The girls and I took last week off to join my fellow Trash Backwards co-founder Liesl Clark in turning an entire 40-yard dumpster’s trash backwards with our bare hands (gloves might be prudent, but I prefer skin-to-trash contact). My hometown is host to what is sometimes described as “the world’s largest rummage sale”; while I can’t verify the veracity of that claim, I can tell you the Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale is truly massive. It’s a one-day event that takes over an entire middle school, all the classrooms and interior spaces, parking lots, and surrounding campus (6 acres of space, all told) to sell donated items of every kind.
Locals save up their unwanted but usable goods all year then deliver their offerings to the drive-through drop-off that’s open 12 hours a day for the week preceding the sale. The Bainbridge Island Rotary raised nearly $5 million this way between 1960 and 2011; this year’s sale will push that total up further. Old items are sold for reuse and further life and the proceeds go to fund service projects major and minor, local and international. It’s an inspirational example of large-scale reuse and recycling that serves to keep things out of our landfill while also improving lives around the world.
Based on our experience recycling dumpster-bound items last year, documented by Liesl in a short film here, we were sure we could reduce the dumpster contents even more with a bit of planning and help from Rotary and the community. We were excited when the Rotarians dedicated 1/4 acre of lawn next to the 40-yard dumpster to our dumpster diversion efforts for the donation week. Liesl and I were tasked with guiding a a team of other volunteers as we all sorted incoming shopping carts, boxes, and bags of items rejected by the various sale departments. This is a waste stream that has gone directly into the dumpster in previous years unless a member of the Recycling Team managed to divert municipally-recyclable items from it first.
We started by pulling out non-functional recyclables such as paper, cardboard, polyethylene plastic, glass, metal, and e-waste. Anything that was still in any semblance of working order, from chipped ceramics and stained clothing to more obviously useful items such as car seats, toiletries, toys, vases, Tupperware and other serveware, was set out on our large lawn area for further sorting. Some items that had been rejected by one department would be picked up for sale in another (a pitcher that Housewares didn’t want went to Garden for a fountain set, for instance, and working pens and other office goods went to the Rotary’s supply station), while others that Rotary has learned just don’t sell went to other local non-profits. One of our state senators spent hours uniting Tupperware and other plastic containers with perfectly matched lids, making their sale and reuse possible.
We had a long list of what went where: toiletries to the local women’s shelter, glass vases to the local florists for reuse, stained or worn fabric and clothing to Goodwill’s textile recycling program, chipped ceramics to local mosaic artists and gardeners, old towels and blankets to the local wildlife rehab center and animal shelter, art supplies to local schools, cloth napkins and silverware to our local zero waste schools group for distribution to classrooms and teachers’ lounges, and on and on. Anything that didn’t have a home with a local group was sorted into broad categories, boxed up, and loaded into the Goodwill truck parked on site.
The part my girls like best is sorting the toys rejected by the Rotary children’s departments. They helped Liesl separate animals from people from trucks from trains from bouncy balls from jewelry from dolls from stuffed animals…And while some of that was the sort of help that just makes more work, some of their labor was fruitful, and all of it leaves them feeling empowered – The sorted toys that the toy department didn’t want to take back will be shared with local school carnival prize collections and the 4-H Harvest Fair “fishing” booth. OK, everything except for a few select items that came home with us (a unicorn with a slightly broken horn, a swirly bouncy ball, a stuffed rainbow-striped bunny, a panda sleep mask).
In the end, we diverted the contents of one 40-yard dumpster back into service. Last year, we needed two 40-yarders in our parking lot; this year, we filled just one, and there was still a bit of space left when we packed up shop and returned our 1/4 acre lot to its original reuse-free grassy glory. Just in time for the actual sale to take place, with one rush of the opening dash taking place right over where we spent the week.
It wasn’t the same as a family road trip or a day at Disneyland, and my girls were definitely worn out after we put in 4 straight 10+ hour days, but we’re all happy that we spent our summer vacation dumpster diving. Have you spent time dumpster diving with your kids? Got any favorite finds? We’d love to connect with fellow dumpster diverting families.