Maybe this post will seem a bit redundant given that I reviewed a book on upcycling just last week. But while walking my dog Louie the other morning, I passed a dumpster belonging to the nearby apartment complex and saw a whole living room of furniture sitting out awaiting a landfill. The pieces all looked to be in decent shape - or at least, it appeared they were quite usable before being thrown outside to be taken away. A simple suede couch was standing on its side, an armrest broken most likely from the trip to the dumpster. There was a floral print armchair turned upside down that could have easily been slipcovered and made to fit any room.
It just seemed such a waste to me that these and other pieces of furniture were immediately sent to the trash when their owner was done with them, rather than donated to a store that would distribute them to people in need or given to someone who could use them, or at least creatively improve them if they needed updates. Or see if there is some way you could reuse these items for your own good. Storing an old table in the basement may prove useful during a redecorating stint or if the need for a workspace arises. It may not always be reasonable or feasible to hold on to these large items when you no longer have a need for them, though sometimes doing so comes in handy later on.
But at the very least, there are a whole host of alternatives to the landfill that are beneficial to others in ways that far exceed the good that comes from environmentally responsible practices. Seek out the local Goodwill or secondhand store, post an ad on Craigslist, email your friends and family to see if anyone could make use of your hand-me-downs, or distribute a flyer on a college campus because there are likely to be student apartments in need of affordable furnishings. Mike and I found a new sofa on Craigslist for a mere $250, including an armchair that is now in my sister's college apartment. We weren't completely crazy about the sofa's back pillows - they were a little too short and fat for our tastes - but it wasn't difficult for me to reuse the stuffing to create tall, thin pillows that were perfectly comfortable. Simple creativity and minimal skills can make all the difference.
Once Mike and I threw out our air conditioning unit. My mom was helping me to take it out of the bedroom window when the weather turned cold, and due to a miscommunication, we dropped the air conditioner out of a second story window. Our trash men will take nearly anything we leave out there, so we put the AC unit out a few days early, awaiting pick up. Before trash morning came, however, the air conditioner was gone. Someone came up the alley and found an old AC unit that they knew they could use, whether in an effort to make repairs or to gather scrap metal. Regardless of that unit's ultimate fate, I realized that nearly anything I try to get rid of can be used by someone else. And now I always try to do my best to re-allocate my used goods as effectively as possible. Sometimes simply putting them out in the alley prior to trash day will suffice, other times a quick donation to Goodwill works, and there's always the possibility of passing it along to a friend or sibling after a few phone calls.
I just hate to think of the volume of potentially useful items that have entered our landfills already. If we can change our mode of thinking, maybe we cam stem the tide of this trend. When you can no longer use an item for its original purpose, wait a few days or week and think of potential reuses. If none come to you, attempt to recycle it through your social network or within your community. And then if all else fails, head to the trash. But if you follow these few steps vigilantly, I'd surmise that few to none of your old goods will be added to a trash heap, which is good for you, your community, and the whole environment.
And for more ideas about how to reuse and recycle smaller items, check out my post on Danny Seo's book Upcycling, pick up a copy of the book for yourself, or stop by his blog Daily Danny.