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5 Ways to Keep Unwanted Stuff Out of Landfills

Jacquelyn Ottman Posted by Jacquelyn Ottman.

Jacquelyn is the founder of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., which helps businesses develop and market the next generation of products designed with sustainability in mind.

5 Ways to Keep Unwanted Stuff Out of Landfills

Photo: Cameron Morales

Got stuff you don’t want but don’t want to see it wind up in a landfill?  I’m with you. I’ve always been reluctant to send any item to the trash heap that might have a more appropriate destination. Surely someone can use this bag of marbles/lamp that needs rewiring/collection of old knitting needles, I would think to myself as my hand hovered over the trash can with the item in question, but who?

For years, I kept a running list of places that accepted odd items. The library had a receptacle for old batteries? Got it. My dry cleaner took back wire hangers? Noted. Animals shelters accepted used blankets for their dogs and cats? Good to know. My list turned into a website, and StuffYouDon’tWant.com was born.

Reuse Tips for Unwanted StuffWhile StuffYouDon’tWant.com provides suggestions for how to get rid of your unwanted items, it’s never going to give you the perfect solution for every solid waste situation. Here are some additional tips to make the most of the site, and help you with your own process of decluttering with an environmental bent.

1) Donate Stuff You Don’t Want Hyper-locally

If you drove fifteen miles away to drop off three DVD cases, emitting greenhouse gases the entire way, your journey has been an environmental failure. Your goal should be to dispense your extra goods in the normal course of your day, if possible, without using any additional resources, especially if them items in question are of comparatively little value.

If you have four-dozen boxes of cookies left over from an event, by all means bring them to the nearest food shelter. If you have eight cookies left over from last night’s batch, put them out in the break room at work and be done with it. Similarly, if you have a single item that you’re not sure what to do with but still has life in it– a kid’s winter coat, a beat-up desk, a slightly used kite – either ask around or join your local Buy Nothing group, which gives you a chance to post unwanted items to offer to your immediate neighbors.

Stuff you don't want out of landfill

Old batteries contain hazardous chemicals. Photo: Nancy Matson

2) Keep Hazardous Stuff You Don’t Want Out of the Waste Stream

Rerouting potentially useful items out of the landfill is a good idea for efficiency and for the environment; not putting hazardous materials into the trash is a legal obligation. Educate yourself about common household items that need special handling, like batteries, paint, aerosol cans, toner cartridges and electronic waste. If you’re going to a place like Staples, anyway, they usually take back printer cartridges; likewise for batteries at many hardware stores. In most cases, it’s better to store up the hazardous stuff you don’t want and keep an eye out for a hazardous waste collection event near you. Check your town or city’s local listings.

3) Target Large Volumes of Specialty Stuff You Don’t Want

If you’re moving and have rooms full of furniture, clothes, books, and other ordinary household goods, the most efficient thing to do is to bring the whole lot of it to your local thrift store or Goodwill. However, if you have a considerable number of a specific item, that’s when targeting comes in. A dozen prom dresses? There are several nationwide organizations that collect them for high school students. Have you done a huge construction project and have a lot of leftover materials and tools? Habitat for Humanity is a good place to start, but there are many other options as well.Stuff You Don't Want

When I have only a few of a single category of items, say, a half dozen cans of soup, I collect related items from other people (work or school is a good place to do that) so it’s worth it to make a special trip.

4) Use Your P.I. Skills

While I keep my eyes peeled for potential recipients of odd items and, like everyone else on earth, spend a lot of time googling, sometimes the answer isn’t that obvious, and I am forced to use logic and do a little investigation. For example, I had a lot of leftover half-used bottles of alcohol from a party, and offered it to a local struggling art gallery for their openings. They snapped it right up! In the same way, I contacted several places that make art mosaics to see if they took broken dishes, and gave away my used Canola oil to someone who had converted his car from to run on vegetable oil.

Unwanted dresser kept out of landfill

This used dresser was built to last. Photo: Nancy Matson

5) Advance Plan Where Your Can

It is my fervent hope that StuffYouDon’tWant.com inspires people to think about where they’re going to get rid of items at the time they acquire them. Not only would this stop people from making needless purchases, it would also help them make better ones. For example, though people think of plastic as recyclable, it really isn’t (read my rant here) so, if there’s a glass and plastic option for a drink container, I always choose glass.

When I buy furniture, I buy quality used furniture instead of cheap new stuff. Not only do I often prefer it, but while IKEA furniture is worthless after it’s been taken apart and put back together a handful of times, a dresser from the 1940s made out of mahogany has already stood the test of time. If I treat it well and keep the wood polished, I’ll have no trouble finding a new home for it if I move or redecorate. That’s one less item taking up landfill space.


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