Monday, March 15, 2010

Disposable Nation: A Photo Essay

One Sunday afternoon. Anytown, USA. In this case, it was my suburban town in New Jersey. My sweetheart and I returned from a movie, and decided to take a look at some furniture by the dumpster at my apartment complex that wasn't there when we left. Well it wasn't just furniture we found.

What about these items says "trash" to you? Because some items need cleaning? Or they need a few repairs? Because they are simply no longer wanted by their inconsiderate owners?

Two beautiful frames and a hand-carved wooden turtle. I'm going to keep these. The right one will now hold a cherished picture of my grandparents in their farmhouse in Switzerland.

A suitcase. This needs a good steam-cleaning due to the pet fur, but otherwise, there is nothing wrong with it. My boyfriend took this. It will be with us on future adventures.

We salvaged the bookcase on the far right, the brown cabinet, and the baby car seat. Sadly, we did not rescue the white cabinet. My boyfriend kept pleading with me we could not save everything, but I'm still crushed this could not be reused.

Brand new martini glasses and light blue serving tray, with a price of $10 marked on the box, which had never been opened. I love using martini glasses to serve desserts. Even a scoop of sorbet with a sprig of mint seems more festive in them.

If I do buy books, I mainly buy them used, and I believe in passing them on (except for ones you absolutely want to own), for future readers to enjoy them. They didn't even have the courtesy to put these in the recycling bin.

...and more books.

My boyfriend was most thrilled about these: CDs...The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and more. He was actually in the market for a Bob Marley CD.

I adore the fall season and Halloween. These will decorate my home in 2010.

Reusable bags. My organic almond milk and staples don't care what kind of bag they are carried in. They will be carried in this Whole Foods bag (which will get a good wash in hot water). My boyfriend snagged the Old Navy blue bag, for the beach or grocery shopping.

Baby and toddler clothing, now freshly laundered. In my opinion, we'd be doing our children a favor by not over-indulging in endless amounts of clothing and plastic toys from traditional retail shops and instead saving early on for their future. Why not culturally embrace youth savings accounts for future educational use or purchase of a home? Many of my colleagues are crippled with educational debt well into their careers. For Christenings, birthdays and such, perhaps a financial gift to a savings account would do a child better than so much "stuff."

You can find these bibs for 25 cents at most thrift shops.

Sweet dreams. Thirteen sleepers/nightgowns.

I bet there are a lot of little boys out there who would love to wear that Spiderman shirt.

These clothes were made by laborers in China, India, Indonesia, and Madagascar. I am mortified they are considered disposable. One shirt had a bad bleach stain which I will use as a cleaning rag, but the rest are perfectly fine.

When people throw things away, it's about pollution, but it's also about throwing away wealth. People of all income levels could use things others throw mindlessly in the trash because it is too inconvenient for them to do a bit of research or work. Make no mistake, this happens constantly in every neighborhood in the USA.

The irony was not lost on us that we had returned from a major shopping complex where many people will be buying new the items that had just been thrown out. We are proud to have saved them from a cruel, unnecessary fate in the landfill. We resolved to continue to find ways to reverse this pattern.

Learn more about where to donate your items from MSNBC. Real Simple gives tips as well. Find a charitable thrift store through Sell things through a local thrift/consignment shop. Go on Freecycle. Host a clothing swap. At our work swaps, I see the immediate gratification of people who find things that others didn't use or like, and satisfied shoppers at the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop buying our donations.

Let's be a reusable nation. A financially-empowered nation. An environmentally-minded nation. Anything but a disposable nation.


This Thrifted Life said...

I am just in shock.

I know there are people who throw away perfectly good items, but that amount of loot just amazes me. It is so EASY to tote things down to the thrift store so others can benefit from your items.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

There are thrift shops all over Bergen County where I live. All one needs to do is look in the phone book or do a search online.

There was also a lovely photo album, measuring cups, seven pairs of boy's pants, toys and more.

Walking to my bus to work today, I passed a nice computer chair out for trash day. I just don't know what people are thinking.

Last year, my mom acquired four iron garden chairs for her backyard that a neighbor put out on garbage day. We joked about asking him if we could review his trash before he throws it out!

rebecca said...

Even worse, many charitable orgs will PICK UP your donations if you just call and schedule a time a date. How hard is that?

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

I'm with Thrifted--I never find stuff this good in the bin. What the hell??

Yanno, back in college, the rich kids' small university would hire guards to keep people out of trash bins. The students would toss out everything--their televisions, clothes, etc. It was a very, very wealthy private school. The guards just added insult to injury.

I've even gotten into fights with a neighbor of mine who wanted to put locks on our gate so that homeless folks can't sift through our rubbish bins. She called it "stealing." Stealing from what??! A landfill? ENRAGING!!

Cate said...

WOW. I can't believe you found all of that stuff in the TRASH! How wasteful! There are thrift stores everywhere--not to mention sites like freecycle, where I've managed to give away some very strange things (like dead Christmas lights). I'm appalled and saddened by this...but happy for you that you got some nice loot. :-)

ConsciouslyFrugal, I think I'd get into fights with your neighbor, too!

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thank you all for your comments, and sharing in my shock and disgust.

We are fortunate for the items we acquired. We will donate a good deal of it to charitable thrift stores. Most of the books are going to the book swap at work.

While we are certaintly experiencing hard economic times, I don't know if many in our nation know sacrifics like those who survived the WW2 era. I don't think many appreciate all they have.

I to this day see televisions and other goods by the dumpster. Electronics need to be disposed of responsibly.

This problem will require a mix of solutions: less consumerism to start with, more Americans participating in thrift shopping/garage sales/eBay/freecycle, etc. and less of a stigma against second-hand, and responsibly donating/selling unwanted items.

Some of the most important work happens on a community-basis. I strive to make my own dent in solving this crisis, and know most of you are as well. Each time you shop second-hand, make a donation or sell an unwanted item, you do just that.

Chessbuff said...

I grew up in the third world, and so this trash would be like Christmas gifts to some people over there. I do understand that we are here, and this is what we know and live by. But, it is still wasteful even by our standards.

My treasured 1990 BMW 735IL finally konked out sometime ago, after 17 yrs of service. I loved that car and I refused to sell it to a junk yard ( the pistons frozed becuase of an oil leak, damaging the engine permanently ). So, instead, I donated the sweet remains of my love to an animal shelter in South Jersey. She would, of course, be cannibalized but the sale of her parts would benefit the shelter. This way, I don't feel like I trashed her.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Chessbuff, what a worthy cause to donate your car to, I applaud you.

Between my cleanups with the Hackensack Riverkeeper and seeing what people put in the trash, I am so disillusioned with how disposable our society is with every aspect of their life. As a shelter volunteer, you see that people even view their pets as disposable.