Zero Waste Living: One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

When my husband was in graduate school, I worked at a job that paid…well, let’s just say it didn’t pay very much at all! We ate a lot of ramen noodles during those years. Since the graduate schools had a constant turnover of people coming in and out, there were always friends (or random strangers) who begged the use of our truck to help haul stuff. In exchange, we were often gifted with things that were no longer wanted by their owners…mismatched plates, chipped mugs, lamps with crooked shades, etc. We were thrilled! We didn’t have a whole heck of a lot and were more than happy to upgrade to someone else’s junk! In fact, we still have some of these items 20 year later! Zero waste living benefits our planet and it can be an inexpensive way to live as well. Buying items NEW creates a significant amount more waste than buying something (or finding something!) second hand. Making sure you find new homes for your unused and unwanted items will help make your journey to zero waste living possible. But, what do you do with the things  you no longer need? Well, I will share with you a few tips for zero waste living that might help. Check out my post about what to do with food scraps for ideas on how to reduce your food waste. 

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Zero Waste Living: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

Every once in a while back in our graduate student days,  we would be driving down the street and see a perfectly good something or other sitting on the curb waiting for the trash man. “Who would throw away such a useful item?” we asked ourselves. With a coat of paint or a few strategically placed screws, we could fix a lamp or chair and add it to our mismatched collection of STUFF! I drew the line at actually going IN the dumpster but if it was sitting on the ground NEXT to the dumpster, that was considered perfectly okay! If you are striving for a zero waste lifestyle, fixing the things you own instead of throwing them away is a must.

Think about this:  The U.S. has 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Zero Waste Living: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

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Zero Waste Living

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

Americans live in a throwaway society nowadays. We don’t buy stuff to last a lifetime, we don’t get things fixed when they break, we think nothing of tossing something into the trash can anymore. As a result, our landfills are overflowing. BUT, there is hope on the horizon! There are a number of organizations who are trying to find a way to turn one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. Here are a few resources and terms I came across that I thought might be of interest if you are trying to reduce your personal contribution to the landfills. If you are interested in a zero waste lifestyle, check out my post on zero waste gardening tips, too.

Recyclematch  This is a website that is helping industrial companies find a new home for their waste. They have everything from paper and scrap metal to broken porcelain tiles and an assortment of chemicals. One company’s waste may very well be a raw material for someone else’s product.

Freecycle:  I am sure a lot of you have heard of this network but basically you offer (for free) something that you have and don’t need. Someone else gives it a new home. Clothes or toys your kids have outgrown, breast pumps you don’t need because your kids are 12 now and it is just sitting in your closet, garden supplies, etc. The assortment of stuff is amazing and it is all FREE. Someone else might be offering just the thing you have been looking for!

Freegan Info :  According to Wikipedia, Freeganism is an anti-consumerist lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on “limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources”. Basically, these people live only on what they get free. This is not something I think I could ever bring myself to do voluntarily. While the concept of boycotting all consumeristic lifestyle choices is a noble one, I don’t think I could survive on dumpster diving and setting up home in an abandoned house. I encourage you to go check out the website, though. It makes for some interesting reading!

Food Not Bombs  This is a nonprofit group that arranges for grocery stores and restaurants to set aside food that would otherwise be thrown into a dumpster so that they can provide food for the homeless. This is the overripe bananas, day old bread, and cereal 1 day past it’s sell by date that is perfectly good to EAT but just can’t be SOLD and is therefore considered trash. The group website says they will dumpster dive if necessary but it usually isn’t. When you are working towards zero waste living, you need to consider not only the things in your home but your ‘waste’ outside the home, too. Maybe you can get your favorite restaurant to join the cause and date night can be zero waste!

Swap Parties:  This is a great way to get the community involved in an environmental program! You can host a swap for a particular item…clothes, children’s toys, seeds, plants, etc. You can also just hold a general Swap Party…similar to a giant garage sale but no one is buying, they are trading with other members. Someone else in your town might really love Aunt Sally’s old soup bows and maybe you walk away with some new garden tools. This is a great neighborhood project for spring and summer!

Do you have any creative ways to find new homes for your unwanted stuff?


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