“Think of all the energy, the water, the resources” that go into making that cassette tape, blouse or laptop, says Joanna Dyer of the Reuse Alliance. It’s what she calls the “embodied value” of an item.
“The hierarchy goes reduce, reuse, recycle,” she says, “but so often the focus is on recycling,” Why not figure out a way to reuse an item, to make the most of those embodied resources before expending more energy to recycle it?
Starting with that blouse
“When it comes to reuse and recycling, most people overlook clothing,” says Monica Stamper of Northwest-based Gemtext. She says the average American throws away 85 pounds of clothing per year.
Several hundred bins at a variety of businesses, churches and recycling centers throughout the region all collect clothing and fabric that Gemtext recycles. The idea is to make it easy for people to donate clothes near where they live.
And if that blouse is moth-eaten or those jeans are stained? Not a problem. If textiles aren’t fit to be sold in thrift stores, here or abroad, says Stamper, they’re made into industrial cloths, dog bed stuffing, or in the case of denim jeans – insulation.
Clothing can also be donated to a variety of nonprofits and thrift stores around the region.
And the laptop
Oregon E-Cycles is an electronics recycling program paid for by electronics manufacturers and overseen by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
There are collection sites throughout the region where people can drop off - free of charge - up to seven computers (desktops, laptops and tablets), monitors, TVs and printers at a time.
From there, they’re shipped to processors – usually in Asia – where they’re dismantled, shredded and separated, says Andy Sloop, former resource conservation and recycling manager at Metro.
Circuit boards, he adds, might end up at a precious metals reclaimer in Belgium. There, silver and palladium solder, gold plate, and copper will all be retrieved.
All this shipping and processing does require energy and resources. Recycling electronics is good but reusing them is better.
Beaverton’s EcoBinary does both. Their retail store is stocked with refurbished electronics. At Portland nonprofit, Free Geek, volunteers learn how to rebuild donated computers – refurbish five and the sixth is theirs to keep. Free Geek and EcoBinary both partner with Oregon E-cycles.
And finally, those cassette tapes
SCRAP PDX, which calls itself a creative reuse store and donation center, is one place for those. Last year they kept 140 tons of office, school and party supplies as well as miscellaneous stuff such as pipe cleaners, Easter grass and old zippers out of the trash. They resell these donations to crafters, artists and bargain hunters. There’s also a gallery featuring art made from reused materials, and a consignment store selling the work of reuse artisans. (They take cassettes right now, but not the cases. Always best to call first or check the list of things they accept on their website.)
Search Metro’s online database for more reuse and recycling options