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When spring cleaning, ponder before you purge

Unwanted household items can be recycled or reused

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 20, 2016

 A Detroit Coca-Cola Bottling Co. box sits on top of a refrigerator and is used to collect recycling.

A Detroit Coca-Cola Bottling Co. box sits on top of a refrigerator and is used to collect recycling.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — Cluttered closets causing chaos? Are you dancing the spring cleaning shuffle? 

Before you begin purging unwanted items, local experts suggest asking yourself if you can repurpose, reuse or recycle.

West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation naturalist Lauren Azoury said that landfills often are taken for granted.

“We only have so much space where we can throw our garbage,” she said. Even if space wasn’t an issue, Azoury said that garbage can be damaging if it ends up in nature.

“What nature would consider foreign objects getting into the wrong places can really be detrimental to the wildlife in Michigan,” Azoury said, explaining that animals will eat plastic bags or get caught in six-pack rings. 

Decluttering a house may feel great; however, homeowners should be cautious of what they are throwing away and look for an alternative, Azoury said. 

Repurposed — or upcycled — items have become a trend in home décor, and that rustic look has even sparked several do-it-yourself television shows and blogs. 

Whether a wooden ladder is used as a shelving unit, or a vintage trunk is turned into a table/storage space, one’s junk has become another’s treasure within the repurpose movement.

Shipping pallets are “huge” right now, Azoury said, and she’s even seen people make benches out of them. 

Repurposing can save a homeowner money, but its impact goes beyond the number of dollars in a wallet, Azoury said.

“I think of it as an inspiration for others. … I always think of the bigger impact. (Objects aren’t) just going to be reused; you’re teaching other people that they can do the same thing. You’re spreading the mission,” Azoury said. 

So where do you start when you decide to take on the daunting task of decluttering? 

Melissa Jenkins — co-owner of Second Glance Resale Shop in Grosse Pointe Woods, Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores — suggested that homeowners clean room by room. Instead of spending the entire day decluttering, she said that people should clean in bits and pieces.

Jenkins has a bin that floats around her house, and when she comes across an item that she doesn’t need or want, instead of pitching it, she puts it in the bin. When the bin is full, she then takes it to the consignment store. Some patrons of Second Glance come weekly with bins, she said.

“Once the bin is full, bring that bin in so you’re not overloaded with a whole carload of things,” Jenkins suggested. 

If you find yourself staring at a closet full of clothes, not knowing where to begin, Jenkins proposed being “honest with what you have and haven’t worn” in the past. Closets should be cleaned out at the beginning of the seasons to minimize the workload. 

Azoury suggested turning into rags for household chores the clothes that can’t be donated or sold. An old shirt can be upcycled into a reusable grocery bag.

“Even if you throw it away after that, at least it got one more use. Anything you can use one more time is good,” Azoury said. 

Electronics often get thrown away when they can be recycled. The number of laptops, cellphones and old televisions sitting in the landfills are a “huge problem,” Azoury said. Homeowners could instead research household hazardous waste days or find an organization that recycles electronics. 

Old paint cans and spray paints can also be detrimental while in a landfill, because the chemicals end up seeping into the soil and stormwater. The water then flows into the waterways, Azoury said.

If furniture can still be used, Azoury suggested donating it.

Karen Bever, executive assistant and recycling educator for the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority — a municipal recycling and waste facility that partners with 12 municipalities in Oakland County — said homeowners should review their recycling rules because if a person isn’t fluent in their recycling service, they could be pitching what can be recycled. 

For example, SOCRRA will take paper or cardboard — including juice boxes and ice cream containers — if it tears in two directions, she said.

Forget the recycling symbols. If plastic has held something before, SOCRRA considers it a plastic container. Bever explained that when someone buys a toothbrush, the cardboard backing of the packaging is considered paper, and the plastic can be recycled because it held the toothbrush.

SOCRRA also takes items that are 50 percent metal. Even if a toaster or a shovel has some plastic or wooden parts, if it’s 50 percent metal, it can be recycled, Bever said. 

It comes down to knowing what you can and cannot recycle, and if it can be repurposed or reused, Azoury said. Once the education is in place, people look at items in a new light.