Giving Back

Spring Cleaning: How To Turn Your Trash Into Treasures

by Pavia Rosati
Photo by Dan Gold / Unsplash.

'Tis the season for spring cleaning, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and to be stuck at home.

Three excellent reasons why you might find yourself with more time than usual to tidy things up. (I don't even have to mention Marie Kondo, right?)

In my obsessive quest to generate less garbage — no easy task when you like things as much as I do — I'm always looking for ways to give new life to goods I accumulate instead of sending them to the trash heap. My usual strategies have their limits: Recycling only works with certain materials, and I always worry that donating to the Salvation Army just passes my "stuff" buck onto them.

So I went looking for companies that can use what I want to toss — flash drives, tote bags, old shoes. The following five achieve this goal — turning trash into treasure and garbage into gold — many with a global focus. (Fathom bonus.) If you know of other initiatives we should add to this list, drop us a line at higuys[at]

Special coronavirus note: Although many of the programs are still accepting donations, helping still involves a trip to the post office or UPS, which may not be the best idea right now. (In addition to staying home, I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't want to generate any non-essential shipping traffic.) Instead, I'm gathering the goods and storing them in tidy corner until it's safe to ship.

Brilliant image courtesy of Flash Drives for Freedom.

USB Drives

Flash Drives for Freedom is a Human Rights Foundation-backed organization that reuses USB drives to smuggle banned news and information into North Korea. They scrubs the drives and fill them with books, movies, Korean Wikipedia, and "other content proven to inspire North Koreans to disbelieve Kim Jong-Un's propaganda and take a stand." Three cheers for that, and the fact that they have reached 900,000 North Koreans so far.

Photo courtesy of Bags4Kids.

Tote Bags, School Supplies, Toiletries, Kids' Gear

Bags4Kids collects supplies for displaced and abused children — who are often forced to leave home quickly with very little to call their own — as well as for social workers, shelters, teachers, and police departments who care for them. The nonprofit need bags (tote bags, backpacks, duffel bags, baby bags), toiletries (think of all the hotel shampoo and soap you've been saving for no good reason), prom dresses (like you'll ever wear it again), assorted personal items for children (everything from baby bottles and car seats and pacifiers to comic books and journals and blankets), and craft supplies (beads, yarn, ribbons, buttons). They especially need new shoes. The list is extensive. Supplies then go into comfort bags — 170,000 so far — that are distributed to children. As it says so eloquently on their website, they're "giving foster children a bag full of hope."

Photo courtesy of ReCORK.

Wine Corks

ReCORK collects wine corks (more than 110,000,000 to date) and transforms them into yoga blocks, footwear for men and women, and surf gear. Theirs is the largest natural wine cork recycling program in North America, with 3,000 cork collection outposts throughout the United States and Canada. They are closed right now, so save your corks until they reopen. (I'm not the only one tearing through wine bottles in search of corona comfort, right?)

Photo courtesy of Shakti Warrior.

Yoga Mats

Yoga mats are very good for you, but very, very bad for the environment. Shakti Warrior, maker of eco-friendly yoga mats, will turn your old yoga mat into flip-flops.

Photo courtesy of Soles4Souls.

Used Shoes

You wouldn't think anyone would want your old kicks, but Soles4Souls sends gently used shoes and clothing to entrepreneurs in the developing world, who then use the materials to start small businesses where job opportunities are scarce. As a bonus, they've spared landfills some 59 million pounds of textiles.

Do you know of others we should include? Drop us a line at higuys[at] And while you're in an eco state of mind, check out these no-plastic version of your travel essentials.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.