Landfill Purgatory

Regardless of project scope, the size of a client’s home, or their sustainability awareness, no one wants anything to go into the landfill.

At first, I was happy and encouraged to hear this. People are willing to spend the extra thought and time to give items to friends, to donate, and even inquire about recycling options. All of this is a sustainability positive move and part of the experience of letting go. 

But there is another side to the “but I don’t want it to go in the landfill!” conundrum. You have things that you don’t need: either because you bought them, out grew them, accepted them without thinking, or snagged them without reason. While it’s important to think about where your stuff goes next, it’s more important to prevent them from coming into your possession in the first place. The hard truth is that you should have thought of that first. The more significant hurdle is not to stop holding on, it’s to not grab hold. The focus is on the wrong side of the equation. Don’t wait to see the problem until after the fact.

Understand that keeping items in your home that you no longer need or really want, is simply landfill purgatory. Keeping this stuff is only delaying the inevitable; you aren’t truly avoiding the landfill. It doesn’t help from a sustainability perspective. So putting those destined-for-the-landfill items in the trash (if there aren’t viable alternatives) is an important part of this process. It’s part of the undoing and coming face-to-face with the consequences of our actions. It is a lesson often best learned the hard way.

Giving something to a friend or donating it doesn’t mean it won’t go to the landfill either. You may be convinced your friend wants that thing, but they were actually just being polite. Or maybe they thought they wanted it at first but a couple months later, it’s in the trash bin and you are left with a false sense of landfill diversion. Donation centers don’t resell everything they receive for various reasons. In other words, people want your stuff less than you think.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recycle, reuse, donate, or give stuff to friends. Anything you can do to avoid the landfill and get more use out of a product, especially if it means not purchasing another one, is the right move. But understand that you can avoid this conundrum in the future by understanding today that so much stuff will take up residence in the landfill in the end despite your best intentions. It’s better for you to make smarter purchases to begin with and collect as little as possible.