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Beyond recycling, 10 more ways to prolong the life of our stuff

To a textile recycler, a sweat-stained rag of a T-shirt looks like teddy-bear innards.

A distance runner’s used-up sneakers? Those are reliable transportation for someone without shoes.

The Spokane area’s new single-stream system lets residents divert more waste from garbage cans to recycling carts. But there’s still some stuff the system can’t take – and some stuff that has life in it yet, despite appearances.

At Locks of Love, which makes “hair prostheses” for children, lengths snipped years ago are just as welcome as newly shorn shocks, said Lauren Boothby, its communications director.

The organization gets calls from people who don’t know quite what to do: “ ‘My mom passed away, and we were going through her stuff, and we found all these ponytails of hers …’ ”

Drop them in the mail, they’re told. A handful of ponytails, found in a drawer? A hairpiece for a child with cancer.

Ten ways to recycle beyond the blue cart:


While thrift shops and clothing banks welcome donated clothing, many also ask that it’s “gently used,” as Goodwill’s donation guidelines put it. What to do with the single socks, oil-marked napkins and other textiles too rough for resale?

Textile recycler Gemtext collects clothes, shoes, sheets, purses, belts, curtains, towels, gloves and napkins – anything textile – in its 130 brown “donation homes” stationed in parking lots throughout the Inland Northwest.

The textile recycling industry finds uses for the most bedraggled items, said Sandy Navidi, a co-owner of Gemtext.

“We can take your nasty, old pit-stained something that’s burned, something that’s got a tear in it, and we can recycle that,” Navidi said. “Like an old T-shirt that you’ve been mowing the grass in. We can cut it down and turn it into a polishing cloth, a wiping rag that would be suitable for industrial use, like a factory or shop floor.”

The scraps, such as the arms and the neck, might be reduced to cotton fibers for use in stuffed animals or upholstery.

While textiles are its main focus, Gemtext also can find uses for the toys, books and other non-textiles left in its boxes, Navidi said.

“You’d be surprised at some of the innovative recycling, and also the need worldwide for old toys,” she said. “There are kids overseas who want toys that our kids would no longer want to play with.”

Find drop-off locations at

Athletic shoes

Nike grinds up old shoes for use in track and playground surfaces and new shoes, among other products. While the company’s Reuse a Shoe drop-off list includes no Inland Northwest sites, it welcomes mailed-in old shoes (download a label at>

In addition, charitable organizations collect still-wearable shoes for people in need.

Since fall, Runners Soul running-apparel stores have collected about 300 pairs of “used but not abused” running shoes and soccer cleats destined for African communities, said Nate Kinghorn, who manages both stores in Spokane. Runners Soul collects customers’ old shoes for the MORE Foundation Group (>

As “particular people” who take good care of their gear, dedicated runners often discard shoes after a few hundred miles that look new to someone else, Kinghorn said. In Africa, local vendors sell the shoes, with the proceeds going toward training and tools for poor farmers.

Runners Soul stores are at 221 N. Wall St. downtown and 10208 N. Division St. in North Spokane.


The Spokane Public Library accepts books, CDs, videos and DVDs to add to its own collection or pass along for resale. (Sorry, it doesn’t want your cassette or eight-track tapes, college textbooks, magazines or encyclopedias. Or homemade movies.)

The library adds about $70,000 worth of donated materials a year to its shelves, mostly adult books, DVDs, CDs and large-print materials, Cindy Wigen, who works in the library’s acquisitions and processing department, wrote in an email.

Other materials are passed along to a volunteer group that sells them at a used bookstore on the main library’s ground level and at annual book sales.

The surprises come when boxes of donations include popular new titles, such as John Grisham’s “The Racketeer,” Wigen said.

“This title had 40 requests – we red-flag these and generally get them cataloged and processed in 48 hours and on the hold shelf for a very happy patron,” she said. “And it really feels like we won the lottery when the library receives a box full of new releases like this.”

Deliver two boxes or less of books to any library location. Larger stashes can be delivered to the loading dock at the downtown library, 906 W. Main Ave. Need a receipt? Call (509) 444-5307 in advance.

Packing peanuts

The sturdy pieces of expanded polystyrene fill in the empty spaces in shipping boxes. Then they continue to take up space.

“They are not biodegradable, and they don’t mush down,” said Kathy Maguire, manager of PostNet, 12128 N. Division St., at the Wandermere Fred Meyer. “If you put those in your own garbage can, boom, your garbage can is full.”

PostNet is among many shipping stores that accept clean packing peanuts for reuse. More than 30 percent of all loose fill is reused, according to the Plastic Loose Fill Council, based in Maryland.

