5 sustainable ways to clean up trash, debris after a natural disaster

After a major storm or natural disaster sweeps through an area, potentially damaging your home and littering your yard with debris, there are ways to ensure that the cleanup process is environmentally friendly.

In contrast to simply throwing the waste in a dumpster to be hauled off to a landfill, it’s important to understand that the process of discarding waste in a sustainable manner will take some time and effort, said Matthew Hollis, president of Elytus.

The software technology and consulting firm helps businesses plan out sustainable waste strategies.

“The best thing you can do is start to work through the waste that you have in your house and categorize it accordingly,” Hollis said.

To help the process go smoothly, consider sorting out your potential waste in categories including food, appliances, clothing, yard debris and furniture.

Food waste

The next step is to figure out the best way to handle recovering or discarding damaged items.

An easy place to start is with spoiled food in your refrigerator, which is likely if there’s an extended power outage.

“You’re going to have food in your fridge that went bad, so that’s organic waste,” Hollis said. “That can be composted and it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the landfill.”

Some compostable foods include grains, fruit, vegetables, eggshells, meat and dairy products. There are also facilities that convert food waste into renewable energy.


Any clothing that may have been ruined by the storm can be recycled, said Hollis. He recommended airing out clothing by hanging them rather than using a dryer.

“Start talking with organizations like the Goodwill or the Salvation Army,” he said. “A lot of those organizations will take clothes that are damaged and sell it in textiles.”

Those textiles can then be shredded and turned into things like insulation, rags or carpet.


A non-functioning household appliance can be used in other ways, including being recycled for parts.

“Maybe there are certain parts of the appliance that can still be used and can help others; [for instance,] they can take three broken stoves and combine it into one that works,” Hollis said.

If the appliance is unable to be recycled for parts, examining the item and determining if there are any recyclable precious metals is also an option.


If a storm has ravaged your home, it’s possible that your furniture may have been damaged by floodwaters or debris. Figuring out what is salvageable is a good starting point, said Hollis.

“The best thing you can do is dry it out as best as you can,” Hollis said. “If it’s a metal table and you dried it out and it looks to be intact and un-rusted, then it’s fine.”

Hollis said that while glass can typically withstand the impact of water, furniture made of fabrics or wood may have to be recycled or de-constructed for re-purposing.

Storm debris

Separating storm debris outside of your home is essential to helping the environment and preventing rodent infestations, said Laura Simis, an inbound specialist at Evergreen Lawn and Pest in Orlando, Florida.

“Dry piles can be a fire hazard and moist piles smell like decomposition,” Simis said. “They can also be hazardous if debris spills or blows into traffic.”

Simis recommended organizing storm debris according to the type of material.

“Yard waste, [including] trees, branches, leaves, torn-up landscaping and shrubs, has to be separated out from construction materials [like] roof shingles, broken glass and drywall,” she said.

After considering these categories, you can sort out the typical items that you’d normally recycle, including glass, plastic and cardboard, said Hollis.

Hard-to-recycle items, like Styrofoam, will likely be items that you’d discard in the trash, he said.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.