Long gone are the days of dumping everything into the trash and out on the curb. Consumers can make the most out of their old stuff using resources like their local thrift store and online services like Craigslist. If the items aren't in working condition, there are still ways to dispose of them responsibly. Here's a rundown of some of the most creative ways to get rid of unwanted items:
Electronics. Log on to www.ecosquid.com to check out options for reselling or recycling old gadgets. Or try selling on eBay; somebody somewhere might be looking for an older model or its components. Best Buy also recycles gear. The stores accept computers, TVs and more, even when items were not purchased there. Office Depot and Staples also recycle.
Toys and stuffed animals. After the kids have grown, many parents have bags full of toys. Before donating or selling items, go to www.recalls.gov to make sure they have not been recalled. Standards are tougher now than even a few years ago. For like-new stuffed animals, donate to Beanies for Baghdad, a group that sends toys to armed service units in war-torn areas and they distribute them to children. LovingHugs.org sends stuffed animals to children in war zones, refugee camps, orphanages, medical facilities and elsewhere.
Mattresses. If a retailer offers to take away the old mattress with purchase of a new one, try to find out what happens to it. Some retailers dismantle the mattress and recycle its components, and some don't. If it's in good condition, offer it to shelters for the homeless or battered women, or the Salvation Army. Hauling the mattress to the curb for regular trash pickup is a last resort, but if it's the only option, check with the sanitation department. Some communities require mattresses to be wrapped in heavy plastic and sturdy tape to seal in any bugs.
Paint. Put those buckets of old paint to good use by asking around at local charities, religious organizations or high school or college drama departments whether they can use it. Note that paints made before 1978 could contain lead, and those made before 1991 could have mercury. Some communities collect paint for reuse, but if there are no takers, call a local municipal recycling center or find a recycler at www.earth911.com.
If the items are well used
Even items that seem useless can be recycled into something practical for someone else. Try these tips for stuff past its prime:
Toys. Ask a local animal shelter if they can use old stuffed animals to comfort puppies.
Clothing. At Goodwill, if they can't repair clothes for sale, they'll recycle the clothing scraps into wipes for industrial buyers.
Cars. Nonprofit groups like Goodwill Industries and Habitat for Humanity accept vehicles; many don't care whether they run.
Linens. Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores accept towels, sheets, curtains and such. To donate well-worn towels, call a local animal shelter. They may take them to use for pet bedding and/or cleanup rags.
Furniture. Ask the trash collector about curbside pickup. Haul it to the curb a day early and put a "free" sign on it, in case someone might want it.
Learn more about recycling and reuse online at www.consumerreports.org and in the March issue of Consumer Reports.