Conserve and Preserve Blog

Exploring ways we can conserve and preserve Rosemount.

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February 19, 2019

Title of Kondoing blog post

So who else has been caught up in the Marie Kondo craze? It seems most of America has been captivated by the decluttering and organizing methods of motivational guru and namesake Marie Kondo. It’s been applied to everything from decluttering your basement and linen closets, to municipal storm drains!

Graphic showing how to Kondo a storm drain

But what do you do with the items that you no longer need or wish to have in your house? Items that don’t "spark joy" for you? According to Marie Kondo, you thank them for being a part of your life, and then get rid of them.

On the show, bags of old clothes, household items, and food pile up, ready to go to the local charity shop. Donating can be a great way to save those items from the landfill, and make your heart a bit fuller for helping out neighbors in need.

But not everything should be given away.

Look over your items planned for donation. There is a term in the recycling world called ‘wish-cycling’ (I know I’ve been guilty of it). You look at an item before you toss it in the recycling bin. You don’t know if it qualifies for recycling and instead of checking the number or consulting a list of acceptable items, you toss it in the recycling bin in the hopes that someone else down the line can answer that for you.

But this type of behavior is costing our recycling plants. One director of environment, fleet, and solid waste estimates the annual financial loss for improper recycling and wish-cycling tallies their city around $250,000 annually. Items like plastic cling, bottle caps, and shredded paper can jam machinery costing both time and money.

Wish-cycling is not just applicable to recycling items. This type of behavior can extend to donating clothes or food. Clothing with broken zippers and buttons, and tears and stains frequently show up at charity and second-hand shops. Instead of fixing or throwing out these items, you pass them on so you don’t have to feel the guilt of disposing of them. 

Here in Minnesota, Second Harvest Heartland (SHH), one of the nation’s largest food banks, distributes enough food for more than 81 million meals annually. A large part of those meals come from donations.

Photo of expired mustard jarFresh produce, canned goods, and pantry items are wonderful food items to pass on to our neighbors in need. But many donations that come through SHH, and other food banks, aren’t suitable to pass on. These include dented cans, open food containers, and expired items. This bottle of mustard below was one of many I found during an event at SHH in November of 2018.  Its expiration date was June 14, 2011.

This type of wish-cycling was such a problem that SHH created a program to handle the influx of expired and unusable goods, which they called their ‘De-Pack’ program.

Instead of having to discard these items into a landfill, they have volunteers open the food packages and dump the food into a large bin.

Photo of food recyclingThe containers are then washed and sent out to recycling centers. The food is sent to a pig farm, where it is heat processed to kill any contaminants and fed to the pigs. So far, now in their 6th pilot program, SHH volunteers have de-packaged a total of 5,456 pounds, 5,330 of which are ‘diverted pounds’ from the landfill.

This innovative program is a wonderful way to combat wish-cycling in food shelves. But these volunteers could also have used their time and energy in ways that are more beneficial to the food bank and food recipients (but I bet those pigs ain’t complaining).

So before you throw that item in the donation or recycling bin, stop for just a minute and ask yourself: "Is this wish-cycling?"  That will bring me joy.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

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