Your Trash Just Doesn’t Disappear, Stupid! (Or How to Make Sure Useful Things Stay out of Landfills)

Please forgive my rudeness. If I heard my children speak to someone that way, there’d be some serious lecturing going on. But you’ll understand when I relay the conversation I heard between two young moms the other day at a restaurant.

Mom #1 “My garage was so jam packed with boxes of things. I didn’t even know what was in half of them. I finally go so tired of it all I just took them all out to the curb.”

Mom #2 “Isn’t it such a great feeling when the trash men just make it all disappear?”

Mom#1 “Yes, ‘poof’ and it’s all gone.”

To which I wanted to scream over to their table “Your trash just doesn’t disappear, stupid!” But I didn’t because I was raised better than that. And my son was with me. And I’m fairly gutless in situations like that. But I was screaming it in my head.

What an absolute waste. What still perfectly useful items were in those boxes that the trash men hauled away to be burried in a landfill. There’s no way of knowing, but I do know this one thing. There were many ways she could have easily found new homes for the still useful things in those boxes.

As I see it, when you’ve got something that is still useful but you aren’t using it anymore, there are three responsible ways to get rid of it. None of them involve putting it out at the curb for the fairy trash men to waive their wands and make it disappear.

Turn it Into Cash

If you’ve got stuff that’s in good condition, selling it is always an option. If you’ve got a lot of stuff, hold a yard sale. Just one thing to get rid of? Sell it on Craigslist. Put an ad up on your local coffee house bulletin board. Auction it off on eBay. There are lots of ways to turn your trash into cash.

Donate it (and Don’t Forget to Get a Receipt)

Donate your useful stuff to charities, and make sure you ask for a receipt. When April 15th rolls around you’ll have a tax write off. It’s kind of like turning your trash into cash but without actually having to take the time to place an ad or deal with the hassle of a yard sale.

Give it To Someone in Need

There is someone out there who needs something you’ve got. Send an e-mail out to your friends letting them know you are looking to get rid of whatever it is you’ve got. Or post it on Freecycle and let someone come and take it off your hands. You may not benefit financially from it this way, but you certainly wouldn’t have benefited from it financially if you’d just thrown it in the trash. Plus, it’s a fabulous feeling knowing that you were able to provide for someone’s needs.

Sure, any of these three ways of dealing with your unwanted items takes a little time and effort. But keeping them out of landfills is so important. Not only will you be saving the earth from having one more piece of trash buried inside of it, you’ll be stopping new resources from being wasted. When you give that futon away to someone who needs it instead of leaving it out at the curb for the trash men, you’ll be saving that person from buying a new futon. Resources are saved.

Our trash really doesn’t just disappear. It goes somewhere. If it’s truly not trash, but a useful item, make sure it makes it gets into the hands of someone who can use it and not into the landfill.

>> Related: 10-Step Guide to Buying a Used Laptop That Works

Image courtesy of flickr.

  1. Traverse Davies

    This is why I have always been an advocate of littering. Honestly, the garbage does no more damage on the street than in a landfill (arguably less) and is far harder to ignore. That’s why anti-littering campaigns are so much easier a sell.
    Now, I think that all of us who care about the environment need to start a no trash collection movement, a pro littering movement… if the garbage starts to pile up in the streets maybe people will stop buying things with masses of packaging and try to be a bit more responsible.
    In other words, being anti-littering is actually being anti-environment, despite what you have been told all your life!

  2. P.Price

    Oh, how it pains me to see good stuff–or stuff with perfectly good salvageable bits sitting by the curb. Aargh! I once carried a hefty bookshelf several blocks while pushing a stroller. I knew we couldn’t use it, but figured someone wanted it. Turns out that within 24 hours, our new neighbors had painted it to match their li’l girls room. It’s a precious piece of furniture now.

    Last week, my toddler and I stopped off at another neighbor’s garage sale and scored a Fisher Price play set and a big box filled with stuff to make car ramps. He spent three days fixated by the stuff…even if the play set was slightly damaged and he had to make do with some “repurposed” action figures.

  3. Cris Dobbins

    This article caught my eye because I am in the process of moving and cleaning out my life. It is so great to go through all your stuff and really get down to the bare minimum. Although, this cleansing is different then any in my past. I have decided during this move to create as little trash for the landfill as possible. And yes it would be much easier to throw it to the curb. How ever this is not an option for me. So, thank you for this article and all the great tips so I can find happy/eco friendly home for all my un-wanted stuff.

  4. lee

    Thanks for the tips.

    My landlord cleared out a garage full of storage boxes last week and some of the items were surely antiques! Is there anywhere to take those?

    I’m wondering about some other things: where can you take paint cans? what about furniture that is not salvagable, but has good materials? planting trays and pots? rusty tools?

    tip: electronics may be recycled by an interest organization in your area (my town has an A/V club who takes old parts) AND I heart bringing clothes to the Salvation Army/GoodWill.

    happy simplifying.

  5. Robin Shreeves

    Traverse – Interesting logic. I see your point, yet I don’t think I’m going to start throwing trash out on my front lawn just yet.

    P.Price – When I see stuff on the curb in my neighborhood, I often go up to freecycle and place a curb alert.

