Ask Unclutterer: Best methods for recycling?

Reader Lynne submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I still love the feel of paper in my hands … real books or magazines. I cycle through my magazines relatively quickly. But yesterday as I was ripping off the address labels so I could pass them along (Purple Heart takes magazines), I had another thought. I recycle almost everything. In passing these along, is it much more likely they will end up in a landfill?

Technically, if you pass along the magazines to someone else and a second person gets use out of a product, you’re recycling. Re=again. Cycle=a full turn. An object doesn’t have to be repurposed to be recycled, it just needs to be used again. If a dairy sanitizes and reuses their glass bottles, they’re recycling (putting the bottle to use again). Simply passing along your magazines to another person is recycling, in the strictest sense of the definition.

However, I think your intention is to keep the item out of the landfill, which means you hope that the paper is repurposed. I would start by asking Purple Heart exactly what happens to the magazines after you donate them. If they’re packaged up and flown somewhere overseas, well, you have to weigh the environmental impact of the oil, exhaust, and other damage the airplane will put on the environment against the environmental impact of the recycling center you normally use to process paper. In this case, my guess is that if your desire is to have the smallest amount of environmental damage, your choices would be: Best–local recycling center, Middle–local landfill, Worst–flying them overseas. Conversely, Purple Heart might just donate them to the local VA Hospital and the hospital may have a paper recycling program of their own. So, donating to Purple Heart might be a great choice all around if the magazines are staying local. You won’t know, though, until you ask.

If you haven’t read the book No Impact Man or seen the documentary, I recommend you do. Colin Beavan talks at length about his struggles to determine what actions have the least amount of impact on the environment. You may not like Beavan’s personality (he rubs some people the wrong way), but the content of his message is still interesting.

Thank you, Lynne, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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24 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Best methods for recycling?”

  1. posted by timgray on

    Around here the ONLY way to get paper out of the landfill is to take it to a paper recycling center and separate it by types.

    Our area has stopped all recycling and has switched to waste stream filtering… I.E. they have mechanical separators that remove plastic and metal from the trash. but all water bottles get trashed because most people put the cap back on.. Never put the cap on water bottles you recycle, they are different plastic types.. Best is to not buy bottled water.

    A lot of municipalities are switching to waste stream sorting and getting rid of curbside recycling.

  2. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    What about adding a sticker to the cover of the magazine asking the recipient to pass it along to someone else or drop it in a paper recycling bin? You could easily make up a sheet of labels in Word and print it at home. While it won’t have any effect on those who are going to mindlessly throw it in the trash anyway, maybe it will get someone who’s a little more open to the idea of recycling to think about it and maybe take action. Awareness is half the battle.

  3. posted by Rebecca on

    I think you have to make your own philosophical call. Reuse followed by recycling is clearly best. For me, if I have to choose between the two, I feel that reuse is better than recycling. Lots of resources besides paper go in to creating a magazine. Ink, energy to power the printing press, fuel to deliver the magazine to you, cell phones, cars, pencils and other tools of the journalism trade for the writers and editors. When you reuse the magazine, all those resources get extended. When you recycle it, only the paper pulp sees a new day.
    That’s my two cents and is just my own opinion.

  4. posted by hkw on

    Our local recycling center recently set up a bookshelf of magazines (and occasionally books) for exchange. I figure if someone’s already there, they’re more likely to bring the magazine I leave back for another go-round. Seems like an easy thing for any recycling center to start.

  5. posted by M Payne on

    For recycling books, nothing beats !

    You mail the books that others request *you pay postage* and you can order from any of their 4 MILLION books that others have listed *they pay shipping*. I absolutely LOVE this service!! You know that the person receiving the book really WANTS it, and you know that they’ll most likely relist it when they are done so that others can continue to recycle it! I mailed out 3 books this morning alone, and got 3 credits in my account to order books for myself. GREAT service!

  6. posted by Eric on

    Right on Rebecca! If possible, reduce. Then, reuse. Recycling is a last resort.

