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Posted on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 : 9:39 a.m.

Remembering a trip through a landfill inspires an effort to recycle unusual items

By Judy DiForte


The July heat was already teasing 90, though it was still early morning. My husband drove the rented dumptruck loaded with old shingles from our re-roofing project. We followed two slow trucks around and up the landfill.

We reached the top and pulled to a stop to wait our turn behind a Salvation Army truck. Hundreds of screeching seagulls circled overhead.

The air was sour, somehow thick and hard to breathe. The wait seemed endless, and finally I had to get out of the truck. The gray surface felt springy -- kind of like those cardboard fastfood trays molded for multiple drinks.

A few yards away sat a plaid sofa, soaked from the night’s rain. Steam was coming out of it. In the distance sat an idling bulldozer.

Walking on this synthetic ground, I felt like an astronaut on another planet. I don’t know exactly what I’d expected, but this wasn’t it. Aside from the creepy couch, I didn’t see any trash — just this bumpy molded gray terrain.

Suddenly my foot broke through the surface into a cavity below. It was hotter in there, and something wispy brushed my leg. The man in the bulldozer yelled and waved his arms at me. I regained my footing and turned back to the mothership.

Clambering back in, I added “dangerous” to my assessment of this weird mountain of waste. My mind churned with the horrors that might lie below us. Instinctively, I locked my door.

The Salvation Army truck pulled forward, then backed into position and dumped its load. Old shoes, purses and stuffed animals tumbled out into a pile. From where we sat, I could make out a panda bear sticking out the top, staring vacantly at its final resting place. The truck drove off.

In turn, we dumped our shingles near the rest and started back down the hill. The rearview mirror framed the human detritus: a tangle of shoes, stuffies and shingles; a steaming couch. The bulldozer, wavy in the heat, climbed the hill like a weary gravedigger.

Although that was two decades ago, I still think of it when I take out the garbage.

Whenever we went to Rochester, N.Y. to visit my in-laws, we took our son to the Strong Museum of Play. At the time, the museum had an area with a recycling theme which featured several actual cross sections of landfills encapsulated in floor to ceiling clear tubes. As your eye moved down the layers, you went back in debris time… I saw one of those cobalt blue medicine bottles… fabric with strawberries on it… a woman’s smiling face on the side of a crushed bag of flour. An archaeological dig of trash.

Tempted sometimes on a tired night to ignore my eco-conscience and toss an empty can in the trash, I always see it land in that panda’s lap… So I rinse and recycle.

Whenever we (The Betty Brigade) do home cleanouts for our clients, we recycle what we can. Over time we’ve found homes for what would otherwise be laid to rest in the weird cemetery for stuff.

In my blog next week, I’ll list some of the places we’ve found to reuse or recycle items that seem like trash.

Meanwhile, please email me or comment about where to donate or recycle unusual items. Our current larger challenges include old furniture, TVs and mattresses too used for donation. We welcome suggestions!

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer with The Betty Brigade, an Ann Arbor-based personal assistance and concierge company. Email her at



Sat, Jul 30, 2011 : 6:28 p.m.

What can one do with a fan that no longer works?

David Rhoads

Sat, Jul 30, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

Hold on to the old televisions and other electronic waste until the next E-waste recycling event. Saline's Environmental Commission and The Fifth Corner teen center will host a free recycling event for electronic items on Nov 5 at 211 Willis Rd in Saline from 9am to 4pm.