In most parts of the country, March has moved in like a lamb rather than a lion, and spring has sprung! Although a snowstorm or two might still prolong our spring fever, people everywhere are throwing open their windows and welcoming the season’s warm, fresh air and light into their homes. And, while this yearly practice brings with it a sense of invigoration and clarity, it also causes us to take pause and literally see our homes in a new light. Months of sealed-up windows, low lighting and indoor play have left our homes, um, a little dusty, mildly cluttered and in need of a pretty thorough once-over (or a twice-over for those of us who live with little paws — both of the child and the four-legged sort).
‘Tis the season for spring cleaning! And with Earth Day’s big 40th birthday bash just right around the corner, ’tis also the time to enhance our household eco-practices and up this year’s green spring cleaning.
Here are a few tips to get it eco-right this year:
Most of us have already swapped toxic household cleaners for more gentle, organic alternatives. But if you haven’t made the switch to products that are healthier for both the planet and your family, or you just need to stock up, eco-friendly alternatives, like Seventh Generation products, can be purchased, or natural cleaners can be made at home by using common household goods like baking soda and vinegar. And, shoot for a zero-waste clean. Rather than using paper towels (even if they are made from recycled paper), opt for reusable microfiber cloths and sponges instead.
While items like old clothing, towels, kids’ toys and random sundries may no longer appear to have use for you, look a little closer: A lot of goods that are commonly thrown away or recycled can be reused, repurposed or “upcycled” first. For instance, plastic bags can be reused as bathroom trash can liners, and the glass jar that once housed your favorite salsa can be used as a vase or a sustainable to-go cup. Things like tin cans can be repurposed into herb planters, and shoe boxes can be covered in old wrapping paper and transformed into decorative storage boxes for old photos and keepsakes. Items like old sweaters and linens can be upcycled and transformed into things like scarves and kids’ clothing. Do it yourself if you’re handy with a thread and needle, take it to your local tailor, or send it off to one of the many companies now specializing in upcycling.
If you still have items you just cannot find another in-house use for, donate them. Gently-worn clothing, toys and household goods can be donated to organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Old towels, linens and yoga mats can be donated to your local Humane Society. And if you can’t find another use for your old magazines (like giving them to the kids for collage purposes), they can be dropped off at a local hospital or hair salon.
Recycle what’s left
If it simply cannot be reused, repurposed, upcycled or donated, and it is recyclable, make sure that it ends up at a recycling plant and not in the ground. Curbside pickup in most communities makes recycling commonly-discarded goods like paper, cans and bottles fairly easy and accessible.
But what about that broken cell phone or the obsolete laptop? Without proper disposal, these items, which contain both toxic and reusable metals, end up in landfills. Many communities, however, now have cell phone drop-off stations in front of grocery stores, and some have sponsored hard-to-recycle events where items like computers, #6 white block foam, books and other hard-to-recycle goods can either be dropped off at a designated location or put out on the curbside for pickup.
Swap it out
If you haven’t already, replace all of the incandescent light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Not only will a CFL bulb save you about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in six months, it also uses about 75 percent less energy than an incandescent and will last about 10 times longer. You can also replace old door and bathroom mats with eco-friendly alternatives, and save water and money by installing low-flow fixtures like shower heads and faucets.
Open your windows, and let the fresh air and sunlight in! Airing out your house will invigorate and inspire you to embrace spring’s arrival and get going on your thorough green clean.
Try to find a reuse or repurpose for the majority of your household items that need purging. Research how your community handles hard-to-recycle items and follow their instruction.
Continue working toward being eco-thoughtful about what you’re disposing of. Then take it up a level and become an eco-conscious consumer. Consider what you are buying, where and how the materials needed to make it were extracted or produced, and how easily what you’re buying could eventually be reused, repurposed, upcycled or recycled. Purchase used, fair trade, items made from recycled materials and locally produced goods when possible. The farmers’ market is coming soon!