Let’s face it: As much as decluttering might help us during trying times, cleaning up can bring its own stresses. What do you do with those old batteries, mattresses, or boxed sets of Frasier? In Seattle, we encounter these decisions more than most. With tiny living spaces and frequent moves, our city is basically in a constant state of upheaval.

But all this turnover means there are many systems in place here to make sure household items don’t go to waste. Longtime locals are pros at disposing, or gifting, in sustainable, socially responsible ways.

But maybe you need a refresher, or you’re a newcomer who can’t seem to find the landlord’s resource packet beneath all the boxes. Look no further. Here’s how to get rid of stuff like a Seattleite.


Since 2015, it’s been illegal in Seattle to toss food scraps in the garbage. Composting discourse has been around for so long here that it’s moved from banana peels and apple cores to human bodies. But just in case you’ve been zoning out while your friends brag about their stinky soil enrichers, check out the city’s tips for setting up a composting bin. It won’t just make your trash less gross; those scraps often produce lots of methane, a greenhouse gas that hastens climate change, when they’re dumped at landfills.

Find your local food bank

Extra food isn’t always just scraps. An impromptu move may not have afforded the time to clear out the pantry. Or, perhaps all those beans don’t look as enticing as they once did. Either way, drop nonperishables off at the city’s food banks or public drop sites across the region. Food insecurity has risen to about 30 percent in south King County since the pandemic began, so the sooner the better.

Bookmark the city’s “Where Does It Go?” tool

When it comes to discarding random household items, it’s impossible to think of everything. But one city department has come close. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) created a “Where Does It Go” tool to answer all the questions you’re too embarrassed to ask a friend or loved one. An alphabetized list of disposables—from six-pack plastic carriers to Amazon packaging to holiday lights to Ziploc bags—allows you to confidently answer, “Trash or recycle?”

And the city’s guidance doesn’t stop there. Each entry anticipates your "what-abouts" in painstaking detail. Take the one for soup boxes: “Plastic spouts don't need to be removed to recycle soup boxes. Make sure they are empty and clean.” No wonder our recycling rate is so much higher than the country’s.

Don’t get too ambitious recycling on your own

For a price, SPU will come scoop up “large or hard to dispose of items” at residential customers’ homes. Handing off an old TV will cost about $30, and fridges $38. Book these special item collections online or by calling 206-684-3000. Or hit up the private sector; Ridwell will come to your door and put an end to the kind of aspirational recycling that can contaminate a whole bag and, in turn, negate its environmental benefits.

Embrace the cult of Buy Nothing

Maybe you’re skeptical of recycling lately (understandable, though some new local approaches might change your mind)—or maybe putting an old recliner out to pasture just feels a bit too impersonal. If so, you might want to check out Freecycle or Buy Nothing, where you can give or request anything from a desk chair to a half-eaten sandwich (I’ve seen it) without any money changing hands.

Two Bainbridge women started the Buy Nothing Project in 2013 as a means to reduce waste and promote the gift economy, and the organization now claims more than five million community members worldwide. But its appeal is that it’s hyper-local. Facebook groups span mere blocks and offer juicy tidbits (or TMI) about your neighbors’ lives. So even if you’re feeling the Seattle Freeze, an extra set of tongs might just be an icebreaker.

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