  7. posted by Vanessa H. on

    I have struggled with this same question: leave the magazines at the gym for others to use, or recycle them directly after I finish them? Because the people who read them might not recycle them, right? But you’re so right: putting them somewhere local where they can be read by someone else *is* a form of recycling. Thanks, Erin!

  8. posted by camellia tree on

    For magazines I like to take them to the laundromat. I used to do my laundry at the laundromat years ago and the magazines there got read and re-read. I’ve noticed that the magazines at salons (not high end salons, but the smaller strip-mall type salons) also get read over and over. Personally I like the idea of getting as much use as possible from a publication, and since magazines have a shelf life, donating them to places that have a lot of traffic that needs to kill time seems a good way to go.

    I visited a small town once (Friday Harbor, Washington) that had a hardware store with a “magazine swap” outside, which was basically just a large magazine rack that was outside but protected from the elements where people could just drop off magazines and/or pick them up as they liked. I thought that was such a great idea.

  9. posted by infmom on

    We collect the magazines (with labels removed) in a brown paper grocery bag, and when the bag gets full we take it with us to one of our numerous doctors’ appointments and leave the magazines in the waiting room. I don’t know what happens to them after that, but we’ve been enthusiastically thanked by both patients and medical personnel for doing it.

    Oh, and the paper bag gets “recycled” by being taken back home again and put out to refill. 🙂

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    I faced this dilemma when sharing my magazine subscription with a colleague. It was good that the magazine was reused, but neutral because he wouldn’t’ve bought the magazine otherwise, and bad because giving it to him meant the mag wasn’t recycled.

    I decided that if either
    1. my sharing meant someone didn’t buy a paper copy OR
    2. the recipient recycled the mag
    then sharing was a net positive. Otherwise my sharing meant more waste in this world.

  11. posted by Wendy on

    How do you recycle clothes that are too worn or stained to donate? I don’ like throwing them in the trash.

  12. posted by Dorothy on

    On the one hand reducing paper waste seems important enough to you to write to Unclutterer. On the other hand you “still love the feel of paper in my hands.”

    Your two values are at odds. Please consider aligning them. If it will help, please know that once you give a gift (e.g., donate a magazine) you have no control, moral or practical, over how the recipient uses the gift. In other words you can’t donate the magazine and have any assurance as to where it will end up.

  13. posted by CR on

    I keep a large shopping bag in a hall closet and add magazines when I am done reading them. Every month or so, when I am heading in that direction anyway, I stop at our University cancer center and put the magazines in the waiting areas. Takes about 5 minutes. Being a cancer patient or a family member waiting for a loved one in treatment is a dreadful thing to go through; even if all those magazines ultimately end up in a landfill (which I doubt; the U has an almost-irritatingly aggressive recycling program) at least someone sitting there waiting for potentially bad news hopefully got a few moments of distraction from looking at a magazine that is relatively new and interesting.

  14. posted by pkilmain on

    Our local library has a bookshelf in the lobby for donated magazines.

    I should collect mine for the doctor’s offices – the ones they subscribe to reflect the doctor’s preference (airplanes, fishing, sports!) rather than the patients’, and/or are sorely out of date.

  15. posted by Manda K on

    I like to think of myself as an ecoconscious person but I’m also in the boat where I love the feel of paper in my hand (Dorothy- I have to disagree with you; they are not at odds if you do it wisely)…My secret to enjoying magazines without worrying about the recycling question is the library; not donating to but borrowing from… My suggestion would be that when it comes time to renew any magazine subscriptions would be to first check and see if your library carries the magazine your interested in. This may not work for magazines that you really love, have to read right now (some library’s only allow you to check out past months magazines) and/or like to rip articles out off. I find it a good option because it’s free and if there is an article that I really think I’ll need again I’ll either scan it or use a small notebook to the relevant information. It’s a green way to enjoy your magazines without the guilt!

