Deciphering Seattle’s recycling code isn’t easy: Lids are recyclable, but only if they’re at least 3 inches wide. Takeout containers are trash if they’re dirty, recyclable if they’re clean. Foam trays are trash, except the beige ones, which are compostable.
We know out-of-towners who just give up and bag their trash to take home with them. True Seattleites, however, study their recycling charts because we love keeping stuff out of landfills. One Seattle kindergartner is helping make that easier.
Six-year-old Owen Metzger, of the recently coined Owen’s List, helps neighbors recycle or donate items the city doesn’t collect in its recycling pickup. Owen and his dad, Ryan, are so serious about this endeavor, they’ll even swing by to get them.
As for what the Metzgers have diverted from landfills, these aren’t feel-good kiddie quotas: 170 pounds of batteries, 224 pounds of holiday lights and 300 pounds of electronics. At a friend’s house, Owen spotted some old phones in a drawer. He told everyone, “My dad and I can recycle those for you.”
The Metzgers picked up with so much Styrofoam — nearly 700 pounds, aka 20 Owens — they rented a truck to drive it to the recycling facility in Kent. Now when Owen sees Styrofoam in a dumpster, he says, “That could have gone to Owen’s List!”
The idea for Owen’s List began last fall, when Owen and his dad needed to get rid of some dead batteries. They knew batteries shouldn’t go in the trash, so they researched where they could safely drop them off. After posting on their local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group, they picked up batteries from a few neighbors too.
Owen and his dad looked around their house for more things they could recycle. They talked about where stuff goes, and what happens to waste. They created a website for Owen’s List in December. News about this Queen Anne kindergartner’s venture spread quickly. By February, more than 1,600 people had signed up for Owen’s List.
Owen’s List is about keeping as much stuff as possible out of landfills, and making it easy to do that. It’s also about doing something positive with a real impact, instead of telling kids, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”
“There are definitely people who want to do the right thing with stuff,” Ryan says, “and we will do what we can to help them with that.”
Take unused diapers, for example. Most people have an slight excess as their babies grow out of sizes. In January, Owen’s List picked up more than 4,300 diapers for WestSide Baby, an agency that gives supplies to children in need.
Owen’s List involves a couple of hours driving around the city on a weekend. On another pickup for WestSide Baby, Owen’s List collected a carload of socks, pajamas and winter coats. After Halloween, they collected 55 pounds of extra candy to donate to Birthday Dreams, a nonprofit organization in Renton that plans parties for homeless kids.
Through the project, Ryan hopes Owen and other kids learn to be mindful about what people do with things they’re getting rid of.
“There are different options than just throwing things in the trash,” Ryan says. “And little things you do add up and do some positive things in your community.”
To sign up for recycling information and pick-ups, join Owen’s List at owenslist.org