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Q. Dear Umbra,

About a year ago I made the whole body switch to organic and all-natural shampoos, body lotions, makeup, etc. In an attempt to stop my packrat-like habits, I want to know, what do I do with all of my old chemical-laden bottles and tubes? I can’t bare to just throw them in the garbage knowing that I could have recycled the plastic bottles, but if I recycle the bottles, that means I will have to pour the contents down the drain which flows into our lake affecting the wildlife–the reason why I switched to all natural in the first place! Please help!

Frettingly,
Carlee S.
Niagara Falls, ON

A. Dearest Carlee,

beauty treatmentI’m supposed to be relaxing!Also Dearest Many Others with Confusing Trash Around the House. I have filled a 42-gallon trash bag with recent letters about vexing unwanted items: cosmetics, pill bottles, cookware, shampoo, floppy discs … fortunately for me, my trash bag is digital, and seems to vaporize when I hit the happy button.

For non-virtual objects, however, I wish you all to follow some very basic steps. The first step is to admit that you are powerless to prevent accumulation of a certain amount of garbage, no matter how earnest your intentions. Then we get to skip the fearless moral inventory and go straight to making an inventory of which items it is possible to recycle or reuse.

There are two main substeps at this point. One is contacting your local trash management information source and finding out if your particular garbage is toxic, recyclable, collected by a local agency, etc. Many agencies have an annual or more-frequent household hazardous waste collection day, and some accept cosmetics and the like. The second thing you can do is search on the internet for people recycling your item; perhaps someone wants old VHS tapes, and if you are willing to ship them to Iowa, the problem is solved.

If you make these efforts and are thwarted, then feel free to move on to the next step: Throwing things out. In your case, Carlee, it is better to throw the tubes and bottles out than to pour their contents down the drain. Better still would be to use the products up. You could use them as intended (one more wash with the last dribs of your old shampoo will not be the end of the world), or find a new purpose for them at a site like AltUse. And then you can recycle your containers.

But people, listen: We will have garbage. Unless it is electronic, officially toxic or hazardous, or recyclable, we will need to throw it out. The only way to have fewer things to throw out is to bring fewer things into our lives. We must do the best we can at that, and accept that we are not perfect, or we will go insane. I am going to now model this behavior and throw out all the letters about throwing things out.

Valiantly,
Umbra