It’s that time of year when many of us want to be starting something new—whether it’s a job, workout routine, or getting rid of some household items and making space for bright beginnings. While I’m all for freshening up a living room with a newly acquired rug or standing lamp, there’s never been a more urgent time to conscientiously consider how we buy our goods and what we do with them once their lives are over. That’s why we’ve rounded up New York City’s best options to recycle and dispose of common household goods.
“Keep in mind the waste hierarchy: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle,” says Nicole Grossberg, co-founder of the Zero Waste NYC Workshop Series, held monthly on various topics, all focused on how we can better shift our daily practices to produce less waste. “If you’re going to recycle an item, make sure that you’re recycling properly and not ‘wish cycling’. It counts to go the extra mile to make sure you are disposing of something properly.”
There’s another reason to be proactive about our waste: New York City’s residential recycling rate is just 18%, an abysmal number for a major city. (Seattle and San Francisco’s rates are three times ours.) Until New York does its part to mandate certain recycling programs like food waste, it’s up to us to pick up and recycle the slack.
Organic waste, both food and yard scraps, makes up a third of our city’s waste stream. When left in the trash that’s sent to landfills, the rotting rubbish emits methane, a more noxious greenhouse gas than carbon monoxide.
GrowNYC and their compost drop-off sites are hoping to change that. With over 150 residential food scrap drop-off sites, this is one of the easiest changes you can make in your life when it comes to living greener and disposing of your household waste in a meaningful way.
There’s also a curbside compost collection option if you live in one of these districts where you may have noticed small brown bins next to your regular trash and recycling ones. But the city has yet to make good on its promise to mandate composting, so GrowNYC is the foolproof way to get your compost into the right hands, regardless of where you live in the city. “There’s a gap in the education piece of the brown bins,” says Grossberg, “but the dropoff program is amazing. That’s what I utilize, I make it part of my routine.”
Clothing and Bedding
GrowNYC has another great drop-off component, for textiles! They note that “NYC residents discard nearly 200,000 tons of textiles every year, at a cost to taxpayers and our environment.” (One of the reasons why we should only purchase 3 new items of clothing a year.) So while there aren’t as many as drop-off locations for textiles as there are for compost, you’ll find one at each Greenmarket across New York, currently totaling 30 sites. There’s even an option to get a refashionNYC collection bin placed in your office or apartment building (as long as it has ten or more units).
Another local option for getting rid of your clothing, shoes, and accessories is to donate or sell them to second-hand shops like Buffalo Exchange, Housing Works, Beacon’s Closet, or smaller ones in your neighborhood. One important thing to find out before dropping your clothes at these locations is if your items aren’t sold, will they be properly donated to be recycled as textile waste?
The Freecycle Network is a grassroots movement run by volunteers in communities all over the globe, based on the idea that people want to give and receive things for free (from clothing to electronics to art supplies to furniture). There’s a large Brooklyn community that all are welcome to join for free. As you let go of furniture on this site, you may even find your next item here too! “We often forget about the upstream and how things are produced,” says Grossberg. “The production of that item (a couch, for example) is probably using coal and oil in the factory to produce it. You’re affecting the supply chain when you choose to buy used items.”
Rugs and Carpets
Unfortunately, unlike other textiles such as clothing, towels, and linens, most rugs and carpets contain materials that aren’t recyclable or are made of multiple materials that can’t be pulled apart. New York doesn’t have a simple solution for properly recycling rugs yet, but there are a few places to do research if you have a large area rug or wall-to-wall carpet.
Carpet Cycle in New Jersey is finding uses for post-consumer carpets and may be able to pick up your residential carpets. And Earth911 provides more insight into the types of recycling centers that may take carpets or carpet pads.
Appliances and Miscellaneous Items
DonateNYC is my favorite New York City-based tool when it comes to finding places to drop off more miscellaneous items in close proximity to my apartment. Especially for so many of us who don’t have cars, it’s the perfect solution to skipping the movers or renting a truck yourself. They have a directory based on an address you type in of where you can donate or receive pretty much anything from automotive supplies to home appliances to books.
One of its partners, Big Reuse in Brooklyn, will accept donations of appliances and home renovation supplies, and offer a “deconstruction” service whereby professionals will come and dismantle a kitchen or bathroom slated for renovation, often at no or low cost to resell at the shop.
There are also many of DonateNYC’s bins set up in residential and retail buildings. They even host classes multiple times a day all over the city on topics such as mending clothes, write helpful resources, host drop-off days for specialty items, and have developed a new event, ReFashion Week NYC 2020, coming up in February that I’m excited to attend.
For all your old toothpaste tubes and personal care items like toothbrushes, haul them to the Package Free Shop in Williamsburg and Chelsea Market, which uses TerraCycle. The Park Slope Food Coop accepts a few random items too, like toothpaste and Brita water filters.
There are a couple of easy and responsible ways to get rid of those pesky dead batteries or overused electronics that have probably been hanging around your apartment for some time.
To get rid of batteries and other hazardous waste like paint, hold on to your dead AAs until the city hosts one of its biannual SAFE Disposal events, hosted by NYC’s Department of Sanitation, which happen in the spring and fall. These events accept electronics too.
For electronics recycling year-round, a few options include Staples, which accepts all those extra cords, chargers, and cracked tablets you don’t know what to do with. The Package Free Shop in Williamsburg and Chelsea Market uses TerraCycle to collect electronics, too.
You can also ask your employer to sponsor electronics recycling through TerraCycle, so you could bring in home electronics on your morning commute.
While the options for recycling and repurposing goods is expanding, it’s key to keep zero waste as a goal, even if it’s just about making micro improvements to your daily routine. “In general, it’s becoming more of a conversation, even trendy, if you will,” says Grossberg. “That gets me excited. As much as I think we have a long way to go, I’m seeing so much interest. It gives me a lot of hope.”
Have other resources for recycling? Add them in the comments.