Zero waste your spring cleaning

Person holds a box of items to donate

By: Noelle Bugaj

Spring cleaning, or decluttering any time of the year, can be a big overwhelming task. Can I get rid of this or should I save it? Where should all this stuff even go? Will anyone actually use this thing? A few questions we’ve all asked ourselves at some point.

Here are some tips on how to make your spring cleaning a little easier and more zero waste:  

Separate your stuff into different categories

As you go through your closets, drawers, old medicine cabinet and the shed consider where those items you no longer want might end up. Make four separate categories:

  • Usable to donate

  • Broken, but repairable

  • Could be repurposed

  • Probably waste (but may be recyclable)

Repair before you replace

Have something that’s broken that you actually need? Before you just dump it and replace it with a new one, consider if you can repair it. We have some great Fix-It classes posted online for repairing common household items: guitars, bicycles, and basic sewing. Austin Public Library also has a database of repair guides for: home and furnitureelectronics, instruments, and appliancestextiles and miscellaneous items

Give to your local community

Those items you don’t want could be just what someone else needs! Keep in mind all the different options out there for giving your goods. 

  • Ask your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers if they want anything.

  • Offer the items on a community group like: Buy Nothing, Nextdoor, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or many others. Some items may have a monetary value, others are great to just give away.

  • Donate to your favorite nonprofit or thrift store. Keep in mind different organizations may take different stuff. Arts and crafts materials or items for repurposing could go to a school or a reuse store. Some nonprofits or a local repair center will often take repairable items. Check the organization's website or call to confirm.

  • Request a clothing and housewares curbside collection. Submit a request and our collection partners will pick the items up at your curbside. They even take broken, non-usable items like old electrical cords, small appliances and single shoes for reuse or recycle. It's easy!

Learn where it should go

We have a couple different tools to help you find the perfect home for that item you don’t need anymore. Even things you think are waste may be able to be reused or recycled.

  • Search the What do I do with...? tool to find out if your item could be recycled, composted, repurposed, repaired and more!

  • Use the Austin Reuse Directory to search for available outlets for your usable items.

Visit the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center

If all else fails, often the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center can take it. Be sure to check the acceptable materials list. Old cleaning chemicals and paints? Sure! Broken appliances or electronics big and small? You bet! Batteries, lightbulbs, plastic film and even styrofoam? Oh yea! Other hard plastics, broken lawn furniture, kiddie pools, and pet carriers? Bring ‘em on! The center recently reopened after a temporary closure due to COVID-19. Masks and appointments are required.

Reduce future purchases and consider the share economy

We all know what happens once we purge all that old stuff; we often fill up with new. Some things to keep in mind and ask this year before new purchases, once you’ve cleared some space: 

  • Do I really need this item? Will I use it long term?  Will it last? Is it easily repairable if it breaks? 

  • Is this something I won’t use often that I could rent or borrow instead of buying? Check with your communities, make a request in a Rent Anything, Buy Nothing or sharing community group before you make a purchase, especially if it’s for a very specific project or occasion. We all know those scuba flippers, roller skates, puzzles and craft sets start to collect dust after the immediate event or planned activity we needed them for passes us by.  

  • If you do decide it’s worth buying, can you support our circular economy with your purchase? Is this something I can purchase from a reuse or thrift store? Can I buy one made of recycled materials? New doesn’t always mean better. In fact, it is often the items with a great story or history behind them that become long-term keepsakes for many of us. Learn more about how to shop zero waste.

We hope some of these tips and tools help as you dust off the cobwebs and clear the air. Spring is a time for renewal, not just for your closet...but for our planet. Thank you for keeping zero waste and our environment in mind as you declutter your home this year.