Until recently, if you opened the closet in my guest bedroom, you’d have been buried in an avalanche of empty Amazon shipping envelopes. There was a box labeled “electronics” in the garage with an old Kindle, an aughts-era MacBook, two defunct Canon PowerShots, a CenturyLink router, and a cordless landline telephone. Our linen shelf housed a set of extra-long twin sheets last used in my dorm room more than a decade ago.
None of the above can go in my Arvada city recycling bin, yet sending it all to languish in a landfill just didn’t feel right. When I heard about the Happy Beetle—a year-old Denver company that offers monthly or quarterly ($142 or $89 per year, respectively) porch pickups for difficult-to-reuse-or-recycle items—I was thrilled at the prospect of absolving my guilt. I also needed the storage space more than ever, having recently added a baby, and all the stuff that comes along with him, to our home.
The Happy Beetle was born after co-founder Dave Kiefner, as well as his friends and neighbors, had similar experiences. “A lot of these items we know shouldn’t be thrown away, like batteries—but where do you take them?” he says. “And then once you do the research, how do you find the time, especially as a young family, to load up your car and drive across town?” Kiefner and his wife, Breanne, founded the company to help others solve that very problem.
But before I hired them help with my specific version of that dilemma, I was curious: What would the Happy Beetle do with, say, the bedding I purchased as a bright-eyed college freshman in Indiana? After hauling it across the country and finding places for it in five Colorado rentals and my current house, I felt invested in the sage green sheets’ future. So, I asked Kiefner and his director of operations, Lilah Park, to tell me what happened to my stuff after I joined some 1,100 other metro-area households in signing up for their service.
When the Happy Beetle van pulled up and took away my two large, branded fabric bags—which customers are allowed to fill and put out for each pickup, along with one additional item, such as a box of books, a television, or a clothing-filled trash bag—I felt a vague sense of anxiety. What if we buy our toddler an extra-long twin bed next year?! But mostly, I was relieved. And I felt even better when Park sent me the breakdown of where my hoard ended up:
- Plastic film (Amazon envelopes, bubble wrap, deflated air shipping pillows, etc): CHaRM (Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials), a branch of Eco-Cycle, the community recycling facility that services the city of Boulder; plastic film is shipped to NexTrex, which uses it to make outdoor products like composite decks
- Misc. electronics and laptop: Arvada’s SustainAbility, which employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for refurbishing or recycling
- Batteries: Mailed to Battery Solutions for recycling
- Lightly used boots: Soles4Soles in Arvada for donation
- Like-new puffy vest: Clothes to Kids of Denver in University Hills for donation
- Rinsed-out baby food pouches: Mailed to TerraCycle for recycling
- Two propane camping tanks: Metro Gas in North Denver for recycling
- Bed linens: Picked up by one of Happy Beetle’s bulk textile partners; textiles that can be reused will be sold or donated, and those that cannot be reused will be recycled
Park also let me know that I did a good job of sorting out and trashing my bubble-wrap-lined paper mailing envelopes (whose components, I was sad to learn, are virtually impossible to separate for recycling), per the provided one-pager of accepted items and instructions. I did fail to remove the batteries from some of the electronics, which Happy Beetle asks customers to do since they’re recycled at different places. The restrictions aren’t just for efficiency’s sake once everything reaches the company’s 560-square-foot warehouse in Aurora. “I also see our role as educational,” Park says. “I don’t want people to think we’re miracle workers. I’m trying to teach people how recycling works and what we can and cannot process.”
Seeing the list of destinations, I had the fleeting thought that I probably could have figured out where to take the laptop or dropped off my sheets at a local animal shelter. Happy Beetle’s fee, however, seems like a small price to pay to have the research and logistics taken care of—and to get my linen closet back. Plus, Park says, the company consolidates pickup and dropoff routes in order to limit its carbon footprint, which is surely better than all of its customers driving to each destination solo.
If I was on the fence about keeping the service, the next email from Happy Beetle pushed me off it: Through July 8, the company is running a special seasonal collection, during which it will accept cookware and disposable utensils as part of a partnership with Denver Rescue Mission. And wouldn’t you know it—there’s a plastic bin bulging with four years’ worth of plastic-wrapped cutlery from restaurant delivery orders in my basement.