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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Trash: the serious side

Yesterday The Bargain Queen showed off all the things she found amongst the 'trash' people put out for the Council to take. She's absolutely thrilled with all the great things she got and the other scavengers she saw looked pleased with their finds too.

There is a serious side to it though. Every single thing that was put out and wasn't snapped up is now in landfill. That's fine if something's broken beyond repair and has no reusable or recycleable parts, but what about all these things The Bargain Queen saw yesterday? She wonders if all these should be in landfill:
  • Literally hundreds of electrical appliances, many of them newish with no obvious damage, some still in their original packaging
  • Piles of clothes in clean, undamaged and completely wearable condition
  • Solid wooden furniture, re-painted badly then discarded
  • Christmas presents that had been opened at one end and put in the trash with their wrapping paper still on
  • A mountain of kids toys, many in great condition
  • Building materials like 100 year old skirting boards and 60 year old security doors, which need a little cleaning but still work great and would sell easily in salvage shops
  • Lots of half-empty tins of paints, varnishes, strippers etc, some were even unopened
  • Practically every kind of household goods imaginable in clean, working, reusable condition
If you wanted to furnish a whole house for free from these piles of 'rubbish', you could - and probably some of the new migrants in the area do. For all of it to end up in landfill instead makes The Bargain Queen really sad. Every single item was made from natural resources, packaged, shipped, bought, used a little and then thrown out. Some had even been wrapped and given as gifts, then discarded unused. There's somebody who needs or would love every one of those things, but instead they've gone to the tip.

This isn't about to turn into a sermon on keeping things til they break though. The Bargain Queen is a fickle fashion fiend, so she's often guilty of discarding still-useful things because her tastes have changed. For example, she has a whole wardrobe of ultra-sleek, tailored and slightly boyish clothes that she wants to replace merely because she's going through a girlier phase and would rather wear lace and low-cut necklines now.

There is a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way to be a fickle fashion fiend though, and that's to keep the stuff going around. Buying pre-loved items (or finding them on the street) is not only cheaper, it also means more things get used 'til they wear out, so less new stuff needs to be made. If you can find some items for your latest fad in a consignment store, eBay, a thrift store or an outlet where retailers send their detritus, you're likely to get a great deal - and you can give yourself a little pat on the back for environmental friendliness too. But even if you can't bring yourself to wear thrift store clothes or drag furniture in from the kerb, you can dispose of useful things you no longer need in a way that keeps them in circulation.

Here's some ideas of better ways to get rid of useful 'trash':
  • Thrift stores. If you give your things to a charity-run thrift store, they'll either be sold to make money for the charity, or given to someone so needy they can't even afford to buy things in the thrift store. Either way, you get some good karma from the deal.

  • Freecycle. The Bargain Queen waxes lyrical about freecycle on a regular basis. Freecycle runs lots of local mailing lists where you can post a message about things you have to give away. People email you to say they'd like them and you negotiate a time for them to collect things from you. It's a great way to get rid of things you don't need and get things you do.

  • eBay. Your stuff has to be worth a reasonable amount to make it worth the time and effort of listing on eBay, but if it is, it can be a great way to get some extra money for your stuff. The Bargain Queen once made $1,000 selling two old gas heaters her boyfriend's father was throwing out. (They retailed for over $2,500 and were in good condition though. They're by far the best eBay sale The Bargain Queen's ever made!)

  • Community organisations. This take more creativity, but you might be able to match unusual things you want to get rid of with an organisation in your area that needs them. For example, The Bargain Queen has given un-needed craft supplies to a local pre-school, she sent her old computers to a sustainable farm up in the mountains and an old chemistry set went to a high school science teacher she found on freecycle. It's a very direct way to improve your area a little while getting rid of your junk.
Even if the environmental consequences of useful stuff ending up in landfill don't bother you, think of it this way: if you're reading The Bargain Queen's blog, you probably like bargains. When people keep their stuff in circulation, it becomes a potential bargain for someone else (especially in a thrift store, on eBay or in a consignment store). If everyone makes a minimal effort to make their 'junk' available to others, that's a huge pool of potential bargains for you to choose from.

So please, try to keep your stuff out of landfill!

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  • At 10:04 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi, I've just gotta ask, cause I live in Sydney too. What suburb are you guys in cause your council pick-up days sound awesome!

  • At 10:15 pm, Blogger Frugal Homemaker said…

    People think it's yucky that I dumpster dive, but really, you can find great stuff, new in the package! I wish my area did pick up days. That would be great

  • At 10:06 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Anonymous: I'm in Ashfield, in the outer-Inner West

    Frugal Homemaker: I must confess I've always felt a bit yuck about dumpster diving. It sounds like there are some great finds to be had though, so I might have to give it a try!

  • At 10:19 am, Blogger Rebecca said…

    This is a great post, it is a serious concern. Recently I learned that in a resort town in Mexico hundreds of people live in the city dump.

    Makes ya think.

  • At 10:23 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    It's terrible that they have to live in the dump, but if people toss out the similar stuff to what they do here, at least they'll have practically everything the could need!

    Well, apart from running water and electricity... OK, I guess it's just plain terrible :|


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