Better to repair than replace

Ever had a household item break only to be told “it would be cheaper to replace it than fix it”? It’s become a mantra of our twenty-first century consumer culture. Unfortunately, it’s an MO that runs completely counter to waste reduction. The amount of energy and resources consumed and pollution created to replace an item far outweighs that of repairing it. So why has it become nearly impossible to get something fixed, and what are some ways to change that?

You have the right to repair

The “right to repair” is the right to fix a device yourself or have someone other than the manufacturer do the work for you. The concept got started within the automotive industry back in 2012 when Massachusetts passed the country’s first Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act. The act required automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles.

Inspired by this, The Repair Association was founded in 2013 to transfer this concept to electronics. Many electronics manufacturers had instituted systems whereby the only means to repair a device or obtain repair parts would be through one of their authorized vendors or original equipment manufacturers (OEM).

The practice of requiring consumers to go to the manufacturer for repairs has generally been criticized as anti-competitive.

Repair has its day and café

International Repair Day is organized by the Open Repair Alliance, an international group including Fixit Clinic (United States), The Repair Cafe Foundation (Netherlands), The Restart Project (UK), iFixit, and Anstiftung Foundation (Germany). This day highlights the value of repair and promotes global community efforts to fix the stuff we own.

A repair café is a meeting organized by and for local residents where people repair household items. The objectives are to reduce waste, maintain repair skills and to strengthen community. Repair cafés are held at a fixed location where tools, materials and volunteers are available to help. The Repair Café Foundation supports local groups around the world in setting up their own repair cafés.

Green Works in Kansas City hosted a Repair Cafe & Open House this past October in Midtown Kansas City, Mo. This event focused on bicycle, clothing, jewelry, furniture, lamp and tool repair.

Who fixes what in Kansas City?

There are local repair options for many types of items. A few high-demand categories include electronics, clothing, shoes and furniture. When searching online for a local repair service, be as specific as possible: furniture repair Kansas City, shoe repair Overland Park, etc.

Repair it yourself

In recent years, the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement has gone viral. Repairing something yourself can save money and increase skills and knowledge which you can then pass on to others. It starts by simply going online and typing: do it yourself (item name here) repair.

For more information on other ways to reduce waste, visit Beyond Recycling: Reduce and Reuse.

Shipping materials are prime for recycling

We know you’re primed for Amazon Prime Day. But once you’ve received the items you’ve ordered, what are you going to do with all the shipping materials? Reuse and recycle them, of course!

Keep some around

Used boxes and shipping materials can come in handy when you have a gift to wrap or something to store or ship. Set aside a tote, cabinet or shelf to store used shipping materials. It will save you time and money.

Boxed in? Boxes out!

All cardboard shipping boxes are 100-percent recyclable. They can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin or at your local drop-off recycling center. Be sure to break them down before recycling to save space.

Films a-plenty

Most plastic film shipping materials can be recycled along with your plastic shopping bags at grocery stores and big box stores. These include air pillows, bubble wrap, plastic envelopes (including bubble-wrap lined and Tyvek™), and the film and foam wrap from new household items such as appliances and furniture. Always remove address labels from envelopes before recycling. And since you also need to pop bubble wrap and air pillows before recycling, give them to the kids for a few moments of loud fun.

What about Styrofoam™?

If you purchase furniture or appliances, you’re bound to get Styrofoam™ (a.k.a. EPS: expanded polystyrene) shipping materials at some point. The only place in the Kansas City region that recycles EPS molds, blocks, and coolers is ACH Foam Technologies, 1400 N. 3rd St., Kansas City, KS, (913) 321-4114. EPS must be clean: no dirt, debris, tape, tape residue, labels, glue, marker, or discoloration. Please note: no other type of polystyrene is recyclable in the metro area, including packing peanuts and food and beverage containers (cups, takeout containers, egg cartons, meat trays, etc.).

UFO (unidentified foam objects)

Last year, Amazon started shipping items in these new brown paper envelopes. The envelopes state that they are recyclable. However, customers were skeptical when they found that the cushioning was a white, crumbly, foam-like substance. Amazon confirmed that during the recycling process, this cushioning material (a type of expanded adhesive) is separated from the recyclable paper fibers. So these envelopes can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin or with cardboard at your local drop-off recycling center.

Yes, there’s a “no list”

Two types of shipping materials that cannot be recycled are paper envelopes lined with bubble wrap and PE-LD (low-density polyethylene). Often mistaken for polystyrene, PE-LD is different in the following ways: it’s squeezable, it bends but does not break, and it’s labeled with a #4 plastic resin code (polystyrene is #6). Reuse options include shipping, storage and crafting.

To find out where to recycle your shipping materials, visit RecycleSpot.org.

BEWARE! It lurks in your home.

And no, we’re not talking about spiders, rats or ghosts. We’re talking about household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW can be any unwanted item in your home with the words “danger,” “warning” or “caution” on the label.

About 50 percent of HHW disposed of in the Kansas City metro area is latex paint. So, what makes up the other 50 percent? Unfortunately, materials that are significantly more hazardous to you, your family, and your pets. These items can be flammable, toxic, corrosive or reactive if not properly used and managed. They should never be disposed in the trash or down the drain as they can end up in the local water supply where they endanger both people and wildlife.