    Chris – Good luck getting down to the bare minimum. I seem to always be purging, yet always surrounded by stuff.

  6. Emma

    I moved out of my little studio apartment in LA on Sunday, and I had loads of stuff to get rid of — old shoes, plates, IKEA side tables. Didn’t throw out any of it — brought it to Out of the Closet (a bit like Salvation Army but benefiting people living with HIV/AIDS) — a bit of a hassle, but made my conscience CLEAR. It’s wonderful the way organizations like Out of the Closet can make your trash disappear, while making money for people who need it and affordable goods for those on the market for a TV/desk, etc!

  7. web

    when you ve got something that is still useful but you aren t using it anymore, there are three responsible ways to get rid of it. None of them involve putting it out at the curb for the trash men to waive their wands and make it disappear.

  8. Dave


    I once lived in a neighborhood where leaving your disposing of your unwanted belongings by setting them out by the curb had an entirely different result: People less fortunate than I came by at night, sorted through it, and took what they needed or found useful. Consequently, I felt pretty good about putting my ‘junk’ out next to the curb.

  9. Uncle B

    We will have to allow the poor to work the dumps as in other third world countries now that the $700Billion dollar recession is upon us and our government prints money instead of solving our problems by law. Right now whole dwellings complete with working, albeit out of date, appliances can be had after dark at the landfill gates, salvaged by crooked profiteers. This should not be allowed, nor should crooked nighttime scavengers and dishonest garbage truck drivers be allowed to make tax-free money from our garbage. I say, Open the dumps to the public! Let the poor people profit! Recycle, reuse, renew, retrieve! Mine those scrap heaps! poor Americans will show up in hordes with pick-up trucks, SUV’s, cars and even on bikes and clean up the mess.Free enterprise at its best! We are no longer an affluent, throw-away society! We are third world and sinking fast! The Dow broke 10,000. on the way DOWN! TODAY! Move over India, watch out China, we are in a free fall DOWN!

  10. Nemea

    Nice post! A great resource is your local Freecycle. Freecycle is a resource where folks can give away stuff they no longer need, or search for stuff they need, through a yahoo group for their local area. I love to meet folks, and they are so appreciative. Sometimes they bring gifts like fresh produce from their gardens, etc. With Freecycle I feel more connected to the people who live near me, as well. Just give it away and contribute to a new style of economy that is about people and not about money while you keep perfectly good stuff out of the landfill.

  11. Robin Shreeves

    A lot of people are mentioning putting it out at the curb. I live in a town where people actually do that several days before trash day and no one complains. If I see someone do that, I actually go up to freecycle and put up a “curb alert.” But, there are many, many towns that do not allow it, and will fine a resident if they put out trash before the approved time. There are also many towns that don’t allow you to put anything out unless it fits in their pre-approved cans.

    So, if you can put it out at the curb with confidence that someone will come along and take it – that’s fantastic. But that’s not always the case and then an effort needs to be made to get rid of it responsibly.

  12. Bobby B.

    Two comments from a non-greenie:

    1. I recently purchased a new couch and had to dispose of the old one. Why did I have to dispose of the old one? Well, none of the charitable organizations in my area wanted a clean – albeit somewhat worn – couch. It had no tears, no stains, and the recliners on each end still worked. It’s only disparaging point was that the cushions needed restuffing. Since it wasn’t good enough for charity, I asked several friends and family if they could use it (that seems backwards); but still had no takers. I would have set it at the road for one of those “junkmen” to pick up, but inclement weather at the time would have ruined it. Since it was too big for the trash can and I had no place to store it, I had to disassemble the darn thing, give the steel components to a recycler, and dispose of the remaining pieces in the normal trash across several weeks. I did save some of the solid wood for the fireplace, but there was not much of that. What would you greenies have done different?

    2. I also do my part DAILY to reduce landfill wastes by shaving in the second most environmentally friendly manner available; a double edge razor. The most friendly would be a straight edge razor but that’s just too risky. The DE has no plastic parts, lasts forever, and the only trash that results is a thin steel blade, which rusts away in just a few months. I also use the old style shave soaps, which minimizes the wastes involved with producing and disposing of the pressurized can-o-foams that most people use. Being green had no bearing on choosing this wet method of shaving. It’s just a fringe benefit of getting a better shave. I wonder how many greenies are up to the challenge of giving up their disposable razors and risking a few nicks for the cause.

  13. Marty Dougherty

    Leaving it out on the curb is great for some communities and several people that come into a communitiy to provide services are able to collect these treasures. Belive me , if they are good, they are gone by even the neighbors. Down here in South Fllrida are several agencies that collect items if the agency is called.

    I do see some neighbors that will throw something out and then destroy the knobs or a certian piece of the item to make it not useable. That I think is not being nice.

    I grew palms and when they get a little too big for my back yard (too many pots), I’ll leave them by the curb for anyone to take. Most times, it’s the landscapers, who do and want to come into the back yard and take whatever they see laying around in addition to what is free on the curb. Go figure about people.

  14. sarah

    wow! ur really smart! hey, im in a competition “trash to tereasure”
    and i wanted to know if you could contact me and give me some ideas. thnks! πŸ™‚

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