Recycling

I come from a long line of people who were frugal and saved things because they might become useful in the future. My relatives saved broken items with the intent of fixing them. They learned to make do with used furniture and they became skilled in repairing things that others might discard. My Great Uncle Ted, for whom I was named, saved the pressed paper cores from rolls of string and used them to make other objects. He salvages used sheet metal from heating ducts and reformed it into everyday devices. If there was something that he could make instead of buying, he was happy. If someone else had something they wanted to get rid of it often ended up in one of his sheds. He kept adding sheds to his back yard to create more storage space. And he is just one of many relatives.

Much of their frugality came from the experiences of the Great Depression. They learned to do without things that they couldn’t afford to buy. They learned to make do with what they had. They learned to look for ways to reuse and repurpose items that others might discard.

They were also generous. They gave us a lot of different things. In the early years of our marriage we always wrapped all of our Christmas presents in bits of paper from display rolls that only had one or two wraps of paper because and uncle got them from a cousin who ran a drug store. Much of our furniture came from other family members who helped us get started when we first married.

These family members were into recycling before recycling was a thing.

They would be horrified if they knew how much money we spend renting storage space to store all of their stuff that has somehow come into our possession. That rocking chair that was retrieved from a neighbor’s trash, re-glued, stripped and refinished before getting a new cane seat is now in the back of a rented storage unit waiting until some person wants it. That person is unlikely to be our children or our nieces or nephews.

And we aren’t the only ones. Which explains the size of the rummage sales that our church hosts twice a year. A huge amount of volunteer effort is invested in events that are part fund=raising for the minions of the church, part providing bargains for those who want and need the items on the sale and part fellowship and community-building. Even after a lot of years of serving this church and witnessing its ministries, the size and scope of the sales amaze me. We never seem to run out of people who have items to donate.

Every sale there is at least one family in our church who is making a major transition: moving from a house to an apartment, experiencing the loss of a family member, changing jobs or some other event. Those big changes often bring big loads of donated items to the church. I’m talking pickup loads and trailer loads of stuff.

The organizers of the sale have become experts at sorting the useable items from the trash and a fair amount of trash does make its way to the landfill. But most of the items find new owners. What is left over after the sale is carefully sorted and donated to other groups and agencies that specialize in getting used items into the hands of those who need and want the items. Some things to to the Habitat for Humanity Restore, some to the Rescue Mission store, some to the Veterans Home, some to the animal shelter, some to a book sale - you get the picture. The sale is well organized and a massive undertaking. Then, a few months later, we do it all over again. Each March and each August with the sales seeming to get bigger and bigger each year.

I remember a time before rummage and yard sales were common. People kept most of the things that they had. Storage was inexpensive. Then, on occasion, large amounts of things were taken to the dump. In my hometown, before we had a landfill, we had a high bank near the river where the items were literally dumped over the bank. There was a family, and perhaps more than one family, who lived in a run-down place right next to the dump and who combed the discarded items for things that could be resold. They salvaged metals from the pile and got them to a company that would pay pennies per pound. They found items that could be repaired and made the repairs. They sometimes found customers for things that they had retrieved from the dump and cleaned up.

As the years passed and people became a bit more aware of the environmental costs of such practices our town began to organize some more formal methods of recycling. An old warehouse between the train depot and the old dump was made available to collect steel cans, aluminum cans, and newspapers. As the city explored ways to create a more sanitary landfill for community garbage, the recycling efforts began with volunteers collecting the items and stacking them in the old building. The steel and aluminum could be hauled 80 miles to a metal recycler who would pay pennies on the pound - rarely enough to pay for the gas to haul the pickup loads of items to the recycler. The paper was initially hauled to a different city where it was combined with paper from other towns and loaded into train cars for shipment to a distant paper mill that could reprocess it. Again there was no money paid for the used paper. I’m not sure where the shipping costs for the paper were obtained. The effort rose and fell with the discipline of the community to sort and save the recyclable items and with the number of volunteers willing to load and haul the items. Eventually the practice fell by the wayside for a lack of funding and a lack of volunteers. It was perhaps 30 or 40 years before the community, faced with expensive costs of hauling trash after the landfill was filled up, got back into the recycling business - this time with a bit more support and effort.

We’ve still got a long ways to go. We purchase too many items, keep too many items and aren’t always responsible with the disposal. Our systems are still very dependent upon volunteers. But we are learning. And I developed a few good habits from those days of sorting sheds of people’s old smelly beer cans and hauling pickup loads of things to the recycler that are still useful for everyday living.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!