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Junk Removal Services

Whether you are decluttering your home, relocating your business, or renovating a residential property before you move in, you might benefit from junk removal. Often, the biggest obstacle when preparing for a move or trying to clear out space in your existing home or office is junk: stuff you neither want nor need, but also items that you don’t know how to dispose of conveniently. Junk removal companies exist to provide the solution.

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What Is Junk Removal?

Junk removal is an industry dedicated to assisting with the decluttering process. It is different from regular trash pickup. With a standard garbage company, you get a bin for your home or business that you keep permanently or indefinitely. You then fill that bin with your daily and weekly garbage and wait for trash day, at which point the company comes by with a garbage truck, dumps your junk, and hauls it away.

In most cases, you would call a junk removal company if you had more extensive trash removal needs. Say you are cleaning out your basement and don’t have enough space in your standard garbage bin to throw away all the junk you find. In this case, you might call a junk removal company for help. The same strategy would apply if you had a series of sizable items—such as furniture pieces or large children’s toys—that you wanted gone from your house.

Junk removal can take other forms, too. Contractors who renovate houses often go through junk removal companies or rent dumpsters for their building sites. They then have a convenient spot to discard pieces of flooring, chunks of drywall, and other construction debris without having to slow down their build processes.

Junk removal typically takes one of two forms. There is full-service junk removal, where you hire 2-3 people to come into your home or office, carry your discards outside, load it into a dumpster or truck, and then haul it away. This option is essentially like hiring movers, except your stuff goes away forever instead of going to your new address. There is also self-service junk removal, which is like the renovation/contractor example mentioned above. With self-service junk removal, the junk company drops a dumpster off at your property, and you fill it yourself. Once the bin is full, the junk removal comes back to load your dumpster onto a truck and drive it away.

In short, junk removal is the go-to strategy for dealing with bulk clutter or large garbage items.

The History of Junk Removal

Junk removal fits into the historical context of solid waste management, which dates back centuries. As long as humans have been on the planet, they have been producing waste. It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century, though, that organized strategies for waste management started to take hold. The first waste management system originated in London, where high population density meant that waste was accumulating in the streets. At the time, though, waste management began less as a pursuit of cleanliness and health and more as a means of collecting coal ash (or “dust”) which people would sell at a profit for brick-making purposes.

In the 19th century, reform began to creep into the world of junk management. Sir Edwin Chadwick, an English social reformer, battled for sanitation and health, especially for the labor population. Spurred forth by a rash of deadly cholera outbreaks, Chadwick proposed a system where waste would be removed from population centers and taken to proper waste management facilities. He believed that diseases were spread by “bad air” and thought that better waste management would help prevent or at least mitigate future outbreaks.

Chadwick’s ideas eventually led to legislation such as the Nuisance Removal and Disease Prevention Act of 1846 and the Public Health Act of 1875. These laws redefined waste management in London, regulated the cleanup of the streets, and made sanitation a legal requirement. The Public Health Act of 1875 even required that households throughout the London have “movable receptacles” that they could use to dispose of their waste on a weekly basis. Around the same time, the first incinerators were built to burn garbage.

These ideas would pave the way for the future of waste management on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The first motorized garbage removal trucks were put into use in the early 20th century. Eventually, people began to realize the health risks of burning waste and releasing those emissions into the air. In the United States, legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act emerged in part to reduce the pollution and environmental impact of poor waste management strategies and incinerators and open burning dumps became less prevalent.

The United States Public Health Service also began fighting for a centralized national strategy for dealing with solid waste. That battle raged for roughly two decades, with the USPHS warning about the risks of poorly planned waste disposal. With waste generation growing and nearby land for waste disposal rapidly disappearing, the organization urged legislation that would create more explicit roles for local, state, and federal governments. Eventually, the USPHS got its wish, in the form of the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. The legislation established firmer overarching plans for waste management throughout the country, regulated private dependable waste operators, and revolutionized the field of junk removal. To this day, most of what we have as standard waste removal—weekly garbage service pickups, strategically placed landfills, regulation for companies operating in this space—has its roots in the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965.

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Landfill Stress in the United States

The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965 did much to control the health and environmental risks of improper waste management. Unfortunately, as the USPHS noted during its lengthy fight for waste management legislation, waste generation continued accelerating as the population expanded. That acceleration has only continued into the modern era, and today, it is causing significant problems with landfill stress.

To provide some background, landfills in the United States are more specifically classified as “municipal solid waste landfills” (or MSWLFs). An MSWLF is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “a discrete area of land or excavation that receives household wastes,” as well as “commercial solid waste, non-hazardous sludge, conditionally exempt small quantity generator waste, and industrial nonhazardous solid waste.” As of 2009, there were just over 1,900 of these landfills in the United States. Today, the number is reportedly over 2,000.