Following are the areas in your home where HHW lies in wait.

Garage/basement

The bigger the space the more room for HHW, and that’s why garages and basements are a favorite place to lurk. In addition to latex paint, these areas are home to latex’s more dangerous siblings: oil paint, spray paint, sealants and stains. Two other big offenders are automotive fluids such as motor oil, antifreeze and windshield cleaner, and lawn and garden products such as fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides. Other equally dangerous materials include barbeque products like lighter fluid and charcoal briquettes, and car-care products like cleaning sprays and foams.

Under the kitchen sink

If you look beyond the dishwasher soap and cleaning bucket, you’ll see an array of bottles staring back at you, almost all of them containing hazardous chemicals. These include oven cleaners, countertop cleaners, glass cleaners and drain openers.

In the bathroom

Your medicine cabinet is home to some of the most dangerous products of all. Apart from medicines (both prescription and over the counter), you may have nail polish and remover, and hair coloring and straightening products. Let’s not forget what hides in the vanity either: tile cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and disinfectant wipes.

Get it out!

Ever seen a horror movie in which a scary voice says, “Get out!”? Well, think of all that scary HHW in your home and “Get it out!” Kansas residents can take HHW to their county’s HHW facility for free. Missouri residents have several free and fee-based options for proper HHW disposal. Check RecycleSpot.org to find the nearest police station or pharmacy that will accept your old medicines and prescription drugs.

Safe alternatives

Even when used as directed, many household chemicals can endanger our health and safety. Fortunately, safe alternative products are readily available, easy to use and often cheaper than their more dangerous counterparts. To make your home safer, download the Safe Alternatives to Household Chemicals brochure.

For more information visit Hazardous Waste.

Embrace secondhand couture

Spring has sprung, so it’s time to swap out your wardrobe. But what to do with the old clothes you no longer want? In the Kansas City area, you have numerous options for donating, selling and recycling clothes you’re ready to let go of. Plus, there are many opportunities for acquiring good quality secondhand clothes for pennies on the dollar or free.  

Donation

Clothing can be donated to charities, select retailers, thrift stores and clothing donation bins throughout the metro area. Many larger thrift operations also offer pick-up services. And don’t forget friends, family and co-workers who might appreciate the hand-me-downs. If you want to donate your clothes to a charity, always contact the organization first to find out donation requirements. Be sure to follow these pointers to help ensure that your unwanted clothing has the best chance at a good, second life:

  • Make sure clothes are clean.
  • Empty pockets.
  • Remove lint, pet hair and other detritus.
  • Make small repairs: replace buttons, remove pilling, etc.
  • Neatly fold and stack in a bag before donating.

For more information, visit The Four-Point Plan for Properly Donating Old Clothes.

Give us your tired, stained, faded and torn

What about clothes that are in bad shape or hopelessly out of style? Go ahead and donate them, too. Major thrift operations contract with textile reclamation companies that accept clothing that is damaged or that won’t sell in stores. Wearable clothing is sold in different countries throughout the world where it’s in demand. Unwearable clothing is recycled into everything from wiping cloths to new fabrics.

Clothes for cash

Need a little extra cash this spring? There are many resale and consignment shops that will pay for good quality contemporary or vintage clothing. A consignment store sells your items for you. When sold, the store pays you a percentage of the selling price in cash or store credit. Resale stores buy your items upfront and pay either cash or store credit.

There are also resale websites for consumers to buy and sell secondhand clothing online. Examples include thredUP and Poshmark.

Before you head out to a store or sign up online, always verify the types of items accepted and how they must be prepared.

Can you tell who’s wearing secondhand?
Neither can anyone else.

Rags to retail

Next time you’re out shopping, consider taking your unwanted clothes and shoes to one of these retailers in the Kansas City area:

  • American Eagle – Recycles all brands of clothing and shoes.
  • Eileen Fisher – Recycles Eileen Fisher clothing only.
  • H&M – Recycles all brands of clothing and textiles.
  • Levi’s – Recycles all brands of clothing and shoes.
  • Madewell – Recycles all brands of jeans.
  • Nike – Recycles all brands of athletic shoes.
  • The North Face – Recycles all brands of clothing and shoes.
  • Patagonia – Recycles Patagonia clothing only.

To find the nearest location, visit RecycleSpot.org’s Service Provider Search and type in the name of the retailer. 

Swap ‘em out

Participate in a clothing swap to exchange your closet clean-outs for clothing you will wear. You can create a local group on Meetup, or set up one of your own among friends. To find out how, visit Oprah.com

Put the brakes on fast fashion

Fast fashion is defined as an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. Unfortunately, this results in harmful impacts to the environment, people and our pocketbook. Buying and wearing only secondhand clothing is one way to slow down fast fashion. Elizabeth L. Cline, a New York-based author, journalist and expert on consumer culture, fast fashion, sustainability and labor rights, can help you take your next steps to put the brakes on fast fashion.

