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The Best Eco-Friendly Tips for Decluttering Sustainably

Looking for tips on decluttering sustainably? I’ve got lots for you today – for every item you could ever imagine.

Since my Christmas tree came down I’ve been on a decluttering and spring cleaning mission like never before.  Our house is up for sale just now and the idea of packing, moving, and then unpacking stuff we don’t use or need does not fill me with any joy whatsoever. As such, I’ve been going through everything we own with a fine toothcomb. Here are my top tips I’ve picked up for sustainably decluttering with an environmental conscience.

Tips on Decluttering Sustainably

When you’re cleaning out drawers and cupboards it can be tempting to put everything in a black bag and put it in the bin. Perhaps you might feel guilty, and instead, give it all to a charity shop. The problem is that charity shops may not be able to sell your item and it may end up in the bin.  Before you do either of those things, here are some handy ideas on decluttering sustainably.

Sustainbly Decluttering Clothing

The most sustainable way to declutter clothing is to pass it on or sell it. I’ve written here on the best sites to sell your secondhand clothes online. This is because charity shops can’t always sell what we donate to them. In fact, as much as 70% of all UK reused clothing donated via charity shops, clothing banks, and doorstep collection bags heads overseas. Here it is chopped up into rags, sold on at markets, or thrown into landfills – all having impacts, such as devasting local textile industries.

Other options include having clothes swaps with friends or taking part in locally organised clothes swaps. If there are none near you, there are also clothes swapping sites online, such as Swopped.

Bras that no longer fit you, but are still in excellent condition can even be donated to bra recycling companies. Yes, there are such things!

For clothes that are beyond the point of reuse, you can pop these into bags marked as rags and donate these to your local charity shop. The charity shop can sell these on to the rag trade. This way, the charity shop still receives some money. Textile recycling companies can then recycle these unwanted items of clothing into things like fillings for use in mattress production, or for producing filling material for furniture padding, panel linings, loudspeaker cones, and car insulation.

Sustainably Decluttering Furniture & Homeware

decluttering tips

I have found that Facebook marketplace is a great place to list for free your unwanted furniture and homeware, for local collection. You can give items away for free, or sell your items here.

For other items that you don’t need and don’t want any money for then, Freecycle is also brilliant for decluttering sustainably.  I have listed so many things I no longer need on Freecycle and without fail, everything has been taken.  Even really random things you might think no one would want or need should be listed on Freecycle.  I’ve seen so many strange things listed on there, that all seem to get snapped up.  

The last item I listed was some bits of wood leftover from doing some home renovations.  This was snapped up within a day. It turned out to be just the thing the lady needed to finish off her bathroom renovations!  Someone else’s rubbish really is someone else’s treasure!

I’ve also had a lot of success with using Gumtree to list things for free.  We upgraded our washing machine a couple of years ago to a combined washer dryer. The old one was at least 9 years old but it still ran fine, it just didn’t meet our needs anymore.  The company we bought our new machine from offered to recycle it if we paid them £25 for it.  

Instead of scrapping a perfectly good machine, and spending money unnecessarily, I listed the machine on Gumtree, in their freebie section, as free to a good home.   I honestly received about 40 emails in the space of an hour. In the end, it went to a man who was setting up his own flat and couldn’t afford to buy a machine. This is way better than scrapping the machine.  He even picked it up on the same day as I listed the advert!

I’ve also had success selling smaller homeware items that I’m happy to post on eBay.

Decluttering Sustainbly Books, Magazines, DVDs, CDs, etc

Doctors and dentist surgeries will always welcome old magazine donations.

For CD’s, DVDs, and computer games I’ve heard a lot of friends have had success with Music Magpie. I used them recently and was impressed with their service. You simply scan your items via your phone, box your items up, and a courier company collects your box free of charge.

Charity shops are great places to donate books. Some shops and community centres may also run free libraries that may be in need of donations. Alternatively, there may be a Little Free Library in your area that may want some or all of your books. Hospitals may also want donations of books.

Electronics & Electrical Goods

For electronics and electrical goods that still work, then selling or passing them on to others through Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Freecycle or other communities is a great step in decluttering sustainably.

For mobile phone recycling, there are heaps of companies on the internet who will recycle your old phone.  I’ve used Fonebank and Mazuma before – both seem to offer good prices.

Charity shops don’t tend to take electrical goods. Some do, so do check with your local shop.

If your item is broken, then you could offer them free of charge on an online marketplace for parts or spares. Alternatively, your local household recycling centre and many electrical retailers will recycle your electronics and electrical items for you, free of charge.

