Recycling is the future

betty ming liu Inspiration, Money, Writing how-to's 17 Comments

What a thrill! After four days without power, the electricity is back. Now that a week has passed since the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, I’m moving on to the new normal of downed trees, long gas lines and of course, my new personal recovery campaign.

With yesterday and today as my regular days off, I’m busy doing laundry, vacuuming the house and paying bills while stealing the occasional nap. The familiar routines hold me steady since my real urge is to drop everything and cry.

The question constantly running through my head now: How do first responders do it? How do they manage to see terrible things and then go on without being a doomsday pill to those around them? By comparison, I’ve seen and done every little during this storm.

And yet, I’m so shaken that I’ve been constantly lecturing my daughter Gabi on safety issues — everything from the importance of keeping her car tank filled to the dangers of planting trees too close to the house.

Can’t I let the kid be a kid? Then again, we are living in a post-9/11 world that is now bedeviled by climate change where bad human practices have led to rising sea levels and more violent weather. Our poor children….what kind of planet are we leaving them?

For me, the answer lies in all forms of public service and outreach. This week, I’ve also been grateful for what I’ve both received and given in the form of hugs, concerned emails and random acts of kindness.

And in finally getting to the point of this post, there is also the power of recycling.

Old clothes and sheets: Yesterday, my local fire department here in Westchester County, was collecting supplies to take down to New York City folks who lost everything. After going through my closets and the attic, I dropped off more than half a dozen big garbage bags filled with winter jackets, jeans, bras, socks, hand bags, sheets and towels, along with a case of bottled water and some cleaning supplies.

Yucky fabric: I also found old clothes, underwear and linens too grungy for giveaway. Those things are now in a bag destined for GrownNYC, a textile recycling group with a regular table at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan.

Home furnishings: I’ve also got a few cartons filling up with dishes, pans, framed pictures and small appliances. This stuff, along with some old chairs and tables that will somehow fit in my car are for a local organization that helps the homeless and veterans.

Potential craft scraps: Then there’s two big bags of packing styrofoam and quilting scraps that I have saved for Gabi’s former elementary school art teacher. Some of it will be good for kids’ crafts.

We have so much and we don’t even realize it!

Here’s a challenge…after you read this, why not Google around your community? I’ll bet there are recycling and donation options available for you too. My goal is to keep perfectly reusable things out of the landfills and put them in the hands of the needy.

This practice is also a metaphor for my life. There are feelings and experiences that are no longer center stage but it doesn’t mean that they should be forgotten. They simply need to be repositioned within me so that I can go on, with a fuller heart. Very little should be thrown away. Everything counts.

Hopefully, this post is reasonably articulate because I’ve gotta run. It’s almost dawn and time to find a gas line. From there, it’s on to therapy for a good cry before rolling with another busy day (working paperwork for refinancing my mortgage, annual checkup with the holistic eye doctor, working on my personal writing via NaNoWriMo).

Have a good one and remember: No matter what, there is love waiting for you in this world. xo.


 If you liked this post, you might also like to see more housecleaning that’s gone on in my home:

Making room for change

Making room for change, Part 2, with more photos

9 tips for shopping tag sales


Comments 17

  1. Post

    Phew, feel so much better. Both of our cars are filled up. My local gas station is open and I headed over there with no makeup, dirty hair tied up, in my brown fuzzy bathrobe and slippers (at least my outfit matched). Catch you later!

  2. Conscience rising article. Thank you Madame Betty. Not wasting?
    Well, this has been actually a moto in my family. I always complained about my mother keeping every thing. We live in a rather spacy appartment in a country considered as one of the wealthiest in the world. The flat is absolutely packed. Cuboards can’t be closed properly, and as it has became very difficult to keep things in order: there’s no more place for anything, and I feel like playing jigsaw every time I have to clear things up (generally before we have guests). My mom got this from my grandma, who ran the family during the war times in 1960-1970 Vietnam. She kept and recycled everything. And if she really did not need something, it was brought to the black market to be sold. A moto I wanted to get rid of as a teenager, but now as a young adult, grown up, with a degree and on my own budget, it seems logical.

    Why destroy things that are still usable?

    What I retained from that – and your blogpost is very relevant in this matter, is don’t throw things that still work. It’s win-win. You get some more spaces in your cupboards, and someone finds a treasure in the things that you don’t need anymore. Think of the Salvation Army as well, or to second hand shops. There aren’t only typical poor families who buy there, but students, vintage lovers as well.
    In Switzerland, we are so called the champions of recycling… our wastes. it is a really good thing, but in a country where throwing is an art, there is still a plate of food per citizen spilled every day. I still wonder if the recycling can be even fairer. The guilty feeling of wasting is really kicked away if you get rid of your old blankies, clothes or electronics. And the planet argument actually gives no excuse to anyone worrying a bit for the future –> not send everything to produce MORE CO2 than we already do. Next year, Switzerland will implement the garbage tax, let’s see how that’s going to change our way to throw…

    How are you doing after the storm? I hope you are well! The images on TV are absolutely terrifying!
    Helloes to Gaby, the kitties and miss Rosebud!


