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Aubrey's Notebook:
Garage sales

All the debate about where to build new landfills in Northwest Arkansas makes it apparent that area residents need to concern themselves with reducing the amount of solid waste they produce. Recycling is a universally recommended solution when the question of how to reduce waste is discussed.

Tons of clothing, shoes, furniture, household appliances, electronic equipment, toys and other still-serviceable items go into area landfills every day.

Recycling experts tell us that getting maximum use from each item is the recycler's first rule. Using paper sacks and plastic bags from the grocery store to contain garbage or for storage is recycling at a higher level than simply sending the sacks and bags to be remanufactured. Donating clothing to charitable resale shops such as those operated by the Salvation Army and several churches in the area is another way to recycle at the highest level. The rule is simple: If you used an item today, then someone likely can use it tomorrow, even though you have decided to replace the item with something new.

Something as simple as using an old juice jar to hold frozen orange juice or to make sun tea reduces the waste load while discouraging the harm further manufacturing and consumption of resources would cause to the world1s environment if one bought a special container. Hundreds of similar small economies add up to significant recycling when lots of people participate.

Garage sales are another important recycling outlet. Going to the trouble to hold a garage sale can provide a bit of spending money for a family, and enlisting youngsters in the effort can teach valuable skills. Admittedly, yard-sale prices often amount to less than 2 percent of the new prices of items offered for sale even when use has caused only a minimal reduction in the value of such items. But selling $5,000 worth of material slated to be trashed for even $100 can benefit many a household budget. Certainly, some retailers may fear that rummage sales hurt their business. Some local governments may fear that such sales reduce the amount of sales tax collected. But observing the buyers at a typical yard sale could allay such fear. Relatively few buy things at garage sales they otherwise would have bought new any time soon. Mostly they buy extra things, even fanciful things they never would buy at retail prices.

Some garage-sale enthusiasts are specialists who search for good deals on antiques or unusual items. Some are elderly people who find visiting yard sales a way to socialize and occasionally find a bargain to stretch retirement income. Some are young couples seeking baby clothes for a quarter an item rather than $20 per item. Some are new residents of the area who have discovered the average worker's wages here are not what they expected when they migrated.

Some are workers looking for rough, used athletic shoes or boots to wear while painting, pouring cement, sealing swimming pools, working on oily floors and such. Some are simply poor and need decent shoes at a low price. Few buy items they would have gone to the mall or a specialty store or even a discount store to shop for. They are happy to use cast-off items for whatever their particular reasons.

The people who hold sales in their yards, carports, garages or even inside their homes are equally diverse; but, whether they realize it or not, all deserve commendation for recycling.

Many desperately need to earn a few dollars and are willing to sell even things they really want to keep in order to pay their basic bills. Some like to have people of all sorts visit to chat, shop and pass the time of day. Some enjoy the smiles on the faces of people who find something they want or need but can't afford at retail prices. Others feel guilty if they waste any usable item and believe that recycling by selling at bargain prices is a service not only to the individuals who take advantage of their deals but also to all the people, animals and plants on earth. They are pleased not only that useful items are being kept out of landfills but also that natural resources are saved when their old items are put to use.

Whether people care about the environment because they want clean air and water for themselves and members of their family or care for the sake of fish and wildlife, everyone has a vested interest in conserving natural resources.

While facilitating recycling, garage sales provide a lot of pleasure for many people, and they ought to be encouraged by local government. It goes without saying that there ought to be no needless restriction imposed on yard sales. And it ought to be pretty easy for most communities to provide community bulletin boards at various public sites on major streets and highways to guide yard-sale shoppers.

As the push continues to build more landfills, local governments will be forced to provide increased recycling opportunities for citizens. Encouraging every family in the community to hold yard and garage sales as often as possible may be the cheapest and easiest first step a community can take.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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