EVENTS: Save Your Landfill: Have a Garage Sale

A garage sale can't really help a community reach a 50 percent diversion rate - unless, of course, the garage sale is citywide.

Spurred by California's requirement for communities to divert 50 percent of their waste by 2000, the city of Sunnyvale, Calif., decided on a multifaceted waste reduction plan of which the annual yard sale is the public awareness centerpiece. These efforts are credited with helping Sunnyvale, a community of 130,000 residents, reach a 53 percent diversion rate.

"This project is a good way of bringing solid waste and recycling issues right into people's homes with an emphasis on reuse and giving rather than throwing away," says Mark Bowers, city of Sunnyvale solid waste program manager.

"We especially wanted to reach new segments of the population that had not been very involved with other waste reduction or recycling practices," says Richard Gurney, Sunnyvale recycling coordinator. "And, we wanted to reach individuals that did not usually hold garage sales. We also wanted participants to know why we were doing this event and to link waste reduction to landfill space. Finally, we wanted the community to share our enthusiasm and become as excited and as involved with this project as we were."

Instilling a sense of personal responsibility for waste reduction is a critical element in the city's plan. The key campaign message to both buyers and sellers is reuse it, resell it now or even give it away; just keep it out of the landfill.

The garage sales are held at residents' homes during one weekend close to the city's annual spring cleanup. City staff begins planning this event from six to nine months prior to the event's date. Residents are notified two months prior to the sales through the solid waste program's semi-annual newsletter and other city publications. Residents who are interested in holding a sale are sent a registration packet, which includes a welcoming letter, tips for holding a sale and a registration sheet where they list their top merchandise. The promotional packet also includes a list of non-profit agencies that accept household goods donations.

Press releases and public service announcements are circulated to promote the sale to potential shoppers throughout Santa Clara County and the San Francisco Bay area. A full-page ad runs in the area's major newspaper listing the sellers' addresses and merchandise for sale.

The city pays for the promotion of the event. However, the residents keep their proceeds.

From the start, the city has worked with private- sector partners. The Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce has been a garage sale partner since 1992, and it donates hundreds of city maps, which are distributed at local 7-Eleven convenience stores. In addition, Goodwill Industries donates clothing and household goods to be used on the promotional boards placed at city facilities. Coldwell Banker also provides sidewalk garage sale signs

The number of residents who have participated in the yard sales has doubled since the first event eight years ago.

Although the heart of this sale has changed little over time, there are some noticeable trends among sellers. There are more group sales as neighbors join together to hold a sale. Increasingly, residents use this as an opportunity to raise funds for civic organizations, such as the Public Safety Officers Association, Lions International, Sunnyvale Historical Society, Animal Birth Control, American Association of University Women and the Fremont High School Grad Night Committee.

The benefits of the yearly yard sales are both intangible and tangible. Although the intangible benefits of goodwill and community cohesion drive the event, the tangible benefits of waste reduction are considerable. In 1999, 2,290 households participated. Based on past quantities sold at an average-sized sale, sellers sold an estimated 229 tons of material.

The solid waste program's avoided refuse transfer and disposal costs from the 1999 event, valued at $70 per ton, are $16,030.

Using a conservative estimate that 70 percent of this material would become landfill fodder, the savings to the city and its refuse collection ratepayers is $11,221.

The expenses primarily are advertising to buyers and the staff time to coordinate the event. Costs have varied from about $4,000 in 1992 with more than 300 registrants to $10,305 in 1999 with more than 500 registrants.

This program is a cooperative venture that uses community and individual involvement to create an increased awareness of solid waste issues. Most importantly, by sharing information about city goals and inviting participation, the whole community has become shareholders in the successes of waste reduction in Sunnyvale.

For information, contact Rich Gurney, recycling coordinator, city of Sunnyvale at (408) 730-7277 or e-mail: [email protected]