Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A Mom’s Guide to Handling All That Stuff

I don’t know about you, but it seems as though our garbage can gets fuller faster now that I’m a mom of three kids. Just this evening my husband came home from work, looked in the kitchen garbage, and commented, “Didn’t I just take this out this morning?” Maybe you did, hun, but that’s what happens when your kids are miniature consumers. Honestly, I feel like I’m murdering 5.6 cubic feet of Earth every time we roll the garbage cans out on garbage day. I know that it is virtually impossible to completely erase our output of landfill waste, but we can try to curb it (no pun intended).
Every few months I have to take a shoebox full of junk toys and throw them in the trash, and then a little part of me cries. We're drowning in small plastic detritus.
Every few months I have to take a shoebox full of junk toys and throw them in the trash, and then a little part of me cries. We’re drowning in small plastic detritus.

Do you remember the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”? You know, that’s a hierarchy. The most impactful thing you can do to help is to reduce your consumption of stuff.


Do your kids really need five souvenirs from the circus, or something from the dollar aisle at Target every time you go? Are you packing the goody bags for your kid’s birthday parties with those cheap throwaway toys? The more that is bought new, the more that is going in to the waste stream; everything eventually ends up worn out and discarded. The biggest impact you can have for conserving resources is to stop consuming so many of them. I know for some of you, your love language is to give gifts, even little ones, to your kids. I know it’s hard, but you could look for new ways to show your affection. Perhaps you could spend a half hour playing that annoying game your kids always beg you to play (or is that just me?), or take a walk with them instead. The earth would thank you if it could.


Reuse is the second option in the hierarchy; it’s great for the environment AND for your wallet. Your kid’s outgrown clothes, furniture, books, games, and toys can often be used by another family. My husband and I were young and the budget was tight when our oldest was born, and buying used was by far the best option, even if it wasn’t for the environmental impact. Eight years later, we still buy many things used even though the budget is a bit looser, and our kids really couldn’t care less. Plus, saving on things like clothes and books by buying used diverts the money I would be spending on that to more fun things like an OMSI membership or a week of summer camp.

Buying used is as easy as ever, and you have lots of options. Thrift stores, consignment stores, craigslist, and garage sales are great places to look for gear, but the best bang for your buck can be found at biannual consignment sales: imagine a garage sale and a consignment store had a huge, gently-used baby. They’re usually held in large gymnasiums or large vacant stores twice a year, and you can find almost anything related to babies and kids there: everything from baby furniture and breast pumps and maternity clothes, to sports gear, Halloween costumes and video games. And miles and miles of clothes racks. Some of the larger sales in the Portland area include Pass It On, Baby’s Bottom Dollar Sale, Just Between Friends, and Super Kids Resale.


Recycling is the next step of the Three R’s. We Oregonians are passionate about our mixed-materials recycling, and rightly so: many of our containers and refuse can be cycled back into new packaging, diverting those materials from landfills. Take a look at Portland Metro’s recycling guidelines for your curbside recycling bins. In the spirit of Earth Day, let me touch on a few parenting-related items you might be trying to get rid of (and remember to reduce and reuse first, if you can):

1. Baby bottles and sippy cups: remove the lids or nipples, and you can throw the bottoms in your curbside recycling as long as they are at least 6 ounces in capacity.
2. Breast pumps: The bottle-like containers can be recycled curbside, and if there are electronic parts, they can be brought to Far West Recycling or a similar recycler. The tubing has to be trashed.
3. Plastic retail hangers: Unfortunately, these can’t go in our recycling containers, but you can bring the ones with a plastic recycling number to Far West Recycling locations. They may want you to take the metal bits off first.
4. Juice boxes: Aseptic liquid containers like these can be recycled curbside provided they are at least 6 ounces or bigger. So give them a good rinse and throw them in.
5. Old, tattered books: If they are too worn for reuse, please don’t throw them in your curbside recycling, as the binding materials can contaminate the recycling process. I suppose it would be okay to rip out the pages and enclose them in a paper bag to recycle curbside if you’d like, but put that binding in the garbage.
plastic toy recycling
This is an example of a large, rigid, plastic toy that can be brought to a recycling depot.

6. Old toys: If it can’t be reused, there aren’t very many options. If there is a recycling number on the toy, or if it is one of those really large plastic play structures, you can bring it by a Far West Recycling location, but otherwise it will need to end up in the trash.

7. Art projects: Take a picture of that self-portrait for the digital art portfolio and then remove non recyclable parts (tape, glitter, plastic or metal pieces) before sneaking putting it into the recycle bin. Or save it, if you have the space and heart.

8. Clothes: If it’s stained, torn, or unfit for use, there are a few places that may take them to recycle into industrial fabrics, but mostly they end up in the landfill. Some people also use large items for landscaping cover under barkdust.

9. Car Seats: If it is expired or damaged, remove all of the straps, Styrofoam padding, cloth, and metal, and bring the rigid plastic parts to a recycling depot like Far West Recycling. If you are unable to recycle an unusable car seat, please slash the fabric and cut the straps off to deter dumpster divers wanting to make a dishonest buck off a “gently used” car seat.

If you have any questions about Portland Metro’s Recycling program, feel free to call them at (503)234-3000. A very friendly person from Metro named Christy helped me while I researched for this article. Here is a link to a quick guide on recycling depots in Portland (scroll down to page 10), or see this for a more exhaustive list. And here is a handy tool for figuring out how to dispose of common household items, courtesy of Metro.

Say it with me now…Reduce, reuse, and recycle!



  1. Hi, Roxie When my older daughter was born i was young ,too. I did not have a big salary and have to reuse clothes and toys from my big sister. Actually it became a pattern, when my second child was born I reuse my daughter’s clothes and toys. I mean that there is nothing wrong with using baby’s clothes more than ones. Kids are growing so fast that usually they dress their clothes several times. I love your advices. Thank you!

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