Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reduce, REUSE, Recycle: Freecycle and Craigslist Free Items

One day of the class I took this summer (required to maintain my teaching license) was a day of field trips. Some people went rafting, some toured a farm, some visited a lumber company. I signed up to visit a water treatment plant, a hydroelectric dam, my local dump, and a home goods and construction recycling construction center. I learned a lot from each place, but the thing that probably left the biggest impression on me was visiting the dump and watching people pitch perfectly good, or at least recycle-able, items into the pit.
Spy Hill Landfill - 4 by D'Arcy Norman

We have made many trips to the dump, with broken items and true garbage. But in the few minutes I stood looking into the pit, I saw someone toss in a wheelbarrow, a massive pile of wood, soil, and empty boxes. The wheelbarrow did have a small hole in the bottom, but appeared to be functional other than that. I know it wheeled just fine because it fell off the top of the person's pickup truck when they made a tight turn, and someone in my class wheeled it back to them. We collectively gasped when the person then shoved it over the side of the dump into the pit. Wood and soil are both recyclable, and that person could have been tossing those wood pieces into a giant dumpster about 20 feet away, to be taken to be used as fuel instead of added to the landfill. Soil, or "fill dirt" could have been taken by many people who want to fill in their yard's low spot. I know this because after our garden project I offered free fill dirt on Freecycle and Craigslist, and more people replied than I could supply, and our driveway was quickly emptied of the dirt we didn't want. There is also a company in our town that takes all yard waste, including sod, dirt, concrete, and plant matter, and recycles it into products that it then sells back to consumers. Think about how much better these options are than driving your items to the dump, where they are then transported (by fossil-fuel burning vehicles) to a landfill either a couple of miles, or a couple of hundred miles, away. Landfills offgas methane, and pollute the earth and water, no matter how hard they try to contain the poisons. Basically, if you have anything that could be reused or recycled in any form at all, please don't take it to the dump and add it to the landfill! Someone just might want the item that you see as junk or garbage.

I mentioned Freecycle and Craigslist, which are my favorite spots for getting and offering cheap or free used items. Freecycle describes itself as a "network to promote waste reduction and help save landscape from being taken over by landfills." People post things they need, and things they have to offer. And Craigslist, well, you probably aren't reading a blog if you've never heard of Craigslist, as it is such a common . I like to check the free page every once in a while, just to see what's there.

I have given away cleaning products, a lamp, fill dirt, a water filter, and a few other things on Freecycle, and sold furniture, electronics, clothing, and baby items on Craigslist. It always feels good to know that something I was no longer using is getting a longer life, and/or being used by someone who really needed it! Sometimes I think we can get carried away with the importance of recycling (which I do believe is important), when re-using items is even better than recycling them in terms of saving energy and natural resources. Of course, donating you unwanted things to a charity is a good option too.

In college, I spent a semester abroad. I learned a lot about American culture by noticing what was different in other countries. One thing that I grew to appreciate about American culture was our willingness to give old things a second (or third or fourth) chance through re-sale shops, consignment shops, online selling and sharing, donations, and the good old free pile by the curb. Perhaps because I live in a university town that prides itself on being green, but there are free piles here all the time -- of extra garden produce, leftover moving supplies, furniture, albums, you name it, I've probably seen it free. In Spain, where I lived for five months, there were no free piles, and no Goodwill or consignment shops. When I asked a Spanish friend about what I should do with the clothes I didn't want to pack around for the rest of my European travels, he said I could throw them away or donate them to a church that would give them to the poor. Several of my friends and I donated our clothes before we left, but were surprised there were no other options. Perhaps it isn't this way in all of Spain, but it certainly made me appreciate my local culture's ability to REUSE goods until they are no longer useful or usable. Although many people clearly aren't doing it, as evidenced by my visit to the dump, the opportunity is there.

What's it like where you live? Have you given or gotten some great used items recently?

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