WASHINGTON—Nearly 20 years after launching its first nationwide recycling program, the Department of Sanitation unveiled a new environmental initiative Monday that urges citizens to separate perfectly good stuff, such as old toasters and empty picture frames, from the rest of their weekly trash.
Officials said they expected the new program to eliminate hundreds of tons of totally usable and barely scratched waste over the next year.
"For far too long, Americans have been throwing out working lamps, expensive coasters, and those nice wooden shelves along with their regular trash," Sanitation Secretary Frank DiPietro told reporters at a press conference. "This wasteful practice not only threatens our environment, but it also forces certain individuals who, say, need a new ottoman, to rummage through piles and piles of dirty garbage."
"Just look at this coffee table, for instance," added DiPietro. "It's not even all that cracked."
As part of the program, the department will mail out a 12-page pamphlet detailing more than 200 perfectly fine items for the nation's citizens to keep separate from their trash, including chairs that have at least three legs, stacks of old National Geographic magazines, couches with no "major stains," ashtrays—especially the big ceramic ones—and "whatever else you may have around the house that could be used as a TV stand."
Citizens will also receive a new specially designed garbage bin, which can be used for totally salvageable frying pans, rechargeable batteries, and speakers that still sort of work if you blast them high enough.
According to DiPietro, practically new items should be placed at the end of one's driveway, several feet from bags of ordinary trash, and preferably with signs labeled "Only used a few times" and "Just needs some new wiring." DiPietro went on to say that the perfectly good garbage will be picked up on Sunday and Tuesday nights, or whenever the sanitation department happens to be passing by and spots a blender they think they can fix.
"Each and every person can make a difference when it comes to helping the environment," said Shelley Manning, a sanitation operations coordinator. "Especially if that person has one of those Dustbuster machines they're going to throw away—you know, the kind that picks up bread crumbs and then you can empty the canister when it gets full? Oh, and some sturdy sconces. If somebody has those, they would also be helping out the environment a ton."
An internal study conducted by the department suggests that the new program may reduce landfills by 25 percent, decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent, and lessen the chances of having to go out and buy an overpriced mattress by nearly 60 percent. In addition, the report—which was published on the back of some perfectly fine dot-matrix printer paper found next to a Dumpster—reveals that for every dented filing cabinet claimed by the new program, an estimated $45 in nonrenewable cash is saved.
"By 2010, we could see a resounding change in dozens of cities across the country," said Joseph Henderson, a Boston-area sanitation truck driver. "And in a number of unfinished basements as well. Big empty basements that could really use some spare paint and, maybe, like, a little armchair in the corner."
Reaction to the new "Reduce, Reuse—Hey, You Gonna Get Rid of That?" program has so far been mixed, with some citizens involved in early trials already complaining that the ecologically friendly initiative is too confusing.
"How am I supposed to keep track of all this?" said Chicago resident Joanna Keyes, who is required to sort out her garbage into 17 separate piles, including three individual stacks for things that might be good for tying up larger stuff, smaller objects perfect for desks or maybe a table, and those long metal tubes that are just right for hanging clothes on. "All I wanted to do was throw away an air-hockey table my kids hardly touched."
While it is too early to gauge the success of the new program, DiPietro said that if anyone has a van or truck the department could use to help move a couple of giant mirrors they found, that would be "really great."