Every MSWLF must meet certain restrictions to receive waste. For instance, they must be located in “suitable geographic areas,” free of features such as wetlands or geographic faults that might classify the sites as more hazardous. They must also be lined with geo-membranes and compacted clay soil (to prevent groundwater contamination) and be compacted and covered on a regular basis (to reduce odors). These requirements—and others described on the EPA website—are standard for all MSWLFs in the United States, an example of centralized waste management policy in action. These policies were enacted as part of the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

While landfills today are carefully and deliberately designed to minimize the risks of contamination or health impact, though, they still pose a growing crisis. In the United States, we produce approximately 728,000 tons of garbage every single day. More than 250 million tons of waste end up in U.S. landfills every year. The result is that we are using up a valuable and limited resource: space.

This chart shows the concentration and size of landfills throughout the United States. Crucially, it also shows how many landfills have been closed.

The number of large red dots on this map—and the amount of space they cover—is alarming. States such as California and Florida, especially, appear to be overflowing with garbage. As waste generation becomes more pronounced, this problem will only get worse. Those green dots are going to balloon outward until they too become red dots. At that point, more green dots will spring up in other locations until the same thing happens to them. Eventually, we will either have to find a new way to dispose of garbage or risk running out of land to use for waste management purposes.

Space isn’t even the most pressing concern. Gases are also a problem. The bacterial breakdown of organic materials that happens in landfills creates gaseous emissions as a natural byproduct. This mix of gases—mostly methane, carbon dioxide, and water vapor—is what you have likely smelled if you have ever driven by a landfill. These gases qualify as greenhouse gases, which could worsen the problem the planet is already facing with emissions and climate change.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 did a lot to prevent any issues relating to these gases. Before the bill was passed, there was no regulatory measure in place to control the byproducts generated at landfills. Leachate, the liquids created by decomposing garbage, were allowed to filter into the soils beneath a landfill, while the methane and carbon dioxide gases were left to dissipate directly into the atmosphere. The 1976 legislation put measures in place to correct both issues. As mentioned previously, landfills must now be carefully lined, in large part to prevent leachate from getting into the soil or groundwater. Landfills need to pump leachate out of the garbage pile and dispose of it safely. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act also required dump sites to vent methane gas through piping systems and burn it. This process turns the methane into carbon dioxide, which is then emitted into the atmosphere.

Of course, carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas. While less potent or harmful than methane, carbon dioxide is still thought to affect planetary climate. In other words, even though landfill gases aren’t the problem they used to be, they are still an issue. The chart below shows just how much gas each state is producing from landfills.

Recycling Junk

The good news is that recycling is becoming much more common. Though the concept of recycling dates back centuries, it wasn’t prevalent until relatively recently. In 1960, the United States recycled 5.6 tons of waste—6.4 percent of the country’s total litter. By 2013, the number was up to 87.2 tons, or 34.3 percent of the whole.

We owe the rise of recycling in large part to war. During the world wars, metal was extremely scarce. These shortages forced governments to salvage and reuse materials wherever possible. The government wasn’t the only entity recycling, either. On the contrary, in the United States, since the government was claiming so much for the war effort—especially in World War II—it became vital for families to get creative with what they had available. This situation essentially created household recycling in the United States.

Recycling would continue to grow throughout the second half of the 20th century, spurred by two main factors. The first was the energy crisis of the 1970s, where the cost of producing materials from scratch made recycling a cheaper, more popular, and more desirable option. The second was the growing popularity of consumer electronics, which were not safe (and often not legal) to dispose of in landfills. In the 2000s and the 2010s, recycling has continued to become more common, thanks to the continued explosion of consumer electronics (and, by extension e-waste) as well as to a growing conscientiousness among consumers and businesses. In the past decade especially, the push for people and businesses to “go green” and “be sustainable” has become much more pronounced.

Recycling delivers scores of benefits. The biggest and most obvious of these is that it reduces the amount of junk going to landfills or incineration plants. Instead, recycled materials are hauled off to recovery facilities, where they are sorted, cleaned, and processed. Once processed, recycled materials—from glass to plastic to metal and beyond—take the form of something that can be useful for manufacturing. These materials are then sold back to manufacturers just like raw materials would be.

Many items today are made at least in part from recycled materials, including paper towels, plastic water bottles, newspapers, trash bags, and glass containers. This process creates jobs (for people who sort and process recycled materials) and reduces energy usage (because companies can use existing materials rather than manufacturing new elements from scratch), in addition to cutting down on landfill strain.