For more information on donating or finding secondhand clothing, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Man using Boomerang bag at market Boomerang bag with produce inside shopping basket

Boomerang Bags: Reducing single-use plastic one bag at a time

By Cheryl Birkey, Boomerang Bags KC

I had a realization in early 2017 ― I wanted to work toward solving social issues I cared deeply about. At the top of the list ― reducing the overuse of single-use plastic, namely plastic shopping bags.

I know other places throughout the U.S. have successfully banned plastic bags, so I looked into what it would take to ban plastic bags here in Missouri. Unfortunately, I found out that Missouri has a ban on banning plastic bags. Plus, stores are even prohibited from charging money for plastic bags.

This information shocked me. I had to figure out a Plan B.

People making bagsThen, a friend sent me information about Boomerang Bags. Boomerang Bags started in Australia as a program that provides cloth bags to shoppers who have forgotten their shopping bags. It’s a free (yes, free!) cloth bag that you borrow. And when you return to shop again, you return your Boomerang Bag for someone else to borrow and use your own reusable bag to shop. It’s a movement that is spreading all over the world and I thought it would be a great fit here in Kansas City.

Once I decided to bring Boomerang Bags to Kansas City, I needed to find a place to launch the initiative. My initial plan was to focus on a grocery store. I talked to Cosentino’s in Brookside, a store that cares about product quality, organic produce and the community ― in other words, a great fit for Boomerang Bags! When I approached them about featuring Boomerang Bags in their store, I found out that that store uses 3,000 plastic bags per day! I’m not afraid to dream big, but I’m also realistic, and I knew there was no way I could produce that many bags or combat that sort of waste as I launched Boomerang Bags.

Instead, I began thinking on a much smaller scale and the perfect place hit me ― my beloved Brookside Farmers’ Market!

It was March 2017, and the outdoor location of the Brookside Farmers Market wasn’t open for the season, so I could focus on making inventory. The Boomerang Bags website provided a template for the bag, and I made a single bag from some unused fabric I had on hand. Once I was confident in my construction abilities, I asked for help and my friends pitched in without hesitation.

We met up for a few social sewing events before opening day of the market. We gathered at Keystone Church in Waldo one Sunday, then again in my friend’s garage. I also had people over in my living room. We worked in groups and individually when we could. I also had people reach out to me through social media to donate fabric, as well as cut, sew and assemble bags. I met with strangers in my house and sewed with them or picked up trash bags full of fabric from friends of friends that I met on Facebook. The initial support was awesome and validated that I was on the right path.

Woman Holding lots of Boomerang bagsJust a few weeks later, on April 15, 2017, I launched Boomerang Bags at the Brookside Farmers’ Market for the first day of the season with 100 bags. I came back week after week with more bags each time. By the close of the 2017 season, I had distributed 625 free cloth bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, so they could take home their organic tomatoes and farm fresh eggs, plastic-free.

As winter approached, I continued cutting and sewing and cutting some more to prepare for the 2018 season and expansion. This year, I added the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market as a Boomerang Bag venue while continuing to make bags available at the Brookside Farmers’ Market. I attended both markets at the beginning of April and continue to visit each market nearly every Saturday, handing out Boomerang Bags to patrons in need. My goal is simple ― replace just one single plastic bag with a single Boomerang Bag.

Now, I can’t provide 3,000 Boomerang Bags to any one establishment, but I can change people’s behaviors one interaction at a time by engaging in conversations about single-use plastic that expands beyond plastic bags to plastic to-go containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, etc. And that’s exactly what I do each Saturday at the markets.

What makes this project especially appealing to me is that it not only helps reduce plastic bag use, but also gives me an opportunity to repurpose unwanted items. The bags are made of materials that might otherwise sit around and collect dust ― fabric purchased for a project and never used, for example, or used bed sheets and tablecloths.

So far in the 2018 season, we’ve constructed and distributed 555 Boomerang Bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market and beyond. This brings the grand total to 1,110 Boomerang Bags distributed in Kansas City in just over a year. And we have even more bags in various stages of production. With each fabric donation and each person who donates time, this becomes a community endeavor of love and support for Boomerang Bags and the environment.

As much as I love Boomerang Bags, I don’t want to do this forever. My long-term goal is to become obsolete (yes, really!) I want this project to end because people finally begin to remember their reusable bags when they go to the market, the grocery store, anywhere and everywhere, or that those places become plastic-free, or that legislation finally passes, which bans the ban on banning plastic bags. There’s still plenty of work to do, but with every bag we make and share, we get a step closer to the ultimate goal of reducing ― and, eventually eliminating ― single-use plastic.

To stay up-to-date and learn ways to help Boomerang Bags, find me at Facebook.com/Boomerangbagskc.

Boomerang Bags KC was a 2018 MARC SWMD mini-grant recipient.

Cheryl Birkey is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with more than 10 years’ experience. She discovered her love of fitness during a step aerobics class at the University of Missouri Rec Center (go Tigers!) and has been learning, teaching and sharing ever since. She’s also the founder of Boomerang Bags KC, which creates and distributes reusable bags to help reduce plastic bag use. When she’s not at a gym or working on Boomerang Bags, you can likely find Cheryl spending time in her garden or with her beloved dachshund, Peanut.