What Won’t Charity Shops Take

I always feel that dumping everything we don’t want on charity shops isn’t particularly sustainable. There might be some items that you are unable to sell or pass on yourself, but before you bundle them in bags for your local charity shop remember that charity shops won’t take everything.

Charity shops don’t tend to take electrical goods (some do so do check with your local shop); gas appliances; bikes or helmets; toys without a CE mark; food and drink; medication or vitamins; personal items such as shavers or epilators (unless new and sealed in a box); and any soft furnishings (such as sofas and cushions) and teddy bears without a fire label on them.

Also bear in mind that charity shops want high quality, desirable and sellable donations. Be honest with yourself before you donate an item. Would you buy that item if you saw it for sale in a charity shop? If not, find someone who does want the item or recycle it if possible.

Unwanted Goods for Recycling

Your local community recycling centre is able to take a whole host of items for recycling, free of charge, from energy-saving light bulbs to batteries, to mattresses, and even water-based paints and tyres (if your decluttering takes you as far as your garage or shed!).  Just search your local council’s website for where your nearest community recycling centre is, and what they can take (if you’re in Edinburgh, here is what can be recycled).  Make sure your waste is separated before you go!

There are also charities that will take open tins of paint. You can search for your closest charity through the Community RePaint network.

Decluttering sustainably your shed?  There are a few bike recycling charities around the UK that take unwanted bikes, recycle them, and sell them on.  Just search for “bike recycling” in your area. Quite often they can collect your bike from you.  Alternatively, you can take them to your local community recycling centre, which then passes the bikes on to local charities.

Unwanted Items You Want to Sell

gumtree or ebay or preloved

For items you want to sell then Gumtree, Preloved and eBay are all brilliant for decluttering sustainably.  There are no fees to pay for selling on Gumtree or Preloved, and these work much like classified ads in your local paper, in that you list the item, interested buyers contact you, and then come to yours to pick it up and then pay cash in hand.  For items that you are selling that you intend on the buyer collecting from you then stick to Gumtree or Preloved.  eBay’s seller fees can be pretty high and it isn’t really worth it when you can list on Gumtree or Preloved for free.

For smaller items that you can post, although eBay and Paypal fees are high, it’s worth it to get a nationwide or worldwide audience.  There are quite a few other online auction sites out there but I tend to stick to eBay as it’s the most well-known and well used.  

When selling on eBay take good quality photos, write a clear and accurate description of the item. And when you write the title of your auction use up as many of the characters as possible with good descriptive words. Just think what words you might type if you were looking to buy that item. Think colour, age, condition, brand, etc.

I tend to start auctions at prices as low as possible. I list most of my items with a starting bid of just 10 pence.  This is because I find this gets people’s attention and interest. Consequently, I find that items tend to go for much more than when I used to list them at higher prices!  If this approach makes you uneasy you can always place a reserve price. This is the minimum you want to sell an item for. However, in all my years of selling on eBay (9 now!) I’ve never actually had to set a reserve price.

Alternatively, there are car boots sales up and down the country that you can sell your goods at for a fee.  For baby gear, clothes and toys then there are NCT sales around the country.  

How to Get Started Decluttering Sustainably

If you’re finding it hard to know where to start, then start small.  Pick one drawer or one cupboard and start from there. You can work up to bigger areas once you’ve gained some momentum.  I find doing one small area at a time, and setting a timer for 15 minutes makes it seem like a less overwhelming task.

If you’re not sure whether to get rid of any item or not then place it in a box or bag and place it out of sight for a month.  If you haven’t needed the item or thought about it after a month then it can go!

Finally, the best tip I’ve ever heard for decluttering sustainably is not to get too sentimental about objects.  Of course, there are some things that you should keep, but other less inconsequential items can go.  All you have to do is remember that by getting rid of the item then you’re not getting rid of the memory.

Good luck!

Home, Home and Garden

Is Cork Eco-Friendly When it Comes to Wine?

cork good for environment

Have you ever wondered whether a cork stopper or a screw top is the most eco-friendly option when it comes to wine? Read on and find out!

I’ll admit – I like wine.  Sauvignon blanc, Prosecco, Malbec, and Merlot are my tipples of choice.  Come Friday night, after the baby is in bed, you’ll more often than not find me with a well-deserved glass of wine in my hand. I’ve even got a guide to ethical wine right here.

Over the past few years, plastic stoppers and screw-top wine bottles have infiltrated the wine market.  At first, when screw tops started appearing I thought “how convenient” – no more searching for a bottle opener, and no more corked wine.  However lately I’ve started to wonder if cork is eco-friendly, or if their screw-top equivalents are more environmentally friendly?

