How to Find Real Things #2

It’s another Real Things Thursday!

As my goal with these installments is to think about the way we consume rather than to encourage consumerism, I decided that today I’d focus on getting things for free.

We all love freebies, but it is also a great way to minimize our impact on the environment!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia (mulch)

Recycling has a long way to go in this country (with around 200 fewer curbside recycling programs today than in 2002, some studies say recycling enthusiasm is waning). Even so, the EPA claims that yard waste disposal has become one of the most successful recycling programs in the US.

The reason these programs work so well is that they create a closed cycle. Dump trucks collect our leaves and prunings which are quickly converted into mulch or compost — products we want to take home again. The government is freed from finding landfill space for material that breaks down naturally in our flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Yeah yeah, it isn’t designer quality and sometimes it contains bits of trash bags or an old flip flop. I happen to like how our county’s free mulch looks but I also think about my role in the system. If you haul your yard waste to the curb, perhaps you should help with its disposal.

Plus, it’s my favorite time of year to get our municipality’s free mulch due to the Grinding of the Greens. Many cities and counties have Christmas tree recycling programs and the resulting mulch is pretty, longer lasting, and it smells fantastic!

In Greenville, SC it’s available for free from Twin Chimneys Landfill as long as you bring your own truck for the loader to dump it in. Most big box hardware stores will rent you a working truck if you need it (explaining the scratched bed to a regular rental car dealer may not be fun).

Search online for “free mulch” along with your city name if you aren’t sure where to go. You can also call your local Cooperative Extension service for advice.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia (yard sale)

Analysts haven’t found a reliable way to measure the amount of things we throw away, but we do know it’s a lot. I’ve seen statistics estimate that the 63,000 garbage trucks Americans fill each day stacked end-to-end would reach halfway to the moon… or that three months of our aluminum disposal could be used to rebuild the entire US commercial air fleet. My personal favorite is that a year’s worth of our trashed shrink wrap could blanket the state of Texas — now they’re ready to go to a college party!

The EPA says that we only recycle 1.5 of the 4.5 lbs of garbage each American generates daily. Most of us are doing our part separating the glass, paper, and plastic but we also make a big dent when we buy or obtain perfectly good used items that are otherwise destined for the landfill. Thrift stores, pawn shops, flea markets, antique stores, yard sales, newspaper want advertisements, Ebay, and Craigslist are all good places to check.

So is Freecycle. It has 8,280,430 members (and growing) worldwide ready to give you used things or accept items you’re trying to get rid of. I receive email updates from two local Freecycle groups and I see that today people are exchanging a dog crate, women’s clothing, moving boxes, exercise equipment, an accordion filing binder, and a Verizon cell phone. I’ve personally used Freecycle to locate black walnuts and old windows for building a cold frame.

Freecycle guidelines vary from group to group, but in general it is an email list or bulletin board and you post whether you have an “OFFER” or a “WANT” and then name the item you are giving away or looking for. If you’re giving an item away you can choose who you give it to and how you deliver it to them. Try it! And stop throwing your stuff away — you’ll be surprised at “trash” that other people want.

How have you obtained used items? Real Things Thursday is a casual blog carnival, so I hope you’ll join in. We had a lot of great responses last week!

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Write a similar blog post on sustainable products and post the link in the comments section.
  2. Post a comment describing a sustainable product you like that includes a link to that item.
  3. Describe an item you obtained sustainably (including reusing things you already have) that makes you feel proud.
  4. Leave a regular comment, no pressure!

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

16 thoughts on “How to Find Real Things #2”

  1. Mark Willis
    Twitter: marksvegplot
    - January 13, 2011 4:20 pm

    We (in Hampshire, UK) use Freecycle a lot for re-homing things we don’t need any more. It’s a great way of keeping stuff out of landfill while helping others, perhaps less fortunate than oneself. Only problem is some people use it as a way of accumulating EVERYTHING they can lay their hands on, for subsequent sale (for their own profit) at a Car-boot sale.
    .-= Mark Willis´s last blog ..Miscellaneous ramblings =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 10:32 am

      Oh, that is definitely a disappointing use of Freecycle. I didn’t know people did that, though I guess opportunism isn’t all that surprising. I’m glad you use it though, I’m sure there are people who benefit greatly from it.

  2. Landsake - January 13, 2011 6:50 pm

    Asheville has a recycling center for artsy-craftsy folk – Trash, Inc. I haven’t shopped there yet, but I’ve donated plenty of fun things just begging to be upcycled – like the metal ends of orange juice and refrigerated dough containers….

    Also, I was a big fan of dumpster diving (for porch furniture to rehab) before it became illegal. Still like to see what gets put on the curb for trash collection day!

