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.

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.

Does your TV have an end-of-life plan?

As televisions continue to get bigger, better and significantly cheaper, people are replacing them more often. This means there are a lot of used TVs out there that should be donated or recycled.

Lead, mercury, and PVCs, oh my!

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Whether you’re talking about an old console TV from the 1970s or a modern flat screen, televisions contain many hazardous substances including lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. Properly recycling televisions prevents these heavy metals and hazardous materials from ending up in a landfill, harming our environment and endangering public health. Recycling also means that valuable materials such as metals, plastics and glass are extracted and used for new products.

Proper disposal

There are two options for properly disposing of televisions: donation and recycling. Donation is a great option for flat screen TVs that are fairly new and in good working condition. Many charities and thrift stores accept them. Always call first — some do not accept them at all (Goodwill for instance), and those that do have strict criteria.

You can recycle old and non-working televisions of all types and sizes at Best Buy and Midwest Recycling Center.

If you require pick up, your options are more limited. You can call a junk removal service, just be sure and ask if TVs are among the items they recycle and donate. You can also contact your trash hauler to see if they offer bulky-item pickup services that include TVs. Unfortunately, these usually just end up going to the landfill.

Always a fee

Whether you choose pickup or drop-off services, there is always a fee to recycle your television. Fees are charged because of the extra processing TVs require. If you want to ensure your television gets properly recycled, don’t give it to any individual or entity that states they will recycle it for free.

Certification matters

We recommend using recycling companies that are R2 and/or e-Stewards certified. R2 and e-Stewards are accredited, independent, third-party-audited certification programs that represent the highest standard for responsible electronics recycling and reuse. These certification programs are based on best practices in environmental health and worker safety, data security and all applicable laws.

To find out where you can properly dispose of your old TV, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Contamination can’t be recycled

Recyclable materials falling loose into a curbside binContamination is the term used by the recycling industry to describe anything in a recycling bin that shouldn’t be there. Contamination decreases the value of recyclables, increases processing costs, can be dangerous for workers and can cause your recyclables to be sent to the landfill. The average contamination rate among communities and businesses is currently about 25 percent. That means that roughly one in four items placed in a recycling bin is not actually recyclable.

So how can you fight contamination? Prepare recyclable items correctly, and don’t recycle unacceptable items.

Proper prep

Give a quick rinse to all cans and plastic containers and keep items loose in your recycling bin — not in bags, not in boxes. Plastic bags aren’t recyclable curbside. Plus, anything in a bag is assumed to be trash and goes straight to the landfill. Recyclables can get stuck inside boxes and may not get properly sorted and processed.

Never in the bin

The following items should never go in your curbside recycling bin:

plastic film bag

Plastic bags and film — Recycling processing facilities are not set up to process plastic film, whether it be shopping bags, product overwrap, air pillows or bubble wrap. It gets caught in the sorting machinery or disposed of on the sorting line. Instead, recycle plastic bags and film at your local grocery or big box store.

A great way to reduce single-use plastic bags is to use durable, reusable bags.

Photo of group of fast food containers: take out box, hamburger box, french fry container, Chinese take out container and fast food drink cup.Food & liquids — Food and liquids can ruin an entire load of recyclables and send them straight to the landfill.

Though made primarily of paper, coffee and soda cups, paper plates, frozen food containers, takeout boxes, and fast food containers cannot be recycled for two reasons. The first is because they’re all coated with a thin layer of plastic, not wax as is commonly believed. The second is they are heavily contaminated by food and beverages.

Pizza boxes can be iffy — you can recycle the clean part (usually the top), and compost or dispose of the greasy part (usually the bottom). The only parts of disposable cups that are recyclable are the plastic lids and cardboard coffee cup sleeves.

Paint can with brush resting on top

A great way to reduce single-use food containers is to go durable.

Hazardous waste — This includes medical waste such as sharps, and prescription drugs, personal hygiene items such as diapers and toilet paper, and household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW is any item with Danger, Warning or Caution on the label including paint, automotive fluids, lawn and garden chemicals, cleaners, and many beauty products.

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Properly dispose of sharps and prescription drugs. HHW can be properly disposed through your local HHW program. Everything else should go in the trash. And toilet paper? Only in the toilet!

For the most complete list of items that should and shouldn’t go in your curbside recycling bin, download the Recycle More, Recycle Better flier.