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To the Dump

Kyle McIntosh, 2:27 am ET

LOOKING FOR A FIELD trip that’ll inspire you? It may sound strange, but I suggest visiting your local landfill. I just went to mine to discard a rug. I returned with a commitment to change my behavior.

The landfill was a surprisingly busy place. This was my first visit, so I was confused about where and how to drop off my rug. Dozens of more-seasoned visitors sped past me to drop off their loads. Seeing them made me ponder the ease with which people throw things away.

I was surprised that a large portion of the items still appeared to be in working condition. Furniture and toys topped this list. I saw several bikes with air in their tires that could have been ridden home. I may have tried to snag a few lawn chairs if not for the “no scavenging” signs. Couldn’t these have been recycled or passed on to someone else?

Another section that caught my eye was the area for appliances. I had never considered where old appliances ended up. There were dozens of stainless-steel dishwashers and refrigerators. Again, many appeared to be in decent shape. I would guess that most were within a decade of their original purchase. Certainly, some appliances are donated or sold, but why not more?

My landfill experience made me reflect on how wasteful we can be. I’ve since made three pledges to limit my personal waste. First, I’ll try to repair household items when they break. The internet makes it easy to find replacement parts, and it seems like there’s a YouTube video to guide every home repair. I’ve kept dishwashers and barbecues working through such efforts.

Second, I will emphasize quality when making purchase decisions. Pinching pennies is tempting, but there’s truth to the adage that you “get what you pay for.” I worked for Patagonia for years and still enjoy the quality of its products. I’d rather have one Patagonia jacket that lasts for decades than a cheaper brand I need to replace repeatedly.

Finally, I’ll try to find someone who can use my old items before I discard them. My preference is to give used items to friends and neighbors. I’ve had success placing bulkier items on the street with a sign that says “free.” I won’t get a tax deduction from this form of giving, but I take comfort knowing the goods will be used. In the future, I may consider using the Buy Nothing Project website, which facilitates sharing among neighbors.

A landfill is not a joyful place, but it’s a jarring one. With my three pledges, I hope to stay away for a long time.

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Ginger Williams
Ginger Williams
10 days ago

The last time I moved, I contacted a small local junk/recycle company to haul away things I wasn’t taking. The owner walked through my house and told me frankly that I could make at least $10k selling larger items through consignment store instead of paying him to haul away. I explained that I had movers coming the next day, so I’d happily pay him to haul away and dispose off however he wished. The team sorted into sell, donate, recycle, landfill as they loaded. Two hours and $500 later, they drove off, leaving only the stuff for movers to load next day and a few cleaning supplies. I was delighted that very little was headed for the landfill.

Chazooo
Chazooo
10 days ago

No doubt you went to the dump for the same actual reason as the others – when you try to sell for a song, offer as free, or even donate, nobody steps up and there you are with no recourse except the dump. Even the charities and resellers are getting picky just like the munincipal recycling efforts have become. What happens when the landfills become exclusionary?

Kyle Mcintosh
Kyle Mcintosh
10 days ago
Reply to  Chazooo

Yes, the dump was a last resort. I’d managed to avoid it for over a decade, but as you note no one wanted what we had. Really makes me think about what I buy going forward.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
11 days ago

Great article Kyle. Moving last year really pointed out how much stuff we had accumulated. We were able to donate a bunch of stuff, sold some to the new buyers, and threw out more than I would have liked. It’s a shame that quality old textbooks are basically worthless. I recommend downsizing as soon as possible as you approach retirement.

Kyle Mcintosh
Kyle Mcintosh
10 days ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Definitely good to downsize early! I have some of my grandparents stuff sitting in my garage that I’ll eventually have to toss. Mostly pictures of people they met on vacations 🙂

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
11 days ago

Happy to see this post. I feel strongly about recycling and precycling. I also feel items should be disposed of properly. My fellow condo residents often do one of two things: They either put the wrong items in the recycling bins such as toasters, etc. , or they throw electronic items and old paint in the garbage Dumpsters –items that can be taken to a county recycling station. Too many people feel they must have the latest appliances, although they are often better for the environment in the long run. Thanks

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
11 days ago

Kyle, thanks for a good article on an important subject. The amount of waste in our country, fostered by the “just throw it away” mentality, is a real shame.

excel lent
excel lent
11 days ago

Having worked 5 years as a garbage man back in the late 80’s, still provides great memories. Collecting all the aluminum, copper, brass, stainless steel, batteries I could to sell to the junkyard was a nice bonus. Shocking how many usable items were discarded. I wish I would have been more knowledgeable about antiques as I threw away more than I kept.
One person lost $10,000 cash because someone else cleaning didn’t look inside the brown paper bag. They spent a few hours searching the landfill but no luck.
I made friends with multiple dogs and cats that I always had a treat for. Perks from picking up pizza joints and kept me from getting bitten. They could hear and see me coming and were always there to greet.
I accidently ran over a german shepherd once. Some dogs can’t help themselves as they nip and bark at the wheels. I carried him behind the barn so the kids wouldn’t find him coming home from school. I left a note and the owner appreciated the gesture. It was the 3rd dog they lost.
I rescued some kittens as someone had buried them in the garbage can. I took them to the Humane Society. Another adult cat and rats that sprang out after lifting the lid. Surprise!
I had a mystery animal buried inside a bag I picked up. It was dark at the time and I decided to drive to the next house and prepare myself for what was in it, but it had fought its way out of the bag and jumped out. I assumed someone tried to dispose of it, but it was still alive.
I dumped my share of asbestos, motor oil, fluorescent lamps with mercury, lighting ballasts and refrigerator compressors full of pcb’s. My boss said he was surprised we weren’t sicker than we were. Many of my co-workers never made it to Medicare age. I figure some of those toxins are percolating inside me and could be the source of my ultimate demise. But it was always fascinating watching items get crushed. It was a good time.

Richard Ladd
Richard Ladd
10 days ago
Reply to  excel lent

Nice story, that was what I wanted to do when I grew up! Fred Sanford was my hero!

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
11 days ago

Indeed, our town’s “buynothing” facebook page is a great resource that posts free or cheap stuff that always gets picked up. Craigslist is another great resource to pass on well used stuff whether on their free page or for nominal value. Today, almost anything having residual remaining useful life can be passed on to others.
“One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 days ago

Those folks dropping off dishwasher, etc. are missing an opportunity. My son – with a masters degree – supplements his income by collecting old metal and selling it to metal dealers. A pickup truck load can turn into a hefty check and the metal is recycled. Find some copper and you have a bonanza.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
11 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

We have a “bulk pickup day” twice a year in our city, and you will see people with pickup trucks and big trailers driving around picking up all of the big appliances like dishwashers, ovens, washers & dryers, etc. I assume they either try to fix and resell them or take them to the metal recycling place for a quick buck.

Last edited 11 days ago by Nate Allen

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