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 10:35 am

      What a cool idea! I would have totally used a store like that back when I was in school! I might even do it now. My sister likes to do dumpster diving too, I didn’t know it was illegal. How odd to pass a law that you can’t take things no one wants.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 2 =-.

  3. One - January 13, 2011 8:29 pm

    Great post, Eliza. Here are a few things that I do :
    1. Collect bags of cut grass and leaves and use them as mulch as well as decompose them.
    2. Collect empty coconuts and used them as borders for my flower beds.
    3. Collect coffee and tea ground for my plants. Lemon tree and chilli plants did very well after application.
    .-= One´s last blog ..Wildlife in Kuala Selangor Nature Park =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 10:36 am

      I think a bed lined in coconut husks sounds adorable! That sounds like excellent compost recycling, too. :)

  4. Elaine - January 13, 2011 10:22 pm

    I have not tried Freecycle, but will definitely check it out. We do have Christmas tree recycling here, but I have not seen that our county offers free mulch, but after reading your post I am going to check that out. As I mentioned last week I shop at thrift stores, antique stores, and yard sales and donate items we no longer use to non-profit thrift stores. I think if you want to convert people to conserve and reuse more – take them to your local dump. It truly is amazing when you see the amount of items that are hauled there daily and you see the long truck loads waiting to go in and ‘dump.’ Thank you for starting this weekly post, Eliza – it just makes me want to do more!
    .-= Elaine´s last blog ..Cozy and Calming =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 10:39 am

      I’m glad you like it! I feel like I should visit the trash portion of our local dump now that you suggested it. I go to the yard trimmings area and although there are people dropping off tires and washing machines nearby, it isn’t where the regular garbage pickup goes. Most of the piles I see are mountains of mulch.

  5. fer
    Twitter: mygardeninjapan
    - January 14, 2011 12:26 pm

    Here in japan they charge for trowing big things away. So a lot of people post things online and you can just pick them up. They have all kinds of stuff, including gardening goods. Very handy for the gardener in a budget.
    .-= fer´s last blog ..The banana peels fertilizer works very well =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 6:43 pm

      I wish we had better laws for things like that. I’ve seen people throw away brand new things still in the box because they couldn’t be bothered to rehome it.

  6. Curbstone Valley Farm - January 14, 2011 12:30 pm

    I’ve avoided free compost from the landfill after seeing the invasive plants (broom – whose seeds aren’t killed during composting) and toxic weeds (poison oak) that people set out for pickup. However, I do love a truckload or two of free horse manure to compost down over winter. It’s still recycling, just sans glass, noxious weeds and irritating plant resins 😉 Most stables are only too happy to give it away, and it’s a great way to get a hot compost pile really cooking!
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Seeds 2011 =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 6:47 pm

      We have a nearby equestrian park that will load it for you… the only problem I have is the ratio of poop to sawdust. It’s actually a good thing for the horses since they keep their stables so tidy, but it means that I have lots more wood chips than useful manure. (Not that I’d have it any other way, the horses come first).

  7. Donna Earnhardt
    Twitter: Donna_Earnhardt
    - January 14, 2011 1:38 pm

    OOOH… I love freecycle. I have plenty of things in my house I’ve been blessed to find through freecycle! I’ve also been able to share plenty.

    We like to donate things to places like Goodwill, salvation army and kidney foundation b/c they are resold – and for a good cause. We shop at all those places, too.

    I buy clothes for my ever-growing children at goodwill several times a year.
    .-= Donna Earnhardt´s last blog ..Favorite quotes Friday =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 6:48 pm

      Awesome! I think it is fun too when we donate to the same places we shop. I always keep an eye out for things I’d recognize, but so far I haven’t seen any.

  8. Donna - January 14, 2011 3:50 pm

    I know so many friends getting the municipal mulch. It is a great service and a good soil conditioner. But you have be careful where they get it from. Trees great, but when they brushhog building sites, sometimes you end up with some very invasive and hard to eradicate vegetation that may not be completely mulched and cured. One that has become a problem here is horsetail, Equisetum arvense. This stuff just does not die and the smallest cut and grinded piece turns into a full size plant. It is even turning up in ‘good’ topsoil.

    When I had horses, we would compost down the stall refuse, give the excess to the mushroom growers then get the refuse back from the mushroom growers next door, they even delivered it back to us to throw on the fields. Talk about good stuff and a circle of reuse.
    .-= Donna´s last blog ..GBBD January Magazine =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 14, 2011 6:50 pm

      That definitely sounds bad. Every time I’ve gone to pick up our county mulch the pile has been so hot I couldn’t stand nearby (with visible streams of steam rising off of it). I’ll keep an eye out for the weeds, though.

      Great system with the horses & mushroom growers!

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