrap metal, but it beats putting it in the landfill. Eventually I got a pickup truck, put an ad on Craigslist. Now I have a booming business.”

Green said that in the 10 years she has been in business, she has become an expert in reusing and recycling the things she cleans out of people’s homes. She gives reusable items to several charities who help people who are struggling, as she once did.

“I do like repurposing usable items. I’ve done whole houses that, by the time I get done taking paper and other recyclables to drop-off, donating reusable items, donating scrap metal, I might only have a trailer-load of trash coming out of a house that someone has lived in for 40 years.”

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