Surely a Screw Top Is Best?

My initial thought was surely yes, screw tops are more environmentally friendly. Especially as trees have to be cut down to extract the cork, whereas metal can be recycled.  

Then I started looking into it, and as it turns out I was completely wrong.  What I found was that cork is eco-friendly as cork is one of the most sustainable materials in the world.  Meanwhile, the dominance of screw tops on wine bottles is actually threatening ancient Mediterranean cork oak forests.  Screw tops and plastic stoppers also contribute to widespread environmental destruction.

What’s So Eco-Friendly About Cork?

Across Portugal, Southern France, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey are swathes of ancient cork oak forest.  These forests are home to endangered and rare species.  These include the Short-Toed Eagle, the Egyptian Mongoose, the Barbary deer, and the Iberian Lynx.  These cork oak forests are also home to biologically important flora and fungi.  And what’s more, the presence of the forest also prevents the soil from drying out and turning into a dust bowl.

You may be wondering how is cork eco-friendly if this is the case?  Well, to extract the cork you may be surprised to hear that not one single tree is cut down.  Instead, the bark of the cork oak trees is peeled away.  The cork is then carefully extracted manually by very highly skilled harvesters.  The trees are in no way damaged and the cork forest in Portugal alone absorbs around 10 million tons of CO2 each year.

Cork is naturally renewable and grows back after nine years.  This system preserves the forest in its pristine entirety.  It also enables perpetual harvesting with no damage to the forest or ecosystem.

natural cork harvest

This ability to renew itself is not the only superpower that cork possesses. Cork is also completely biodegradable.  And from a social point of view, cork extraction from oak is also a highly skilled job, in rural areas where jobs are hard to come by.  This skilled work pays very well and helps to support viable rural communities.

Why Screw Tops Aren’t As Eco-Friendly As Cork

With the widespread infiltration of screw-top wine bottles, the lack of demand for cork means the oak forests are losing their value.  A loss in value means the forests are more likely to be exploited in unsustainable ways.  This threatens the habitat of vulnerable species, threatens livelihoods and threatens the viability of rural communities, and brings the risk of areas turning into dustbowls.  Removal of trees also impacts the ground – meaning flooding is more likely.  So cork is definitely the most eco-friendly way forward.

I mentioned I initially thought aluminium screw tops were easily recycled. In fact, it turns out screw tops are not widely recyclable.  More often than not they are too small to be easily recycled. Meanwhile, the plastic stoppers are not recyclable.  On top of this, mining for bauxite (the ore from which aluminium is produced) is one of the most damaging practices on earth.  As such, the increased use of screw tops contributes to this destructive practice.

The plastic seal on the inside of the screw top and the plastic stopper can leach chemicals into the wine, causing taint.  It can also be damaging to human health, which isn’t too great either.

What Can You Do?

What can you do?  Well, the good news is it’s not difficult to help. To be an eco-friendly wine drinker, just always try and buy wine with a cork in it!  For me, it’s a good excuse to drink Prosecco as generally it is always stoppered with a natural cork!  So you can sit there, with a nice glass of sparkling wine, knowing that you are helping to preserve the forest. And at the same time, saving the habitat of the lynx, mongoose, eagle, and host of animals, as well as providing precious jobs in rural areas. I’ll raise a glass to that!

If you’re not buying Prosecco or Champagne It can be difficult to tell if wine is stoppered with natural cork due to the foil covering.  If in doubt shop at a quality wine merchant and ask.  The staff in these places are very knowledgeable about wine and will be able to direct you to natural cork stoppered wines.  100% Cork also has a handy list of wineries that support natural eco-friendly cork stoppers.  You can also look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Certification) symbol on wine labels.   There’s also a 100% Cork Facebook page which you can join to show your support.

My Wine Might Be Corked

If you’re worried about your wine being corked due to the use of a natural stopper, then read on. The primary cause of cork taint is the presence of the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). TCA isn’t just found in cork. It’s also found naturally in wood, water, soil, fruit, and vegetables. This means that myriad other factors, including the storage of wine in wooden barrels, can contribute to wine spoilage.

Over the last 20 years, wine producers have invested in new equipment and worked to refine production techniques. This has contributed to a sharp decline in tainted wine. Recent tests by the Cork Quality Council show a 95% reduction in TCA detection tests.

It’s also important to note that the move to plastic and screw-top bottles was not to prevent corkage.  It was actually for financial reasons.  Screw-tops are cheaper to produce than paying highly skilled harvesters to source cork.  So fear not about your precious wine!

Let’s all raise a glass to this sustainability superhero!