Don’t Trash It – Ten Ways to Get More Value Out of Things

don't trash it

The growing problem of landfills is a bit too abstract and remote in my mind for it to keep me from throwing things away. And I’ve even climbed one, Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, now a city park. Far more effective at helping me keep down my personal waste is possibility of throwing away something of value. I might be short-sighted in this area, but losing money now is a stronger motivation for me than the possibility of environmental disaster at some uncertain time in the future.

I never have been one for throwing away things that are still useful, but reading Mongo: Adventures in Trash by Ted Botha made me think even more about the value that still exists in the things I might throw away. This fascinating book focuses on people who rescue things of value from the trash of New York City – literally everything from food to diamond rings.

Even here in suburbia, where people generally have more space to store things than in city apartments, I am amazed what gets thrown away. Though I personally have never gone dumpster diving, I have occasionally pulled things from the curb on trash day and have received (and used or resold) things other people have pulled for me, including toys, a child’s rocking chair, interesting books, craft supplies, a six-foot ladder, collectors’ items, and vintage Viewmaster reels – all in good condition.

So how do you get more value from something you’re about to throw away? Here are ten ways:

Compost it. Start a compost heap with your food scraps and other organic material. Use the compost to fertilize your garden, thereby saving not only on fertilizer but also food (by growing it yourself).

Recycle it. When I was a Girl Scout, our troop earned money by collecting aluminum cans to sell to recyclers. Recycling has since become mandatory in many municipalities, but some places still pay for recyclable items and scrap metal (which can be salvaged from broken household appliances and other things you might throw away).

Freecycle it. If you have something that you no longer want or need but that is still in good condition, offer it through a local Freecycle or similar organization. Incidentally, though Freecycle’s goal is to save things from landfills, it is also a great way to save money for yourself. If your area doesn’t have a Freecycle chapter (or even if it does), you can still find a new home for your things by putting them in a box outside your home with a “Free” sign on them; you might also make someone’s day.

Repair it. If it’s something you still want but it’s not working as it should, try to repair it before throwing it away. You may find that you can easily increase its lifespan.

Reinvent it. Before throwing anything away, ask if it can fill a need in some other way. For example, we had a small trash can that we no longer needed for our house; we turned it into a scrub bucket. You can use torn and stained clothes as rags, make a kids’ creativity box out of odds and ends that you don’t know what to do with (have them use the things as craft supplies or props for a skit), or turn bread bag clasps into tabs for index card boxes or textbooks – the possibilities for reinvention are almost endless.

Break it up. If you can use any part of the thing you’re about to throw away, disassemble it and save that part.

Sell it. Make a little extra cash by holding a yard sale, selling your stuff online, or taking it to a local auction house to sell for you.

Swap it. Trade something you don’t need for something you do.

Hand it down. Hand-me-downs are great, and not just for kids. If you gain or lose weight, find a friend in your former size who can wear the clothes; if you have something else you value but will no longer use (books, computer, CD players, etc.), pass it on to someone who will use it. Be sure to ask if they want it first or let them know that they can pass it on if they won’t use it.

Donate it. If you don’t know anyone personally who would want the things you’re discarding, you can always donate them to a nonprofit organization. If they’re in good condition (and the organization will sign a paper saying so), you can deduct the donation on your taxes.

Hmmthis list sounds more like a “save the environment” list than a “save money” list. Though saving the environment is low on the list of things that motivate me, I believe in reducing, reusing, and recycling because it makes good financial sense. It just seems silly for someone trying to live within his or her means to throw away anything that can still be of value.

Image courtesy of Gare and Kitty

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9 Responses to Don’t Trash It – Ten Ways to Get More Value Out of Things

  1. A Marino says:

    This a good article and a timely one at that. I think that for so many years, many of us have been guilty in throwing perfectly good items away. I feel that I’m more conscious of each day when I see a landfill and also hearing about others in need of much needed items.

    Even if you have lumber, or lumber scraps and put it in the front yard with a sign that says FREE, it will be picked up. There are many that have hobbies and sometimes just need a smaller board to complete it. You have saved them from having to go out and purchase unneeded amounts of lumber and you are helping the environment and yourself as well by getting rid of it.

    I have started reusing freezer bags. I figure that is one less piece of plastic that will be thrown in a landfill. There are myriads of ideas out there.

    I also have started cutting out greeting card front pictures and using them as a tag for presents.

    Thank you for the article. The ideas are very useful.

  2. Fern says:

    Freecycle has its merit in keeping things out of the landfill, but it also requires a ‘taker’ to drive, sometimes surprising lengths, to pick a single item up, wasting gas and spewing more carbon dioxide into the air. A lot of people turn freecycle into a game of sorts, trying to see how much free stuff they can accumulate, and whether or not they really ‘need’ it is debatable. Many also resell the stuff for a higher price on ebay, which destroys the real essence of what freecycle is about, IMO. That is, making the concept of sharing and recycling the priority with no emphasis on profit for anyone.

  3. ~Dawn says:

    I would love to compost, but living in an apartment cuts down on what you can do with that.
    And I have a north (non-sun) facing patio so I can’t grow anything. It sucks!!

  4. Ann says:

    Dawn, and those like you, find out if there is somewhere in your area that takes organic waste to compost. They may even pay you for it.

    Those who give things away on freecycle are responsible for ensuring what kind of home things go to. As a fervant freecycler, I screen requests carefully, keep a log of those who don’t thank or don’t come. We use the post for things like coupons and bundle like things. Frankly, if it’s something that’s needed, someone would rather drive and get something for free than drive to the store (with all the same effects) and have to pay for it. Or, you could drive it (more driving) to the chairity place, and someone could drive there (more!) and buy it.

    Nonetheless, it sure beats tossing something that’s perfectly good but useless to you.

  5. Adit says:

    Why don’t you try to export to Indonesia or surabaya because many people here make new product from those things…. I am not kidding

    that becomes they job and many that “new product” sold by them to another country

  6. Chuck says:

    FreeCycle has really been a pain when I tried it. Wasted a whole day waiting on people who never showed up or even bothered to Email back that they were no longer interested.

    Second time, I took a different approach. Gathered all my items that I was giving away & put them in the back of my pickup truck. I told the first 4 or 5 responders where the truck would be & at what time. I warned that if they didn’t show up at that time, their items would go to whoever grabbed them first. This worked a lot better, as I was done in ten minutes.

    Of course, I received Emails stating that they were sorry they didn’t make it, and was that old computer or whatever available.

  7. Kathy says:

    Great article! I once gutted out some old stereo speakers and made a small two shelf “bookcase.”

  8. Anita says:

    Dawn, there are ways for apartment dwellers to compost using worms. Chris (Apt*) does it. Check her out on my blogroll.

  9. Max says:

    Dear Shannon:

    Some time ago, I heard about a NY website that posts real time info on items seen in NYC curbside trash. The purpose of the site was so that interested people could go and see if they wanted to take the items or not before the Sanitation workers got to them. I’ve been searching around, but have not been able to find that site. Would you happen to know the site I’m referring to, and it’s web address? We have an old living room set we’re about to toss out, grungy but still usable if cleaned up, that I’d like to post there…

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