Recycling from the hard rubbish

I have spent all of my adult life being pretty broke. If you can pull together some skills and resources, it’s surprising what you can manage on a low income. This is especially true if you’re able to go and rummage through the left overs of the wealthier folks, because what they throw away is often the kind of stuff that is perfectly serviceable for the rest of us.

Here in Adelaide, many of our councils run a hard waste collection a few weeks a year. If you need some furniture or homeware, like I did when I moved in here, you might find it useful to learn the etiquette of recycling from the kerb.

  1. Firstly, find out when the collections are on. Most councils list on their website or have pamphlets printed each year that show how the collections will be run. Usually the collections are staggered, a certain area will have a collection on Monday, the neighbouring area Tuesday, and so forth. Find out where and when these collections are and put them in your diary. Prioritise upmarket suburbs because they tend to upgrade and so give away nicer items. Most councils allow householders to put things out for a collection a day or even a week early so don’t wait until collection day!
  2. Arrange some transport if you can. I am very fortunate in that I have access to a van, but other people use cars, trolleys, bike trailers, wheelbarrows… If you really need a new wardrobe you will want larger transport, if you’re hoping to find some craft supplies not so much.
  3. Find a friend to go with you if possible, especially if you’re going out after dark. Take a torch and some gardening gloves too. A thermos of hot drink is especially nice in the cold weather!
  4. Think tetris. Harness your ability to pack lots of things in together. Take along some old blankets to wedge between or around fragile items, or bags to wrap smaller items.
  5. If it’s been put out on the kerb during hard waste collection, feel free to take it home. Politeness dictates that if the home owner is around you double check with them that the items are rubbish. Be careful not to confuse someone moving house with a hard waste collection.
  6. If you’re feeling keen, check in boxes, wardrobes, and drawers. One time I found a whole decent set of saucepans in the big box that the upgraded set must have come in. 
  7. Be careful of surprises. Some items have been left in sheds or on porches. There may be spiders and other bugs, there may be sharps under cushion seats etc. Always check items thoroughly and carefully! Give everything a really good clean and/or sterilizing (boiling water plus sunlight is easy) before using it.
  8. Items can be broken down into components. Old ugly dressers are often snapped up by crafts people who want them for their gorgeous walnut wood. 
  9. You can use items for temporary purposes. I once helped a woman pack 18 chairs into her car because she had a party that weekend. 
  10. Don’t feel like you’re stuck with the items. You might be desperately broke and have no armchairs. There are always armchairs out in the hard waste! Take home a couple that are solid, even if they are ugly. In a couple of months when you’ve more money, then you can look at something you like. The next step up from the hard waste is often buying on eBay, from second hand shops, garage sales etc. Often you will get a much stronger, hardier item second hand than buying from the cheapest range of new gear.
  11. Some things are almost never in the hard waste. If you want a bookshelf, you’ll probably have to buy it. Apparently no one ever throws them out! Don’t be discouraged if there are days you don’t find much. It’s a bit like fishing.

Things I’ve collected from the hard rubbish; 2 two-seater lounges, rugs, carpets, books, magazines, a box of bottles of white wine, a hand mower, a wardrobe, armchairs, crockery, saucepans, paintings, canvas, old mirrors, dressers, an aquarium, a terrarium, a vivarium, bird cages, outdoor furniture, garden tools, whitegoods, old tv’s, empty garden pots and saucers, useful boxes and storage, candles and so on.

If you’ve ever had money, or you have friends that do, scrummaging like this can feel really humiliating. There’s a big shift between creating houses that look like magazine entries and those where the decor was what we found on the side of the road. You are actually helping out in that it’s far better for the ‘rubbish’ to be recycled than go on to landfill. It doesn’t have to be horrible, you still stamp your own personality on your home with what you have chosen, how you use it, care for it, arrange it. The effect of the whole is a lot more important from the point of view of actually living in it. It doesn’t matter if your ‘coffee table’ is actually a cardboard box with a scarf over it, it works! I’ve found that it takes the sting out to be proud of my resourcefulness and to recall how much of the world is living in the kind of conditions where my humble home is a palace of luxury. With running water, heating, cooling, glass in the windows, several rooms, a roof with no leaks, and money to buy soap, food, and medicine, there’s a lot to appreciate. It’s often also down to values, where you want to spend the little bit of money that you have. It’s appropriate for your health care to be more important than a new rug, or to want to put some money aside for a kids birthday rather than buy a new bed. I’d rather have a dog than a dishwasher or a dining suite. The odd person might disagree with your choices or sneer at your home, but it’s your life and your values and their approval isn’t relevant.

2 thoughts on “Recycling from the hard rubbish

  1. One thing I learned from my brother's ex-girlfriend is that even if you don't want something you might be able to sell it onward on ebay to get some cash for something you do want… the money she made from on selling kid's clothes she brought from the local op shop when they were out west was a nice little earner.

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