There are many things that can cause you to get stuck while clutter clearing, and one thing that comes up again and again is wanting the things you let go of to be re-used in some way rather than just thrown in the bin. One woman wrote to me recently, for example, to say that she was having difficulty letting go of shoes with holes in the soles because she didn’t want to just put them in the trash.
We live in a time where it is now possible to recycle many things that a couple of decades ago would have ended up in landfill or a municipal incinerator. There is so much more awareness now of the finite resources our planet has, and a far greater sense of social responsibility to use them wisely.
But there are still gaping holes in this. Where I live, for example, all plastics from household waste can be recycled, except for bottle tops and anything made of black plastic. I was so mystified by these exclusions that I did some research into why this might be. It seems that most plastic bottles are made from PET#1 plastic, but their tops are made from polypropylene, which melts at a different temperature, so they cannot be recycled together. Leaving caps on can also cause them to fly off at high speed when put through the bottle crusher, which can injure recycling workers. As to black plastic, the scanners in many recycling centres apparently cannot detect it because black does not reflect light, so if it’s included with other plastic recycling it can pass straight through and end up contaminating other materials such as glass.
A few recycling centres are now developing equipment that can cope with all these problems, but the source of the issue really lies with manufacturers failing to invest in research to develop fully recyclable materials in the first place. And some responsibility also lies with us for continuing to buy these items, knowing they will have to be thrown in the trash.
So this is the main thing I point out to people who feel paralyzed to let things go unless they can be re-used in some way. Technology has made huge advances, and we can be thankful for that. More resources are also available these days to allow us to make more informed choices about the purchases we make. But for some of the things we’ve already bought, we have to accept that no method of recycling yet exists, or may ever exist. It may have to be thrown in the trash. By all means google for a solution (enter the name of your particular item + recycle in the search box), but if none is available, choose differently from now on and let the old item go. That’s all anyone can do.
Interestingly, this echoes a core principle of personal development work. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past, but we can change what we do from now on.
So I now use refillable recyclable glass water bottles rather than plastic disposable ones, and avoid black plastic food packaging whenever possible. The trick is to stop the problem at the point of acquisition rather than trying to rectify it at the point of disposal, when it may be too late.
For anyone prone to beating themselves up, some measure of forgiveness is called for here. Take photos, for example. People of a certain age have hundreds of printed photos innocently sitting in boxes or albums in their home, but now it turns out they have toxic coatings that cannot be recycled with normal paper waste. Who knew this years ago?
And there is a similar ignorance today about thermal paper receipts. A 2011 study found that 94% of receipts in the US contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is an endocrine disruptor known to cause reproductive problems in humans and animals, and a host of other health disorders too. If thermal receipts are thrown into paper recycling, they end up contaminating recycled toilet paper, food packaging, paper napkins and other products we use. Who knows this? I certainly didn’t until I read about it last year.
These are just two of many examples to take into account when clutter clearing, and no doubt many more will surface in the coming years. But can you wait for that? My advice is to do the best you can based on what you know now and what resources are available, and then let the rest go. Perfection is the great paralyzer, and if it gangs up with guilt, there’s nowhere to go. Far better you let go of the past and put your time and energy into creating a better future, which is where it will count.
In the course of checking facts for this article, it so happened that I did discover a recycling system developed for old shoes, so there are schemes are out there if you want to look for them. But I suggest you put a limit on how much of your time and energy you invest in this process. It can be a well-disguised form of self-sabotage.
In the US, you can use this website to discover recycling options in your area: www.earth911.com
The rise of eco-neurosis, and what to do about it
Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2014