  3. Hello Betty!

    I’m very glad to hear that your day-to-day life after the big storm is getting better each day.

    Great article on ‘reducing and recycling’! In our small town we have a store called The Opportunity Shop which is run by volunteers with all the proceeds going to the local hospital. Clothing, household items, toys, books etc. are recycled and last year $160,000 was raised. When you consider a pair of pants for $2.00, a blouse for $3.00, books for 25 cents etc. it is quite amazing! I love my time working there meeting people and helping them find things.

    Your article has motivated me to get busy today and load up more household items for recycling! It’s a grey, windy and cold November day here so this is the perfect way to spend it! :)

  4. Post

    Mamamiaheather, so glad to be of use to you today. Thanks for filling us in on your latest recycling campaign. Gabi and I love shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army, church & hospital thrift shops. These are all forms of recycling too!

    As for me, I have spent the last seven hours NOT rushing but getting stuff done. In addition to blogging early this morning, I’ve been to the gas station therapy, the bank, Trader Joe’s. And, just got back from the doctor’s office.

    The dermatologist is only half a mile away but it took a while because I hit two tree work-related road blocks. I wanted him to look at the blue-ish lump on my heel that was the size and shape of a sunflower seed. He cut it open — blood gushing and me screaming “ow! ow!”.

    He didn’t find anything but said that clearly there was some sort of “foreign object” that caused the hemotoma (blood clot). Might have been a splinter but I suspect a tiny fragment from a glass that broke the other day in our kitchen. Now I have to soak it twice a day for two hours in salt water, to make sure whatever is in there floats out.

    Since I’m a big baby about physical pain, I have now stopped everything and am sitting in bed with the dog, my laptop and a hot bowl of soup. Time to take a break before going out there for the rest of the day.

    How about you all? Everything okay?

  5. Hello

    During the process of moving back to Canada in 2008, I was shocked on how much “stuff” we had acquired during our decade living in the US. We lived in a no sales tax, income tax state so “stuff” always seemed inexpensive. And a lot of the stuff was usable so I never got rid of them (I grew up humbly in a third world country). Anyway, I had 6 months to prepare for our move back so I methodically pruned down all the stuff that we did not need or loved and put them in the garage. It filled the garage. Hubby thought that I would never be able to empty it before the movers arrived. The other incentive was why pay to have stuff that you don’t use moved … moved cross-country even! It made no sense.

    I am not the yard sales type but I had been “freecycling” ( since 2005. However this was going to be big so I sorted all my stuff into common piles (kitchen stuff, computer, etc.) and then sent out separate emails. It was just when the economy was crashing so I had a lot of responses. One lady was homeschooling her kids so all our computer stuff would help one of the kids who was super into computers – I ended also teaching him a few things. One lady came by with a van and wanted to just get a set of items but when I opened the garage, she asked if she could have the other items and if it was OK to sell them since her husband was laid off. I was very OK with that and I felt super to be able to help! Eventually I kept only a few reliable names and they would come help me empty my garage. I was done in about three weeks!! A young mom was a happy camper with all baby clothes, expensive breast pump and everything baby that I could give her. It felt amazing.

    Now in Canada, we have recycling for almost everything (we have a bin just for food waste and it goes into a giant compost, later farmers can get that) so our actual garbage bag is about one kitchen white bag weekly! Yes! For a family of 4.

    I still do an annual prune/purge during the springtime where I put things in the garage and then again, found a local Yahoo group where I can post items that I no longer use/want instead of throwing into the trash.


    1. Post

      Jennie, thanks so much for posting this. I do NOT freecycle, craigslist or ebay — and your comment is another nudge from the cosmos. I must start! How great that you helped so many people, and so thoughtfully too. There’s one particular item that I need to dispose of….I have a bunch of metal lampshade frames and an old brass chandelier. At one point in my life, I was hand-making lampshades (handstitching the fabric, trims, gimp, beading). But I’ve no time for that any more and have a wonderful assortment of these frames that artisan could use. If anyone wants them or has specific advice, please let me know. It would be great to clear them out of my basement!

  6. Betty,

    This is exactly the type of things that you could freecycle! You will feel so great knowing that someone is using it or if someone was able to sell them (don’t feel bad about it) that hopefully the money was needed and put into good use.

    Or another idea (more time needed to research) would be to look for a local Yahoo or other type of MeetUp groups that might be doing such crafts so you know that the materials would be so welcome. I was very much into paper crafts, stamping, etc. so I triaged the expensive stuff (kept them into a smaller box that I still have) and the rest (generic stamps, stock cards, etc.) I donated to the daycare where I put my boys in.

    BTW daycares are a great place to give away stuff like empty containers, older kitchen items such as spatulas, wooden spoons, etc. as the kids love to make pretend and if these items are not donated, the daycare will need to buy them. This way, the items are used a few more times and their funds can be used for something else.