  16. posted by Maggie on

    I weighed this conundrum in my head and personally I think I would rather keep it out of the landfill than pass it to someone else who I know would throw it away. As someone mentioned, it’s possible to get magazines from the library so you could recommend your friends do that. I get my CrochetWorld magazine delivered as an electronic PDF, subscribe to a couple magazines in the mail, and more often than not just stand in the aisle at the drugstore or Borders and read the parts I’m interested in, then put it back. Interesting question.

  17. posted by L.M. on

    How do you recycle clothes that are too worn or stained to donate? I don’ like throwing them in the trash.

    – I find some old clothes make great rags for cleaning. Especially old t-shirts. I cut the shirts up into smaller pieces, and have a rag bin. Great for household cleaning, picking up a pet mess, washing the car, etc. I wash and re-use them too. I NEVER buy paper towels and rarely use a sponge. I know some thrifty people who use old jeans to make pot holders or a “new” piece of clothing like a skirt or a purse! But you would have to have sewing skills!

  18. posted by Melinda on

    I’m with you, I still like a book/magazine in my hand.

    I pass along my magazines to my good friend/neighbor down the street, and she passes them on when she is done. By the time it hits the recycle bin over 7 people have read it. If you haven’t considered sharing magazines, just ask a friend, “Hey..would you like my People magazine after I’m done?” They will greatly appreciate your sharing.

  19. posted by Another Deb on

    Some thrift stores sell their unwearable clothes to industries that make rags or paper pulp out of them.

  20. posted by Pat on

    Our local hospital LOVES reusing magazines. Once I read them over I drop them off at “Patient Services”, they put a label over my name and address and then pass them out to patients. Some are also put in lobbies throughout the hospital.
    Another good way is to read the magazines at the library. They receive more than I could ever afford, some are available for immediate check-out, some I have to wait until the next issue comes out. Either way – they are read by many, many people.

  21. posted by Sharon on

    I prefer re-use. I love the fact that someone else will get enjoyment and use from something I pass on. It’s why I shop at yard sales, have yard sales, shop at thrift stores and give to charities. I have a giving and generous nature and if it means passing on a book, a magazine, clothing, etc then that makes me happier than just putting it in a plastic recycle bin that’s picked up by an anonymous truck. I recycle but I like reuse better.

  22. posted by Heather on

    @ Wendy
    I emailed my local Goodwill about torn and stained clothes, and they responded that they’ll take all old clothing. After sorting donations, they sell unwearable clothing in bulk to companies that either make industrial cleaning rags out of them or recycle them in some other way.

    Your local Goodwill may have a statement on their website about what items they will accept in poor condition in order to recycle. The one in my town even takes broken computers and other electronics, but you need to check first.

    Freecycle is a good option if it’s active in your area. There is undoubtedly a quilter, weaver, or crafter in your town who has a use for a bag of (washed) rags. And if you want to give away magazines but only to somebody who will recycle them (or pass them on to a third person), you can add that stipulation to your offer.

  23. posted by jan on

    another way to recycle unusable clothes around the house. I recently cut up a flannel comforter cover for dishtowels. Great! Mens dress shirts can have the back cut up and hemmed to make lovely napkins, especially if they are made out of oxford cloth. Luxurious. Towels can be cut down to make bibs for babies. Not at all hard to do-Some bias tape around the ends or backed by the dress shirt backs previously mentioned. Tee shirts cut up can be great for washing the car or cleaning windows. They don’t have to be hemmed they do not ravel. You can throw them in the washer for many uses. Towels can also be stuck on your swiffer mop for reusable cloths. Even pieces of sweaters are good for this.

  24. posted by [email protected] on

    I understand the point of “loving the feel of the paper” rather than online. But if you are serious about the environment, that sometimes means giving up some things that you love, doesn’t it?

    For me, books are worth paper because they get read multiple times over years. Plus I use libraries more than bookstores! Magazines and newspapers don’t make the grade – remember it’s not just what happens to the paper, it’s the whole process of production and transportation and often unrecyclable packaging, for what is mostly advertising to buy more stuff…

    My point is that most of us are looking at changes for the better. Reexamining our habits can be really important.

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