The UPS Store at 1314 S. Grand Blvd. Suite 2 also reuses the S-shaped, foam peanuts – although, like PostNet, not the more-squish-prone biodegradable kind, said Ann Marquart, the store’s manager.

Computers and TVs

Under Washington’s electronic-waste law, implemented in 2009, designated collectors can accept old electronics to send along to state-approved recyclers.

“If you’re a Washington resident, you can get monitors, towers, televisions and laptops recycled for free,” said Erik Bisiar, who owns Recycle Techs, among approved sites in Spokane.

In 2012, nearly 2.4 million pounds of computers, monitors, e-readers, tablets and TVs were recycled in Spokane County under the state’s e-waste program, according to the Washington Materials Management & Financing Authority.

The electronics are dismantled and their materials separated and resold to manufacturers, Bisiar said.

While it’s not required, Recycle Techs offers data-removal from hard drives for a small fee.

Find sites that collect e-waste through the state program through>

As for printer and toner cartridges, check with your office supply store. Many accept them for recycling.


Every day, volunteers at Locks of Love open several mail bags full of ponytails and start sorting. The children’s hairpieces made by the organization, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., are more like prostheses than wigs, Boothby said.

Locks of Love served about 500 children in its most recent fiscal year, most of them with cancer or an auto-immune disorder in which the hair follicles shut down. Each hairpiece takes six to 10 ponytails.

To get started, Locks of Love sends a plaster-cast kit to the child. The manufacturer uses the resulting mold to create a cap that vacuum-seals to the child’s head. They can swim or do gymnastics, Boothby said – the only way to get off the hairpiece it is to break the seal at the temples.

The hairpieces are free or priced on a sliding scale, depending on families’ financial needs.

The organization accepts hair in banded ponytails of 10 inches or longer. Permed or dyed hair is OK, but Locks of Love can’t take bleached or highlighted hair or dreadlocks, Boothby said. It sells any gray hair it receives to a wigmaker who works with breast cancer patients.

“So far we haven’t had any children ask for a gray wig,” she said.

Some salons offer free cuts and styles or coupons to people donating their hair.

Cosmetology students at Spokane Community College had three takers in January for their free-cut offer, instructor Deanna Pixley said, including a man who wanted his head shaved. The students prepare the hair for shipping and mail it off for their clients, Pixley said. Call (509) 533-7288 for an appointment.

Go to for hair-mailing directions.

Batteries and lightbulbs

Household batteries, but not vehicle batteries, are collected in the city of Spokane with curbside recyclables (seal them in a plastic bag left atop the blue cart). Waste Management and Sunshine Disposal & Recycling – which collect curbside recycling from other parts of Spokane County take neither.

Both household and vehicle batteries can be left free of charge at the household hazardous waste areas of three waste transfer stations: 3941 N. Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley; 22123 Elk-Chattaroy Road in the northern county; and 2900 S. Geiger Blvd. at the Waste-to-Energy plant on the West Plains.

In addition, some private recycling companies pay for vehicle batteries. And sellers of new car batteries take old ones; in effect, they charge an extra $5 when you buy a new one without trading in your old one, as required by Washington state law.

Residents also can drop off their compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL, lightbulbs at the transfer stations.

As for incandescent bulbs: “They’re garbage,” said Ann Murphy, education coordinator for the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

For guidelines on hazardous waste disposal, go to>

Plastic bags

Murphy said workers often pluck plastic bags from the recycling stream. While residents often toss them in the blue carts, the system can’t handle them.

Grocery bags and other plastic bags can be left in marked containers at many area grocery stores, which bundle them and send them elsewhere for recycling.

Entire vehicles

Used-parts businesses will pay for old cars. Another option: donating your intact, but not necessarily running, clunker to charity.

Among organizations accepting donated vehicles, Cars for Charity splits proceeds from the sale of dismantled or fixed-up cars among 13 local agencies. It has seen fewer donations since 2007 as scrap metal prices have risen and paychecks suffered, said Ken Daniel, who serves on the organization’s board. He works at the Spokane Guilds’ School for babies and toddlers with disabilities, among the 13 organizations.

Go to>

Couches, wheelbarrows, espresso makers, National Geographics, clothes hangers, tulip bulbs, file cabinets, freezer-burned food

The Freecycle Network lets people give or receive items they have and don’t want or don’t have and do want. Members post descriptions of items “Offered” or “Wanted,” which can be perused on a website and are delivered to members’ email boxes.

The goal is to keep useable stuff from being thrown away – what seems toss-worthy to one person is just what someone else is looking for.

When a potential match is made, members communicate to arrange pickup or drop-off. Everything must be offered free, no strings attached, according to Jamie Smith, who runs the Spokane-area group, which started in 2004 and has more than 4,500 members.

Go to to get started.