    Some other fun ideas for recycling books/CDs:
    I also did (there is also the CD version). That was my “Help the Troops” phase – I had an episode of terrible baby blues during my second pregnancy and sending care packages to troops helped me go through that phase. It was a great therapy. I basically listed all the books I no longer read/wanted onto the site, got points and swapped for books that troops wanted then prepared care packages to people listed on (became a volunteer too).

    Sorry for posting so much. I just wanted to share what I have already tried and there is something for everyone … if anything, after the “purge” … you will feel so great and also acquire less.


    PS Love your blog. I really liked the posts about your parents. I have some parallels that I wish I could articulate as well as you did. Thanks.

    1. Post

      Jennie, thanks for reading! And on this blog, NO ONE needs to apologize for commenting at length. You are most welcome to really go at whatever topic moves you. I only ask people to keep their comments based on personal experiences; what you’re sharing here fits that bill. :)

      i like the idea of freecycling the lampshade frames. In making them, I realized it’s very hard to sell an artisan-quality lampshade at a price that reflects the labor involved…how many people really want a beaded, tasseled, $400 silk lampshade?! So cutting the costs to the crafts person is critical. I also have a bunch of kitchen utensils that I will indeed donate to a day care or school in need. They are from my days of running after-school Asian cooking classes.

      Thanks for the additional book and soldier links. Clearly there are people out there who care and share on many levels. All info that’s very useful to know!

  7. Sometimes recycling doesn’t work. I inherited a library of about 23,000 books that had been accumulating in the family since 1720. Many of these represented ancestral interests I don’t share – like the 16 Jersey cattle stud books from the 1880s – that was 5 feet of shelf space I definitely thought could be put to better use. Ditto for the Collected Sermons of Rev. George Whitehead and at least 2 of the 3 complete sets of The Stoddard Lectures. And so on. We have an excellent second hand book store here in Trenton and the owner said “bring down whatever you don’t want and I’ll give you store credit.” I brought him 3 packed carloads. Now, second hand books do not command much dollar value so I assumed that lot would be at most $25 or $30 in credit. I dropped in a couple of weeks later and he told me I had over $1,000 in credit!!! I said “OMG, you are NOT helping!!!” Of course, the only thing I could do with that credit was acquire more books – back to square one! LOL ! I solved the problem by bringing friends and sons to the store and saying “pick out whatever you want – on the house.” That was really fun.

  8. Post

    You had beautiful old books? Well, I remember reading a NYTimes story from years ago. It was back in the go-go Wall Street years and it was about how these masters of the universe were building fancy houses that featured libraries. They didn’t care about reading books, they just wanted the look. So old books, no matter what the title, sat on their shelves — as long as they looked good! Btw, if you got paid $1k, that is surely a sign that recycling worked for you!

  9. Betty,
    I hope your foot gets better soon. Interesting posts. Here we have Deseret Industries Thrift stores that take donations. They also provide jobs for handi-capped and others. I have notice that some of their clothing is new and still in the package (I wonder where that comes from) This is run by the LDS church that also has stake farms and canneries, both of which I have worked on. This is where i got some of my “emergency food stores” which consists of dried foods, wheat and rice which I canned my self.
    This summer I mad a rack for the back of my Jeep that holds two 5 gallon gas cans which I leave full (with gas stabalizer) I think everyone should be preppaired for a disaster. The key with food is to rotate your stores. They make some racks where you put new cans on the top and you can taake the old ones from the bottom of the rack.
    I seem to have extras of tools because when a tool sometimes I can’t find it so just buy a new one.

    1. Post

      Thanks, MJ, foot is getting better. And yes, we all need to be looking out for ourselves and each other. What I’m realizing is that the more I search for helpful organizations, the more groups I discover are out there. That’s a positive.

  10. betty,
    quickly cause i’ve got to get rolling as well. just wanted to make sure you know that nov 15 is “america recycles day” — you can check out the goods at rock on with your inspiration!

    1. Post
  11. Your story about the newly rich wanting the look of a library even though they don’t read is true. I was in interior design for about ten years and we had a client like that. We designed a gorgeous library with oak bookcases, sliding ladders on brass rods and a spectacular medieval fireplace. Only problem – the sole book in the house was the phone book. We went to the annual Bryn Mawr book sale in Princeton and bought an entire truckload of books for them dirt cheap. They loved the results – doubt they ever opened even one of the books.
    No, the book store didn’t pay me $1K in cash – that was store credit, good only for more books. Yes, I had tons of very old books and still do. I only sent the store ones I had absolutely no interest in. That left 20,000 or so still in residence. Even if I never read them all, they insulate the walls wonderfully.

  12. Every person needs to cry sometimes. It is ok to cry. Actually sometimes it is the strong that can allow themselves to cry. You need to release the tears and not bottle it up. Betty you are my hero and if I can be as strong and tough as you one day I will be honored. Fight on, you are a NYC girl, you can tough out anything! I believe in you!

  13. One reason that recycling may not be a priority to some people, is because the garbage problem is “out of sight, out of mind”. Do you actually know where your garbage goes? One local landfill is located on 1000 acres, 45 miles west of Indianapolis, near Roach-dale.

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