It's fairly obvious we live in a throwaway society. Clothing is discarded at the drop of a hemline, appliances are tossed aside with old color schemes, computers become obsolete before you can say gigabyte, and why hang onto an old car when the new models are so much ... newer?
America's unprecedented affluence and material evanescence keep consumer consumption levels rising, and unfortunately, landfill levels doing the same.
These days, waste management is a major concern for most communities in the United States. But in King County, Wash. -- home to Seattle and 36 other cities and unincorporated areas -- officials have gone high-tech to minimize the amount of refuse in their landfills.
Since April 1, the King County Online Exchange has offered county residents an opportunity to advertise free and low-cost items over the Internet, in the hope that their junk will become someone else's treasure.
"The whole idea is to keep inexpensive items that probably would have ended up at the landfill out of the landfill," said Jay Beach, project/program manager for King County's Waste Reduction and Recycling Section. "The thing is, it's inviting because it's free."
There is no charge to post goods on the exchange. In fact, items listed are often free for the taking. King County residents simply log onto the site and complete a short registration process to advertise virtually any household item for any price under $99.
Items are grouped in numerous categories including appliances, clothing, computer hardware and software, sporting goods, televisions, and miscellaneous.
Anyone can peruse the site and its odd assortment of items -- lizard cages, wedding dresses and elk antlers, to name a few -- but only King County residents are allowed to post items.
The idea for the site developed as a variation on a previous success.
For many years, King County has had a similar online Reusable Building Materials Exchange. That site is directed specifically at homebuilders and remodelers with leftover supplies.
"It's been insanely popular for years," said Beach. "It's consistently rated one of the top Web sites in King County."
The idea for the residential exchange began evolving about three years ago.
"Our landfills are at capacity," said Beach. "It didn't make sense to keep letting usable household materials make it into the waste stream."
In fact, the United States leads the world in production of municipal solid waste (MSW) -- common garbage consisting of items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint and batteries.
On average, every person in the United States produces 4.62 pounds of garbage a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On the bright side, however, the United States also leads the industrial world in recycling. Currently about 28 percent of the nation's MSW is recovered and recycled or composted, 15 percent is burned at combustion facilities, and the remaining 57 percent is disposed of in landfills.
With more than half of all MSW still finding its way into landfills, many cities and counties are looking for ways to reduce their growing waste heaps. King County's exchange is actually a new-age kind of recycling project with any usable household item finding new life not as a different object, but rather as the same object with a different owner.
When county officials finally decided to go ahead with their project, Beach contacted a Cold Fusion programmer in nearby British Columbia to design a program to facilitate the site.
"It was just one guy," Beach said. "It's not like he was associated with a software