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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February 2004, 11:37 GMT
Could tips become swap shops?
When we put your bright ideas to improve society to a vote, the winning plan was to turn a section of a town tip into a swap shop for people to donate unwanted - but still useable - goods. Can it be done?

Building site
Building materials can be reused
Skip-diving is a time-honoured tradition. Almost as soon as one of the metal containers is lowered into position outside someone's house, it transforms into a swap shop. Discarded items are scoured by passers-by for anything that can be salvaged, for one person's trash is another's treasure.

It is this phenomenon which inspired the winning scheme in our poll of your bright ideas to improve society. Of the 10 put to the vote, Bob Bombalot's suggestion to have a section of a town tip where people can donate unwanted items and others help themselves - thus saving on skip hire and landfill space - garnered 23% of the 8,200 votes cast.

"What a fantastic idea," says Suzie Peleg, an information officer at Waste Watch, the national agency charged with encouraging Britons to reduce, reuse and recycle.

But how feasible is it? There are catches for any organisation keen to introduce such a scheme, she says, not least the health and safety concerns.

"What people like to do is rummage and scrummage around to see what they can unearth, but that just isn't allowed at rubbish tips anymore," says Ms Peleg. "And just like charity shops, I doubt such a scheme could take electrical goods as they would be liable for any problems caused by untested appliances."

We put 10 of your ideas to the vote - you also liked...
More policing patrolling on bicycles - Brenda Lyall, UK
A "by choice" part of income tax, to the service you think needs it - Shaun Smyth, France
Car commuter tokens to encourage car-pooling - George Marsden, London

It also piques the interest of Anna Watson, the waste campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

"It's a good idea for local authorities to look at trying - I know people who, for environmental reasons, try to do their houses up with second-hand goods. This would be perfect for them.

"But such a centre would have to be properly managed, with donations sorted before going on display. The site would have to be covered and secured to protect against the elements and vandals."

Transporting items to and from would also be an issue - a pick-up service would have to be offered, she says, otherwise it would be limited to those with access to vans and trailers.

Too good to bin

While rare is the tip that will allow scavengers to liberate dumped goods, some local authorities run "give and take" days for smaller items. In Wiltshire, residents can leave unwanted items on street corners for browsers to pick and choose from on designated days.

Townmead Recycling Centre, Richmond council photo
No need for a skip in Richmond
Other councils collect paint and scrap materials to pass on to community groups, low-income families and school art classes. In Bristol and in Richmond, west London, council recycling centres accept far more than the usual paper, glass and cans - electrical goods, paving slabs, rubble, car batteries, furniture and bric-a-brac are among the items collected.

There are also 300 projects under the Furniture Recycling Network's umbrella dotted about the country, which refurbish pre-loved furniture and appliances to sell cheaply to those on low-incomes. And charities which give new life to old mobiles and computers are springing up across the UK.

So there is no shortage of places to donate or swap unwanted stuff. But except for those who live in an area hot on recycling - still a rarity in the UK - the skip is still the one place guaranteed to take whatever is thrown at it.

Is there a scheme similar to this in your area? Let us know, using the form below.

It already exists - it's called eBay!
Tracy, UK

Over here on the Isle of Man the "amenity centres" allow you to put good things to one side for other people. This is very good, especially for someone with a new house like me that needs furniture! I generally come away from the tip with more than I went with. Locally the tip is know as Harrods because you can get anything you want from there.
Charlie, Isle of Man

People should write to Kent County Council objecting to the "Kent Act" - the regulations deter people from taking stalls at boot sales, autojumbles, craft fairs, etc as stallholders must be registered. This has led to a reduction in recycling (boot sales must be the biggest recycling exercise in the country) and landfill sites being filled up long before schedule. And worse still, the Government is considering extending the provisions of this Act to the rest of the country [in an effort to stop stolen goods being sold at such stalls].
Dave, Epsom, UK

In my workplace, we've got a bulletin board linked with the e-mail system with For Sale and Wanted forums where the staff can sell and buy pretty much anything they need for very reduced prices.
Phil Easton, UK

Being a rather thrifty (and skint) Scotsman in Cardiff, I'm often seen looking through skips for useable items. This does seem to come with a social stigma, and I'm called a 'scavenger', 'scrounger', 'tightwad', and a 'tramp'. My partner, from Devon, always walks away in disgust when I have a rummage through a skip full of old (but still useable) furniture, which suggests this prejudice isn't restricted to Wales!
Dave, Wales

In Surrey, British Columbia, the city holds a Re-use Weekend. Everyone puts out on the street any usable item someone may want/need. It is a family pastime to drive around and see what there is to get. I've picked up computers, TVs and a bed frame. Then the city workers collect anything that is left over for disposal or recycling.
Dave, UK/Canada

There is a shop at the Warwick/Leamington Spa tip - anything decent goes to the shop. Hinckly/Barwell tip also puts stuff on the side for re-use and has allowed me to scavenge stuff from the skips. So far I have made a tag-along bike from two knackered bikes (5 instead of 100 from a shop), and got a decent camping stove and camping gas bottle. Fridge pumps make good compressors for air brushes, two wrought iron gates for a trellis etc.
Dave V, UK

There's a recycling site/dump just off Kentish Town high road, with different skips for different materials (metal, wood, paper etc). If you throw out anything someone might want, you leave it at a collection point outside the site office. If you want to see if there's anything worth salvaging, you ask if you can have a root around - I think we still have a chair we picked up there!
John, UK

I used to live in Brackley, Northants, and our local recycling centre ran just such a scheme. There were lawnmowers, bicycles, even bed heads all on sale. It's right next door to a nature reserve, and the site itself is recycled from a former railway line. I hope it's still there, but over-regulation may have squeezed it out.
David Hughes, UK

David, it is still up and running - in fact it's new and improved. It only accepts materials for recycling or reuse and not for disposal - encouraging residents to sort through their waste before they visit. Last year it was awarded a prestigious National Recycling Award.
Vanessa Pye, UK

There's a scheme like this running at every waste plant in the UK - not tips but household waste units where people can drop off garden waste, electrical items and furniture, bricks, wood etc. If you like an item, bung the guy running it a couple of quid and he will jump into the container and retrieve it for you. We recently picked up new mirrors, and 3 chairs as well as some odds and ends.
Hedley Phillips, UK

Hedley Phillips is not entirely correct - we used to be able to do so at a site in Royston, Herts, but the district council decided, in their wisdom, that it was unsightly and unsafe, so stopped the practice, despite protests. Anything useful left at the site is now taken for auction, no doubt benefiting the local finances microscopically. In the process they've substantially reduced the amenity value of the site and demotivated a workforce who used to win awards for "Best kept site".
Rob Clack, UK

My parents tell me that furniture, building materials, etc are sorted at council tips in Weymouth, Dorset, and that people are encouraged to take anything that would be useful to them. The council also composts garden and kitchen waste, and this is available for collection from the tip too. And in Waltham Forest, north-east London, there's "give or take days" with an electrician on hand, so are able to accept electrical items.
Sandra, UK

In and around Munich, and probably in many other places, this form of recycling is quite common. Usable goods (it's amazing what people throw away!) are collected and sold either in a local shop or brought to a central shop, as in Munich. Proceeds go to charities.
Irakli, Germany

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