The following is an email I received from reader Susan Siu about how much she loves having to take her recycling to the local transfer center instead of having curbside pickup. I loved it so much, I asked her if she would send me pictures and let me post her email here. Don’t get me wrong: I still want curbside recycling to be made available so that people who wouldn’t otherwise recycle will comply, but I love her enthusiasm for her local transfer station. So, please enjoy this post about recycling/reusing in Southern Maine.
I LOVE your book and blog! I am a small-scale vegetarian organic homesteader in Southern Maine currently in the process of going zero-waste and plastic-free, and your book has been extremely helpful as well as fascinating. I have been watching many of your film/video recommendations with my kids, and they are sharing what they’ve learned with all their friends.
After reading your story about Lisa Sharp, who got her community to implement a curbside recycling program, though, I wanted to share my experience. I love my community’s Transfer Station and would NEVER want to just leave my recyclables on the curb! Yes, Gray, Maine, population 8,000, is one of those towns where we have to pile the stuff in our cars and lug it all ourselves. And guess what? Most people actually do it!
On the weekends, when the majority of people in town make their weekly trips to the Transfer Station, the place is buzzing with friendly and useful activity. Our Transfer Station is clean and efficient and even, believe it or not, a place to see and be seen! Our local representative to the State House of Representatives is often there, chatting with neighbors and constituents, we know all the employees and volunteers personally, and I often run into my best friends there and enjoy catching up with others that I don’t see as often.
We have a large recycling pavilion with numerous bins, and they take nearly everything: we even have separate bins for egg cartons, pizza boxes, bubble wrap, plastic bags, styrofoam packing peanuts, and clean plastic bags for the food pantry!
Outside the recycling pavilion, there is a small trash compactor, an area for heavy plastic items, another for upholstered furniture, a wood pile, a metal pile, a bin for construction debris and another for asphalt shingles, a pile for trees/branches and another for grass and other small yard debris, a place for refrigerators, an electronics pile, and a spot to put windows and other large glass items (such as fish tanks) and sinks and toilets.
Because recyclable items are pre-sorted by the people who bring them in, there is very little trouble with contamination or limitations on how much or how quickly the employees can sort, and our town can recycle nearly anything that it is possible to recycle. The friendly Transfer Station employees are always on hand to answer questions.
The other wonderful thing about our Transfer Station is that you can take stuff. So many things that are thrown away actually end up getting reused. The yard debris is ground up into mulch, which residents can take for their gardens, and even before it becomes mulch I take bags of leaves, grass, and pine needles and bales of straw and hay for bedding for my chickens and rabbits and for my composting toilet (the toilet seat, wooden frame, and plastic bucket also came from the Transfer Station).
My two chickens coops (and my friends’ chicken coops), my kids’ playhouses, and my rabbit hutches were mostly built from old wood and windows from the Transfer Station wood pile, and my large dining-room table (I have a husband and four kids) and chairs came from there, too!
A neighbor of mine got an old entertainment center from the wood pile and converted it to a play kitchen for her little girls. I built my raised-bed covers using PVC pipe from the plastic bin, and my children’s bicycles and scooters came from the metal pile, as did the metal grate I use to boil maple sap over my fire pit and the stakes I used to build my bamboo garden fence.
I have gotten hinges and nails and screws and cooking pots and tools and shelves for my toolshed from the metal pile. My bird bath and many of the landscaping rocks in my garden came from the construction debris area. I often use clean egg cartons from the recycling pavilion for my chickens’ eggs and gallon milk jugs from the #2 plastic bin to collect maple sap for syrup. I have saved numerous glass Mason jars from the glass bin to store food in at home.
Perhaps the best part of our Transfer Station is the Swap Shop, a small freestanding building where people can leave items in good (or potentially reparable) condition to be taken (for free!) and reused by others. It is neat, heated and air-conditioned, and well organized and maintained by a crew of dedicated volunteers. There are shelves full of books, two large toy bins, more shelves for dishes and videos and audio recordings, a miscellaneous table for toiletries, sewing/knitting supplies and knick knacks of various kinds, several shoe racks, a hanging organizer for purses and reusable bags, a shelf for board games and another for magazines, and several clothing racks (with more bins of clothing underneath), as well as shelves of linens and donated food (often canned food and other non-perishables, but sometimes fresh produce from people’s gardens!). On busy weekend afternoons, there are boxes and bins full of more stuff on the pavement outside the swap shop, and rummaging through them is a real treasure hunt. There are even some older ladies who set up their lawn chairs on the weekends and wait for the good stuff to roll in!
My family has saved a tremendous amount of money (and avoided having to support the manufacture of new products) by getting most of our stuff from the Swap Shop. I get 90% of my clothes and my children’s clothes from there, and it’s where I get fabric to make things such as Hallowe’en costumes for them. I also get many of our books from the Swap Shop, as well as our candles, toiletries, wooden hangers, and writing instruments (just came home with a beautiful collection of colored pencils a few days ago).
My kids’ skis, ski boots, and rain boots came from the Swap Shop, as did my attractive upholstered wicker garden furniture, my bird feeders and plant pots, and my sewing and knitting needles, as well as most of my yarn and sewing thread. The baskets that I use to store things on my shelves came from there. My kids’ building blocks and all their stuffed animals and dolls, our toaster, our juicer, our dinner plates, our wall-mounted lamps, and even our bed frame came from there!
In short, our Transfer Station is a much more sustainable and community-building affair than any curbside recycling program could ever hope to be. Our waste does not simply disappear; we remain connected to much of it in its subsequent lives. And it helps us remain connected to each other, too. If I ever move away from Gray, the thing I will miss the most, other than my friends and my two favorite hiking spots, is definitely the Transfer Station! My kids love it, too, and beg to be allowed to unload the recyclables with us. They have shortened its name to “the Trans” and love to compare notes with their friends about the treasures they have found there. My friends in nearby towns with curbside recycling and trash pickup are SO jealous and often ask us to bring them with us! Sorting the recyclables is easy for us because we have a cabinet with wire drawers (30 years old and salvaged from my parents’ old house) in our laundry room (which is just off our kitchen) and put them in the right places as we empty them.
On Transfer Station day, we just dump them into reusable bags, drive a couple of minutes to the Transfer Station (I’m working on a trailer for my bike for this purpose!), go straight to the appropriate bin for each bag, and get out in two minutes or less, especially if the kids are helping. It’s a snap!