The Stuff of Life

As Paul mentioned in a previous post, I have taken charge of the disposal of the things the previous owner left behind.  I (sadly) don’t have any photos of how the house looked during our first showing back in September, but imagine about 3 moving boxes worth of broken toys, paint cans, office papers, school assignments, miscellaneous electronics and clothing dumped onto the floor of every room of an 1100 square foot house, and you’ll get the idea.  The seller did take a fair amount of these things before we closed, but there was still a lot–especially when you remember that the garage and the two outbuildings behind the house had been left virtually untouched.

Sorting all of this has been an interesting reminder of just how much stuff homeowners can accumulate.  Additionally, it’s interesting to realize how difficult it can be to dispose of certain items given how easy it is to acquire them–especially if you’re green-minded like me and would like to recycle when possible.  Let’s take a quiz: below are things that I have found in the house.

(Quiz below the jump)

Broken VCR:
A. Salvation Army
B. Garbage
C. County Recycling Center

Answer (highlight to read):  In Minnesota, electronics are prohibited from being thrown in the garbage and must be recycled.  Most county recycling centers will take electronics at no charge (such as Dakota and Hennepin).  The other (technically) no cost option is to take electronics to Best Buy, where you will pay a $10 disposal fee and then receive a $10 Best Buy gift card.  Salvation Army and other thrift stores only take reusable goods, so no dice there.

A smelly refrigerator:
A. JRs Appliance Recyclers
B. County Recycling Center
C. Landfill

Answer: Appliances are another item prohibited by Minnesota law from ending up in a landfill.  County-run facilities rarely include an appliance recycling program (with the exception of Hennepin County), so in this case I’m going to have to take it to a private appliance recycler.

Worn-out mattress:
A. Landfill
B. PPL Industries
C. Goodwill

Answer: Mattresses are allowed in a landfill, but it’ll cost you.  Mattresses and box springs are considered a “problem item” for most landfills; they don’t break down and, because of their shape, continually “float” up to the top of the pile.  Luckily, there is a company in Minneapolis called PPL Industries that breaks the mattresses into their core materials–textile, metal and wood–and recycles them.  It’ll cost about $15 per item.  Due to the health issues with mattresses, thrift stores will not accept them.

Broken plastic toys:
A. Burn in backyard fire pit
B. Garbage
C. Curbside recycling

Answer: Alas, some things just must go in the garbage.  The types of plastics that toys are made of are not recyclable like your milk jug or pop bottle are.  As for burning them, a) it is illegal to burn garbage in the metropolitan area, and b) why would you want to burn plastic anyway?  Smelly and cancer-y.

Years of elementary school assignments:
A. Curbside recycling
B. Burn in backyard fire pit
C. Garbage

Answer: All types of paper, tag board, box board and cardboard can go in your recycling bin.  This includes folders and papers in a spiral-bound notebook.  Paper pulping technology takes out the bits of metal and other “contaminants.” You can even recycle envelopes with those little plastic windows!  So there’s no reason to throw it in the garbage.  And don’t burn garbage, folks, seriously.

Ripped sweatshirt:
A. Wipers Recycling
B. Garbage
C. County Recycling Center

Answer: There is a surprisingly robust market in the Twin Cities for textiles.  Wipers Recycling in Maplewood takes clothing and shoes for free, shreds them and sells bags of shreds as spill-absorbents for auto body shops and whatnot.  In addition, Triangle Recycling, which also wholesales textiles,  has drop-off bins all over the Twin Cities. If your clothes are in usable condition, USAgain (pronounced “use again”) drop-off bins are also around.  Recycling centers don’t have clothing recycling programs, and since textile recycling is greener, the garbage bin is not the correct answer, either.

Can of paint thinner:
A. Garbage
B. County Recycling Center
C. Throw in your backyard fire pit with the plastic toys and school papers

Answer: Products such as paints, cleaners and other items that are labelled dangerous, flammable, poison, combustible or corrosive are called “household hazardous waste” or HHW.  These items are, you guessed it, prohibited by Minnesota law from entering a landfill, so the garbage option is out.  All county-run recycling centers serve the primary purpose of disposing of these items, and most items are accepted at no charge.  This is really the only way I am aware of for disposing of HHW.  If you guessed the third choice on this one, you have a death wish.


About Leigh

Born and raised in Rochester, MN, Leigh moved to the Twin Cities in 2004 for college. She stayed, and now works for a south metro city in the recycling department. In February of 2011, she and Paul bought a neglected farm house in the city to start our own urban hobby farm.

Posted on March 9, 2011, in Reuse and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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