Getting rid of junk

My mom has a no-fail strategy for getting rid of large items from her house. She lives on a busy highway leading out of town, so she simply places items at the end of her driveway and they are gone by the end of the day. She has successfully used this technique to get rid of old light fixtures, cabinets from her bathroom, an old kitchen table, two by fours, sheet rock, metal pipes and more. No matter how strange the item, it always seems that at least one person driving by wants it.

The Environmental Center is a better way to dispose of junk.

We used a similar strategy for getting rid of junk when I was in college at UW Madison. On our “great day of moving” each year, we put everything we didn’t want or couldn’t move out on the curb and then roamed the streets and collected everything we needed for our next place from other people’s curbsides. One year my roommates and I spotted a perfectly good kitchen table sitting in the front yard of the house next door but couldn’t quite tell if it was up for grabs or not. After knocking on the door, we left a note and then walked away with the table. One week later, the neighbor showed up wanting her table back, and we got stuck using an outdoor patio table in our kitchen for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, getting rid of household waste isn’t always that easy. I usually donate items like clothes and knickknacks to a charity organization, but charities rarely take old computer monitors, cell phones and VCR’s. Leftovers from home and yard projects also present a problem. We have dozens and dozens of half-full cans of paint sprinkled in closets throughout our house, some of which are remnants from the previous owners seven years ago. We also have bottles of used motor oil, stain for the deck and a hodge-podge of other items that aren’t safe to throw away. 

Happily, the new Washington County Environmental Center in Woodbury provides a location for people from Washington, Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to safely dispose of household hazardous waste, electronics and recyclables that might otherwise up in landfills, where they can leak and contaminate groundwater drinking supplies. The center, which is open Tuesdays from noon-7pm, and Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am-2pm, also has a free product room in which people can pick-up reusable paint, automotive products, cleaners and other products for free. Check out for more information about what types of items are accepted and how they should be packaged and transported for drop-off. The Washington County website also has a “Residential Disposal Guide, A-Z Index” to help you figure out what to do with everything from calculators, to plastic bubble wrap, styrofoam, windows and x-rays. 

On Tuesday, April 26 Washington County, South Washington Watershed District and the City of Cottage Grove will be co-hosting an open-house at the Environmental Center from 5-6:30pm. During this time, they will be showcasing clean water projects from around the county as well as providing information about cost-share grants and assistance available to help residents improve backyard habitat and do clean water landscaping projects like raingardens and shoreline plantings. In addition to dropping off waste and browsing the free product room, visitors will also be able to pick up a free soil test kit and place orders for rain barrels ($68) and bundles of bare-root trees and shrubs (25 for $32.50). The pre-ordered rain barrels and trees will be available for pick-up at the Washington County Fairgrounds on April 29 from 8am-6pm and April 30 from 8am-noon.

When spring-cleaning leads to a mountain of waste, it’s nice to know that there is someplace to put all that junk. In addition to the Environmental Center there are car and truck stores that take automotive waste, compost sites, curbside recycling haulers and the Twin Cities Free Market. If you really find yourself in a pinch, though, you can always use my mom’s driveway. The only catch is, you’ve got to get the junk to Milwaukee first.