Photo depicting the interior of Second Use with green signs indicating aisles for windows, doors, cabinets, appliances, trim, and flooring. An individual pushes a bin full of wooden slabs down the center aisle.

The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Recycle and Reuse

by Mark Van Streefkerk

A majority of the waste in our landfills doesn’t need to be there. According to a 2019 King County Waste Characterization and Customer Survey Report, over half of what we throw away could be redirected. “Seventy percent of the material that is going to our landfill could be recycled, composted, or reduced,” explained Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington. “The vast result of what’s going to our landfill doesn’t need to be going to our landfill.” 

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report showing that the effects of climate change are “widespread, rapid, and intensifying,” and that “strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change.” Greenhouse gasses are responsible for raising the temperature of our planet. A warming planet is also partly responsible for increasing the severity of wildfires on the west coast in the past few decades. Extreme weather events like hurricanes or heat waves have also been linked to climate change, which also affects the most marginalized and socially vulnerable.   

Holding corporations and governments responsible to reduce greenhouse emissions is essential to limit the effects of climate change, and there are also changes we can make in our own lives that are relatively simple — and save money — to help offset our own carbon footprint. 

Recycle Well

In order to reduce the waste we send to the landfill, it’s important to recycle as much as we can. A general rule is to look for the “Top 5 Most Wanted Recyclables:” paper, plastic, metal, glass, and cardboard. Recyclables need to be clean and dry, with no food residue left on them (unless it’s a compostable item). It’s okay to leave the labels on plastic or glass recyclables, and even tape left on cardboard boxes is okay. Recyclables should also be put in the bin loose, not bagged. 

Use the “Where Does It Go?” Tool to find out how to sort your garbage, or download the “Recycle It” app for convenient info about your waste collection days, facts about sorting garbage, recycling, and compost, and a place to report some service issues. 

One common misconception about plastics is that plastic bags can be bagged up (bread bags, plastic grocery bags, etc.) and put in the recycling bin. That is false. Thin plastics like bags or wrapping get caught in recycling equipment, slowing down the process and can be a safety hazard for staff. Plastic bags and wrapping can only be recycled at stores or businesses that participate in plastic film recycling. Enter your zip code at the Plastic Film Recycling website to find stores near you that recycle plastic bags and wraps. For example, the Safeway at 3820 Rainier Ave South accepts clean and dry plastic bags and plastic films. 

Buy Used 

Recycling is one way to reduce waste, but reusing salvaged materials is twice as good. Buying used saves money and saves materials from the landfill. The following three reuse stores in SoDo give a second life to products and materials that would otherwise go straight to the dump.

Earthwise Architectural Salvage works with developers and contractors during demolitions or remodels to save building materials like lumber, doors, windows, cabinets, lighting, plumbing and electrical components, and even rare old-growth lumber. 

“I think a big hit to our environment is having so many things that are designed to only last a couple of years and then go to the dump,” said Aaron Blanchard, director of operations for Earthwise Architectural Salvage

At Earthwise, you’ll find a lot of materials from older homes, from the early 1900s up to the ’50s. It might sound like old stuff, but Blanchard emphasised that in an age of “planned obsolescence” for most goods, what’s considered vintage might even outlive you. 

“If you go to Home Depot right now and look for a door, you’ll get these hollow core doors that are more plastic than they are wood, versus coming to our shop — everything you get here is going to be made out of solid wood,” he said. “It’s been used in a house for a hundred years; it’s ready to go for another hundred years.”

Second Use is another reuse store that salvages and resells building materials in SoDo and Tacoma. This community-minded business has operated for 27 years and often partners with Sawhorse Revolution, the nonprofit that built the new Estellita’s Library. Second Use also partners with Habitat for Humanity and hosts free workshops on home improvement and how to use salvaged goods.

“Construction waste is a huge percentage of the waste that gets thrown in a landfill, so keeping those materials out of the landfill … is very important,” said Amanda Harryman, outreach coordinator for Second Use. “At the same time, we provide those materials back to the community typically at a more economically feasible rate.”

Recycling old electronics and computers, as well as buying repaired and refurbished ones, is responsible and cost-effective. At Re-PC, co-founders Mark Dabek and Steve Hess have been helping make the local electronics market more sustainable for 27 years. They have locations in SoDo and Tukwila.

Looking for something else? SoDo is a treasure trove of second use stores, with offerings for every price point. Check out Goodwill Seattle Outlet and Epic Antique for clothes, furniture, books, and home goods. Pacific Galleries — Seattle’s oldest antique and vintage mall — was slated to close, but will live on as Lander Street Vintage, reopening next month. 

Photo depicting the grey exterior of a Second Use shop.
Founded in 1994, Second Use is a community-minded company that salvages building materials from construction and demolition sites and resells them at their SoDo and Tacoma locations. (Photo: Philip Newton)

Advocate for Systemic Change

Dabek is also on the board of the Washington Materials Management & Financing Authority (WMMFA), created by producer-responsibility laws. “Producer responsibility” means holding manufacturers responsible for the whole life cycle of their products, including the end stage of recycling. In Washington, producers typically pay for the recycling of TVs, laptops, and computer monitors, but Dabek adds that there are “a lot of electronics that aren’t covered by that unfortunately.” 

This summer, Maine ramped up their extended producer-responsibility (EPR) laws by requiring producers to be responsible for their packaging waste. Producers will pay into a fund that helps with packaging management costs, and the laws will incentivize companies to make packaging easier to recycle. Oregon also passed a law in August that extended EPR laws to include packaging as well.  

For more on how to reduce plastic waste at the source, check out the Emerald’s “Guide for Fighting Plastics” on our website.

This climate change series is made possible with support from Nia Tero.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

📸 Featured Image: Giving building materials a second life rescues it from a landfill and saves the consumer money. Also, materials or furniture considered vintage just might outlive you. A lot of older appliances or goods were made to last decades, as opposed to our current time of “planned obsolescence,” where items are made to last for a few years and then discarded. (Photo: Philip Newton)

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