What can you recycle, exactly? Many things. In your average recycling bin, you can toss paper, cardboard, and glass. Your garbage company might not accept metal, but you can undoubtedly recycle metal items by going through the right channels. You can also recycle plastic, though you should pay attention to plastic recycling codes. Not all plastics are recyclable or reusable, so recycling companies don’t accept all plastic items. The plastic recycling codes are as follows:

  • Number 1 - PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): Used in bottled water bottles, soft drink bottles, vegetable oil containers, and the like. These plastics are recyclable but aren’t suitable for reuse because they can leach chemicals.
  • Number 2 - HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): You will find HDPE in milk bottles, oil bottles, laundry detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, and more. These plastics are recyclable and are also safely reusable.
  • Number 3 - PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): PVC is found in plastic pipes, the plastic sheathing for cords and electrical cables, toys, and many types of plastic packaging. PVC is notorious for leaching chemicals, which means it is typically not reusable or recyclable.
  • Number 4 - LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene): LDPE is used for plastic grocery bags, bread bags, dry cleaner garment bags, and more. It is an extremely safe plastic, which means you can reuse those bags for almost anything. Historically, LDPE has not been widely accepted for recycling. However, this type of plastic can be recycled, and more communities are starting to accept it at their recycling plants.
  • Number 5 - PP (Polypropylene): PP is used in car bumpers, children’s toys, luggage, lawn furniture, and those plastic bags/liners in cereal boxes. PP is safe for reuse. Like LDPE, it has not traditionally been accepted by recyclers and is not very widely recycled now. Also like LDPE, though, PP recycling is becoming more common.
  • Number 6 - PS (Polystyrene): PS is the cheap plastic used for disposable food packaging (such as egg cartons), Styrofoam cups, packing peanuts, disposable plastic cutlery, and foam insulation. PS should not be reused for food purposes, as it leaches chemicals that may be carcinogenic. Reusing PS packing materials, though, is perfectly safe and even advised. It is also not widely recyclable, which means almost all PS ends up in landfills. In fact, some 35 percent of United States landfill space is occupied by PS. Because of this fact, fewer companies are using PS for packaging.
  • Number 7 - Other: This category can include any plastics not represented in the other six groups, including polycarbonate, BPA, and acrylic. Compostable plastics, made from materials such as corn starch, also fall into this category. Except for compostable materials (often label “PLA” or “Compostable”) plastics in this category should not be reused. Recyclability will also vary depending on your location.

Keeping these numbers and codes in mind will help you navigate the complexities of plastic recycling in the United States.

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Hazardous Waste

One of the most significant challenges to waste management and junk removal is hazardous waste. The EPA defines “hazardous waste” as “Waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” These materials are banned from landfills and cannot be picked up by the average trash company or junk removal company. Instead, they need to go to special facilities where they can be stored, treated, and disposed of safely.

For instance, the leachate produced at landfills is considered a hazardous waste, which is why it needs to be pumped out of the landfill and transported to an alternative site for treatment and disposal. Many other items and materials can qualify as hazardous waste, including batteries, gasoline, sludge from wastewater treatment, and many materials used in manufacturing.

The good news is that the average homeowner or business owner won’t be dealing with hazardous waste regularly. A company that does petroleum refining or pesticides manufacturing will produce plenty of hazardous waste and will need a strategy in place to dispose of it. When it comes to decluttering and removing junk from your home, though, items that qualify as hazardous waste are going to be few and far between.

With that said, some household items are hazardous waste. Typically, these materials will fall into one of four categories: corrosive, explosive, flammable, or poisonous. The containers or items that fall into these categories should be labeled or marked accordingly. Cleaning products, varnishes, motor oil (or other automotive fluids), pesticides, herbicides, and paints all qualify as hazardous waste and should not be thrown away in a trash bin or dumpster.

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Ocean and Near Earth Orbit Junk

Not all junk ends up in landfills or hazardous waste dumps. Despite the best intentions of legislators and environmental advocacy groups, there are still massive collections of refuse in other places, including the ocean and outer space.

Unsurprisingly, junk in the ocean is a substantial concern. While an “ocean junkyard” might seem like the kind of dystopian concept you would read about in a science fiction novel, it’s indeed a real thing. The so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” covers roughly 618,000 square miles and consists of 79,000 tons of plastic. Also known as “trash island,” this gigantic patch of garbage is made up of plastic that has been blown, dumped, or otherwise deposited into the sea over the years. Oceanic currents sweep the trash around the ocean and move it toward a “convergence zone” where the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located.

There are abundant problems or potential problems caused by this plume of plastic. The most pressing is the impact it might be having on aquatic life. Animals can become entangled in the plastic and struggle to escape or die trying. Fish, birds, and other wildlife mistake pieces of plastic for prey ingesting the pieces of garbage and often dying as a result. Furthermore, as photodegradation breaks down the plastic components, dangerous chemicals can leach out into the water and affect the aquatic ecosystem.

