How to dispose of your junk without creating a mess

If the idea of getting rid of your unused items is a source of anxiety, the advice below is for you. 

Across the UK, since the end of the spring lockdown, many recycling centres only allow people who have booked a slot, sometimes weeks in advance.  

Covid-19 or not, disposing of unwanted items responsibly is a conundrum, first and foremost, because the vast majority of us in so-called ‘developed countries’ over-consume. Also, most industries do not design products for a circular economy — items that can be repaired and upcycled instead of binned. 

Photo by Zibik available on Unsplash

As a result some of us suffers from “landfill panic”— a term coined by broadcaster Adrian Chiles in a recent column for the Guardian that resonated with me and quite a few other people judging by the number of comments left by readers. Hence, the pile of stuff that has been collecting dust on my desk for months, if not years such as broken iPhone charging cables. 

The reuse and recycle Monopoly

Think about decluttering as a game. The rule of this Monopoly-like imaginary board game is to clear out your clutter with as little as possible stuff ending in landfill or in an incinerator. 

Let’s start.

Photo by Randy Fath available on Unsplash

The first question to ask yourself before adding an item to the pile of stuff you intend to take to the recycling centre is ‘Could this still be used?’

If the item is broken or damaged and not under warranty, depending on how much it would cost to replace it, it may be worth checking if there is a repairer near you you can contact for a quote. You can ask for a recommendation on NextDoor and/or Facebook. If you live in London, you can check the Repair directory put together by the Restart project, an organisation that defends the right to repair, with the help of Londoners. 

Your electric or electronic device can’t be repaired or it’s not worth repairing? It may be possible to dispose of it responsibly without visiting the recycling centre. Westminster council and Camden council have special recycling banks for small electric appliances and electronic devices, for example. 

For undamaged items that you can’t be bothered to sell online or at a car boot sale, there are quite a few options available to you provided that you don’t need to clear out your stuff as a matter of emergency. 

10 websites that we help you declutter your house guilt free 

1. Trash nothing : a website and an app that makes navigating Freecycle and Freegle much easier! The variety of items advertised on Trash nothing is huge. You can offer things which are broken or slightly damaged. Just be clear about it. 

                    Comments published by Guardian readers in reaction to Adrian Chiles’ column.

2. Olio : the platform — accessible via a website and an app- can be used to offer both food items and non-food items. It’s very popular in the UK so the chances are that you will able to find a taker for your stuff fairly easily. I advertised a couple of kitchen rails recently and was contacted very quickly by someone despite the fact that there was a screw missing. 

3. TRAID : the textile charity has 1500 clothes banks across the UK — the ones in my area are often overflowing. It also offers home collections for free but the time slot is quite wide — 4pm-9pm, for example. The best solution if you live in London and you have a vehicle is probably to call one of the 11 shops and check whether you can take your donations there. It’s the solution recommended by TRAID as a matter of priority. 

4. ReRun : launched in 2018 by a husband and wife team, the website sells secondhand sports clothes, shoes and equipment donated to them by people. Visit this webpage to see where you can donate to ReRun and/or other like minded projects that accept donations. If you can’t find one near you email

5. British Heart Foundation : the charity collects furniture, electrical and homewares for free. You can book a slot here

6. Emmaus: the homelessness charity founded in France after the Second World War has been established in the UK for almost 30 years. The 29 Emmaus communities located across the country depend on donations of furniture and other goods to keep their business going. Each community has its own specialities and items they can and cannot accept. Find out more on your local community’s site on this webpage. In London, Emmaus’ shops are located in the South of the capital.

7. Baby banks: there are more than 100 of them across the UK, according to London baby clothing and equipment bank Little Village. If you would like to support a baby bank close to you, have a look to this map. Check with your local baby bank what it is accepting — that may vary overtime. Items have to be in good or very good quality. 

8. YoungPlanet : the free app is dedicated to baby and kids’ items (Moses baskets, clothes, shoes, toys etc.)

9. The Bike project : the charity was set up in 2013 and since then has donated more than 5,500 to refugees and asylum seekers. You can donate your old and unwanted bikes to us. To find your nearest drop off point, visit this webpage. The Bike project operates both in London and Birmingham.

10. Enviromate : you can either trade or donate building materials. You don’t need to be a tradesman to create an account. 

Keep it local

Before advertising your things on dedicated websites or in parallel to doing this, you can ask your neighbours and acquaintances in your neighbourhood if anyone is interested in any of the items you’re giving away. 

By the way, do not take it personally if nobody snaps things out of your hands as soon as you advertise them. Likewise, you may be pleasantly surprised to see which items gather the most interest

You can advertise your free items on NextDoor, local Facebook groups and also local WhatsApp groups. 

                                                Photo by Markus Winkler available on Unsplash

In February 2019, I created my own free items WhatsApp group. It has been an efficient to find for me a new home for extra bathroom towels, small pieces of furniture and homewares. It also had a bigger impact by creating new connections between residents of my area. 

Prolonging the lifespan of our stuff is the best remedy to feeling guilty and anxious about parting with our belongings. Obviously, reducing our consumption going forward has to be part of the long term strategy. 

It's not just down to you and me. Local authorities have a very significant role to play in the waste reduction revolution. Our recycling centres have to live up to their names. 

In Sweden, in a town called Eskilstuna, west of Stockholm, the recycling centre is a very special place. It doubles up as a shopping mall where everything for sale is second-hand (watch BBC video here).

In France, a few recycling centres now have a dedicated area where good quality items can be stored on shelves and be picked up by other people. 

That should be standard in all recycling facilities in the UK. It would be a fantastic cure for anyone suffering from ‘landfill panic’.