According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, Pennsylvania generates more landfill trash than every other state except Nevada. In addition, we take in more trash from other states than anywhere else. As a result, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation, behind California and Texas, in generation of landfill gases, mostly methane and carbon dioxide, which trap heat in the atmosphere. So, the more stuff we can keep out of landfills, the less methane and carbon dioxide makes it into the air.
There are some things that landfills are prohibited from accepting. Electronic waste—computers, televisions, cell phones and other devices—contains toxic chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and beryllium, that will leach into the water supply unless taken to landfills built specifically for hazardous waste. If you put those items out for trash pickup, the waste hauler will leave them at the curb. Mt. Lebanon hosts an electronic waste recycling event at the public works facility on Lindendale Drive. This year’s events are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on April 21, May 19, June 16, July 21, August 18 and September 15. Only residents may participate, and there is a limit of one TV per car.
The Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) accepts televisions for a fee at its recycling events. The PRC schedules a number of hard-to-recycle collection events across the state. Materials collected at no cost are: laptops, mice, keyboards, home phones, cell phones, tablets, PDAs, servers, routers, modems, web and digital cameras, DVD players, VCRs, paper shredders, clock radios, stereos, microwaves, copiers, fax machines, scanners, zip drives, electronic cables, video game consoles, expanded polystyrene packaging material and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Other materials, such as computer monitors, televisions, printers, tires, fluorescent, neon and incandescent light bulbs, will be accepted for a fee. For a complete list of items, fees and event schedules, see www.prc.org/programs/collection-events/hard-recycle-collections/west.
The PRC also offers a range of Zero Waste services, aimed at drastically reducing the amount of trash produced at events and in everyday living. The council has worked with signature Pittsburgh events, including the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh Marathon, Great Race and the Steel City Big Pour to divert a significant amount of materials from landfills. The PRC offers tips on reducing the amount of waste and will also work with event planners to come up with a customized waste reduction plan.
Abby Lawler Morycz, a member of Mt. Lebanon’s Environmental Sustainability Board, worked with the PRC for a zero waste party for her daughter’s high school graduation in 2015.
“They showed up with equipment we rented for composting and waste recovery,” she says. “We had about 70 people at the party and ended up with one small grocery bag of landfill trash.”
According to the EPA’s most recent report on solid waste, the recycling and composting rate has increased from less than 10 percent in 1980 to more than 34 percent in 2014. The report showed trash generation of 4.4 pounds per person per day. Of that 4.4 pounds, 1.1 is recycled and another 1 pound is either composted or combusted with energy recovery. Landfilling of waste decreased from 89 percent in 1980 to under 53 percent in 2014.
Clothing & household goods
According to the Council for Textile Recycling, only about 15 percent of clothing and other textiles are donated to thrift stores or otherwise recycled. The textile industry—which in addition to clothing includes bedding, towels, upholstery, draperies and similar products—produces an average of 25 billion pounds. Textiles, rubber and leather accounts for about 9 percent of all municipal solid waste that went to landfills in 2012.
Secondhand stores such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Red White and Blue and St. Vincent DePaul collect clothing for resale, but they only sell 10 to 20 percent of the volume of materials they take in. The rest is sold to specialized recyclers. About half of that amount is shipped overseas “as is” to other clothing markets. The rest is converted into rags, carpet padding, insulation and even upholstery for cars. So only about 5 percent of the clothes you put in the collection bins ends up in landfills.
Upscale resale shops such as the Savvy Fox on Greentree Road take designer clothing on consignment. Others, such as The Clothes Mentor in the Chartiers Valley Shopping Center, buy and resell gently used brand name clothing. Online stores such as Tradesy or The RealReal also are sites where you can recycle high-end clothing and accessories while making (or spending) some money. Or consider asking to join a private social media site such as Mt. Lebanon Pass Along and Pickup, where you can recycle toys, jewelry, clothing, furniture and other things, either by giving them away or selling them for a reasonable price. Many of the brick and mortar stores mentioned also accept furniture and decorative household items, and don’t forget the garage sale option, as well as antiques and collectible shops such as Finders Keepers on Cochran Road.
Construction Junction, the non-profit located at 214 N. Lexington Street in the East End, has been a resource for donating and purchasing used construction material since 1999. If you’re planning a DIY project, you can visit their website, www.cjreuse.org, and view their available inventory. Construction Junction accepts appliances, building materials, cabinets, countertops, doors, flooring, glass and mirrors, hardware, furniture, lights, masonry, office items, bath and plumbing materials, windows, shutters, tools and “architectural salvage,” which includes antique millwork, mantels, trim, corbels, rosettes, plinths, chimney caps, tin ceiling, some antique tile, window headers, newel posts, spindles, handrail, cupolas, wainscoting, paneling, and more. The website also lists details about the condition materials need to be in to be accepted. Construction Junction leases space in its building to the Center for Creative Reuse, which accepts and sells used art supplies.
In addition to electronic items, Mt. Lebanon offers paper shredding and woody waste curbside pickup. To see a complete list of events, and a number of other recycling resources, click on the public works departments Garbage and Recycling page.
The South Hills Interfaith Movement accepts donations of clothing, which it offers free of charge at its Community Closet, 5301 Park Avenue in Bethel Park, to community members who are registered to use SHIM’s food bank. Community Closet hours are Monday from 10 to 1, and Tuesday from 1 to 4. If you would like to donate, contact Molly Patterson, 412-854-9120, ext. 108, email@example.com.
Off the Floor Pittsburgh collects used furniture and household goods and delivers them free of charge to families in need.
Freecycle is an online bulletin board that matches people with unwanted items. A recent sampling of Freecycle posts showed everything from sofas to tea strainers, Waterpiks, exercise equipment, computer desks and cookbooks.
Southminster Presbyterian Church on Washington Road, has a lending library of limited mobility equipment—walkers, crutches, non-electric wheelchairs, canes. Call 412-343-1930 to arrange an appointment.