There is an obvious question to ask here: why don’t we scoop up all that plastic and get it out of the ocean? Famously, Captain Charles Moore, who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, said that any effort to clean up the trash “would bankrupt any country and kill wildlife in the nets as it went.” Because the plastic components are all loose, rather than being clumped together, they are challenging to collect in any efficient fashion. As the different pieces of plastic break down, the challenges of cleaning up this patch compounds even further. Some of the debris is big, but some of it is microscopic. Even if you managed to collect all the big pieces, there would still be environmental risks due to all the smaller bits of plastic.

Organizations are looking at potential cleanup options, such as the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. Any such effort will take many years and could require technological innovations that we don’t have yet. In the meantime, most experts agree that the best thing to do for now is to educate people about what plastic does to the environment. By encouraging people to cut down on the plastics they use in their day-to-day lives, exercise reuse strategies where possible, and properly recycle or dispose of plastics, we can at least prevent the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from growing.

As for space junk, most of that comes from either natural sources (such as meteoroids) or human-made sources (debris from spacecraft, launch vehicle stages, nonfunctional satellites, and more). Unlike with oceanic junk, the average person’s day-to-day habits have no impact on how much space junk is orbiting the planet. However, there is still a lot of junk—some 500,000 pieces, according to NASA—and it poses a threat to spacecraft and satellites. It’s also worth noting that this junk could impact the average person’s life. So much of what we do as humans relies on satellites, from communication to GPS navigation to live TV broadcasts. Even losing a single satellite due to space junk could have a noticeable impact on millions of people.

There is also a longer-term threat here. Within the next few centuries, it is predicted that the wall of space junk around the Earth will become virtually impossible to traverse. In effect, this occurrence would trap humanity on Earth, rendering space missions impossible. If there were a situation where our descendants needed to leave the planet for life elsewhere, they would have to get through the space junk first.

Currently, there is no agreed-upon method for cleaning up the planet’s space junk problem. There have been some proposals, from “space nets” (to capture the debris) to lasers (to knock them out of orbit). However, the cost of any such system would be remarkably high. So far, no government or company has volunteered to bear that cost.

The (Terrestrial) Junk Removal Process

No junk removal company can help with the space junk problem… at least, not yet. For now, though, working with a junk removal business can yield plenty of benefits for the average consumer.

As we already mentioned, “junk removal” is a term typically used to describe a particular branch of the waste management industry. Junk removal companies are not the garbage companies that come to your home or business weekly to collect your trash. Instead, they are the people who you call when you have a large-scale project that involves either a significant amount of trash or big, heavy, and unwieldy junk items.

Also mentioned at the top of this page, junk removal breaks down into two categories: full-service junk removal and dumpster rental. With a full-service junk removal, you are hiring people to come into your home or business and haul your trash out to their dumpster truck. This option might be attractive if you are dealing with particularly hard-to-maneuver items (couches, appliances, mattresses, etc.) or would prefer not to do the heavy lifting.

With a dumpster rental, you have a DIY project on your hands. The junk removal company delivers a dumpster, and you fill it on your own time. This option is preferable if you want to save money, if you haven’t organized your junk removal process ahead of time, or if you are doing something like a renovation, where you need to have a continually available spot to dispose of debris.

A typical junk removal company will restrict the items you can put in a bin in the same way that a standard trash pickup company will. Obviously, you won’t be able to place hazardous waste in your dumpster or hand it to your junk removal crew for disposal. Many junk removal companies also restrict items such as mattresses, appliances, and TVs or other E-waste. These items are frequently banned from landfills, and since the typical junk removal company only hauls your junk directly to the nearest landfill, those rules apply.

Do note, however, that there are several more progressive junk removal companies out there. These companies, instead of taking everything to the nearest landfill, will transport your garbage to a processing center and then sort it. During this process, the sorting team will pull out any items that can be recycled, donated, repurposed, or reused in any fashion. Progressive junk removal companies will usually accept items such as electronic waste or appliances because they know what to do with those items to dispose of them properly. These companies also help you keep plastics and other recyclables out of landfills, helping you do your part to slow the filling of America’s landfills, prevent plastics from reaching the ocean, and much more.

As you can see, waste management and junk removal are deep and complex topics with far-reaching implications. Being aware of these implications will help you reduce your environmental footprint, whether you are cleaning out your basement, preparing for a move, or renovating your house from the ground up. When disposed of properly, your waste doesn’t have to hurt the planet. The right junk removal company can help you stay true to that fact.

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